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Disability in 2013: Disney, Goodwill's low pay and abuse of special needs kids

2013 brought a lot of developments affecting people with special needs and disabilities. Here is a look at three significant issues from the past year.

Year in Review:  3 Major Disability Stories

Disney - too posh to wait in line

One of the biggest controversies effecting people with disabilities in 2013 came from an unexpected source, the Magic Kingdom. In May 2013, the New York Post printed a story exposing abuse of Disney’s disability passes by able-bodied customers. It said that “wealthy Manhattan moms” were hiring tour guides with disabilities so their families could bypass lines at Disney’s theme parks. In response to this abuse, Disney implemented a new system for guests with special needs . Disney now offers a Disability Access Service (DAS) Card which gives disabled users a return time for a ride based on the current wait time. Before this change, people with disabilities were allowed to go to the front of the line to use rides.

Goodwill Industries pays disabled employees less than $1 per hour

Goodwill Industries came under fire in 2013 because of the low rate it pays disabled employees. Forbes reported that some Goodwill employees are paid as little as 22 cents per hour, well below the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The pay of these employees contrasts sharply with the pay given to Goodwill executives including:

  • Douglas Barr, then-CEO of Goodwill of Southern California, was paid a total of $1,188,733 in 2011.
  • Michael Miller, CEO, Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette, was paid $856,043 in 2012.
  • Jim Gibbons, Goodwill International CEO, was paid $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation in 2011.

Goodwill Industries is not breaking the law. An exception to the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage if a "disability actually impairs the worker's earning or productive capacity for the work being performed." Several organizations have started a petition on requesting that Goodwill pay its employees at least the federal minimum wage.

Abuse of children with special needs was rampant in 2013

Numerous stories involving abuse of children with special needs emerged throughout 2013. In some instances, the alleged abuser was the child’s parent. Here is a snapshot of some of those stories:

  • A Utah mother was charged with using a dog collar on two of her children with special needs, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.
  • WDRM in Kentucky reported that a nine-year-old girl with cerebral palsy was found covered in vomit and feces by police.
  • A teacher in Georgia allegedly verbally and physically abused elementary school children with special needs. Witnesses allege that the teacher hit the special needs children with a stick reported WSB-TV.
  • A school bus driver in New Hampshire was sentenced to 160 years in prison for sexually abusing children with special needs, according to USA Today.
  • Parents who were not allowed to attend their nonverbal child’s therapy sessions secretly taped an autism therapist in Wisconsin. Fox 6 Now reported that the tape allegedly shows the therapist “shaking the child so that his head snaps back and then quickly forward, headbutting the child, kicking the child in the head, hitting him in the head with a pillow, grabbing the child by the arm, pulling him across the room and then aggressively throwing the child onto the couch.”
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