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Facilitating Fair Wages for People with Disabilities

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA; Section 14(c)) allows companies in the United States to pay people with disabilities subminimum wage. As a result, some people with disabilities work for just a few dollars a day. Subminimum wage is problematic because people with disabilities get stuck in a cycle of poverty. It has also been linked to discrimination. The largest disability coalition in the United States, the National Disability Leadership Alliance, has called for the end of subminimum wage and for businesses to pay people with disabilities fair wages (Lewis, 2011).

The purpose of this study conducted by CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership was to determine factors that increased or decreased the likelihood of people with disabilities being paid fair wages (getting a wage that is at or above minimum wage). To do so, we analyzed Personal Outcome Measures® data from approximately 1,500 people with disabilities.

Findings revealed only about half of people with disabilities in our study (54%) received fair wages. However, organizational supports played a big role in facilitating fair wages (see figure). For example, when organizations supported people’s desires for pursing specific work or career options, people with disabilities were 3.11 times more likely to have fair wages compared to when organizational supports were not in place.

Organizational Supports and the Odds of Fair Wages

Image shows the odds of people having fair wages based on different types of organizational supports

A lack of fair wages reinforces discrimination and inequality of people with disabilities. Our findings reveal individual, employment, and organizational factors impact people with disabilities’ ability to have fair wages. Organizations can play a key role in increasing the likelihood that people with disabilities have fair wages. When organizations ask people with disabilities about their preferences, support their choices, and provide them with opportunities, people with disabilities are more likely to have fair wages. Attention to all of these factors, as well as ending the use of subminimum wage certificates, is necessary to end wage discrimination.


  • Lewis, A. (2011). Open letter to employers holding special wage certificates. Baltimore: National Disability Leadership Alliance.

This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: Friedman, C., & Rizzolo, M. C. (2020). Fair-Wages for people with disabilities: barriers and facilitators. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 31(3), 152-163.