WASHINGTON--Employers nationwide will have new incentives to hire disabled students for part-time work experience under new labor guidelines hammered out by the Education and Labor departments.
The agreement, which was completed by the two agencies last month, is based on a new interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that, among other mandates, requires employers to pay minimum wages and benefits to their employees.
Federal officials are now saying, however, that employers can be exempt from the requirements of that act if they hire disabled students for whom work experience is part of a formal, individualized education plan. Such students can be hired at less than minimum wage for up to 120 hours per job experience, under the terms of the new agreement.
“A lot of employers have been reluctant to bring into the workplace students with disabilities, either because of attitudinal problems or they fear additional insurance costs, or they’re worried these students can’t meet their customers’ demands,’' said Michael Vader, the Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for special-education and rehabilitative services. “This won’t solve everything, but it’s one piece of the puzzle.’'
Dropout Rate High
Nationally, the dropout rate among disabled students averages 40 percent. Among disabled adults, up to two-thirds are unemployed.
Federal studies have shown, however, that disabled students who gain some work experience while they are in school are less likely to drop out and are more likely to go on to better-paying jobs than peers who have no work experience. Yet, Mr. Vader said, only 15 percent of disabled students ever work outside school.
In an attempt to help students better bridge the transition from school, recent amendments to federal special-education law now require schools to include plans for students’ transitions in the individualized education plans of all disabled students age 16 and older.
The new labor guidelines, however, apply only to those students who are unable to work at competitive wages and who will need some “intensive, ongoing support’’ on the job. They may work for less than the minimum wage, under the general supervision of their schools, provided their placements are tailored to the students’ education needs and not to the labor needs of the business.
“It’s not like we want anyone in the back rooms of McDonald’s packing boxes for 120 hours,’' Mr. Vader said.
Copies of the new guidelines are being mailed this fall to all special-education directors and adult-vocational-education administrators in every state and to national special-education and parent groups.
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 1992 edition of Education Week as Rules Seen Spurring the Hiring of Disabled Students