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Are Senators Blind to Disabled Workers? | Commentary

By Dewana Samuel This week we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed to help people with disabilities have a fair shot at the American dream. I’m one of the people the law is supposed to help.  

In the '80s, I was shot in the face during a robbery, leaving me blind in one eye. It took months of rehab to recover and I am grateful to be alive.  

Today, I work for Goodwill as a contract janitor in the U.S. Senate office buildings. I’m one of the workers who wear the blue vests and push the trash carts around cleaning the restrooms and emptying out the trash cans used by senators and their staffers.  

Goodwill is part of Ability One, a federal program that is supposed to help people with disabilities get started in the workplace and then train them to work in better jobs.  

When I started working here 10 years ago, I was hopeful that Goodwill would help me put my life back together and set me on a path into the middle class. But the truth is I’ve haven’t been given the opportunities to get ahead that I was promised. I haven’t learned any new job skills because the few trainings Goodwill offers are held when I’m at work. In addition, Goodwill has never offered me job placement services so I could find a better job.  

To add insult to injury, Goodwill has kept me stuck in a dead-end poverty job. My pay has only gone up by $1.66 an hour over the past decade. Today, I only make $11.83 an hour which isn’t enough to live the American dream.  

I’m writing this because I feel like the senators who walk these halls seem to be blind to the needs of people with disabilities who serve them. While I’m grateful that senators passed the ADA to help people like me overcome discrimination, they haven’t done enough to help people with disabilities rise out of poverty and into good jobs.  

Instead of helping us get ahead, senators keep handing out federal contracts to so-called charities such as Goodwill which pays its CEO $2.3 million a year while leaving workers like me struggling to scrape by on $1200.00 a month.  

After paying for my mortgage, utilities and transportation to work, I only have $45 left to spend every week for food and everything else I need. I dare any of the senators to try and take care of themselves on $6.40 a day. It’s impossible.  

That’s why my co-workers and I are going on strike with other federal contract workers. We may be disabled, but we’re not stupid. We know when we’re being taken advantage of.  

People with disabilities only want what every worker wants — a good job and a shot at the middle class. The best way to celebrate the ADA is to make sure that federal contracts go to good companies that help people with disabilities not just survive, but allow us to thrive. People with disabilities need good jobs that pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, offer decent benefits, and allow us form a union so we don’t have to strike to be heard.  

When the senators help people with disabilities win good jobs, I’ll know that I’m not invisible anymore.  

Dewana Samuel works as a janitor in the U.S. Senate Office buildings and is employed by Goodwill. She is part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign to bring higher wages and better working conditions for all federal contract workers.

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Topics: guest-observer