Like many people, Neil Romano reads off his phone. But for Romano, it’s really the only way he can read in order to best comprehend what he’s looking at.

What You Need To Know

  • Federal labor laws allow some workplaces to pay disabled employees below the federal minimum wage

  • But there’s a push to stop that as disability advocates say everyone should have the right to earn a competitive wage

  • In September, the U.S. Department of Education awarded states 177 million dollars in new grants to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities

“Only like five words per line, makes it easier to read,” said Romano.

Romano is dyslexic. It’s a disability that makes it difficult for his brain to process words and phrases. But Romano hasn’t let that stop him in life. He’s served in several high-ranking positions in the federal government, including chair of the National Council on Disability. As a long-time advocate for people with disabilities, Romano believes people with disabilities should be able to make the same wages as other people.

“They’re like anybody else, they have the right to make a competitive wage,” said Romano.

At Inspire of Central Florida, Thomas Moreland stays busy doing different jobs, including one that required him to pull metal pieces out of faulty face masks so the cloth masks can be recycled.  It may seem like a simple task, but it’s work Moreland takes pride in.

“We want to make the production floor look nice and clean,” said Moreland, a specialist at Inspire. 

Inspire provides life enrichment and vocational training to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It pays program participants sub-minimum wages.

But after 40 years under its current business model, its administrators say the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring it to end sub-minimum wage pay by next March.

But Inspire’s operations manager says it can’t afford to pay the roughly 100 program participants those higher wages. So many of them will probably stop the work and no longer get paid.

“So we may see a decrease in the amount of individuals who can participate in the specific contract fulfillment side, but our plan is to continue to increase the life-enrichment opportunities they have available to them so they can continue to gain those skills,” said Lilly Continanzi, Operations Manager for Inspire.

Lory Humphreys boxes up signed sports bottles. She says she enjoys spending the money she earns.

“I use it to go out to eat, and movies and bowling, and everything, usually high school football games,” said Humphreys, also a specialist at Inspire. 

In a few months, Humphrey may not2 make money at Inspire. And Inspire’s management says the work contracts they’ll may lose could reduce the life enrichment programs they can offer. But they say their mission will remain the same.

“I think at the end of the day our mission is to provide those opportunities for individuals, so however we can do that, it does take a village to provide for the needs of these specialists,” said Continanzi.

Romano doesn’t think the training that adult day programs provide workers justifies the lower pay they get.

“Sometimes these trainings go on for 20, 30, 40 years,” said Romano. “If the responsibility of the person giving the sub-minimum wage is to train them and move them into competitive employment, then they’re not doing a good job. So it’s obviously not a great model.”

In September, the U.S. Department of Education awarded states, including Florida, 177 million dollars in new grants to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.