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Who are they? Some answers from a survey of Javits-Wagner-O'Day employees.

It would have been difficult for David Schafebook to obtain competitive employment in the days befire the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Program. A customer service attendant at his local Shoprite store, Mr. Schafebook is diagnosed as having mild mental retardation. Using the custodial skills he learned as part of a JWOD service crew, Mr. Schafebook has become a model employee and earns excellent reviews from his supervisors.

The JWOD Program was established over 50 years ago and today employs and trains over 23,000 American with disabilities--people like Mr. Schafebook--while it provides the Federal Government with quality products and services at reasonable prices. Across the United States, over 500 nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind or have other severe disabilities participate in the JWOD Program.


The JWOD Program is administered by the Committee for Purchase Form People Who are Blind or Severely Disabled, an independent federal agency composed of 15 Presidential appointees and a small staff. Eleven of the members, including the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), represent federal agencies; most are involved in procurement-related activities. The remaining four members are private citizens representing the interests of people who are blind or have other severe disabilities.

The committee decides which products and services the Federal Government will buy from nonprofit agencies employing people with disabilities. Federal agencies must purchase items placed in the JWOD Program from the nonprofit agencies designated by the committee. The committee also determines the fair market prices to be paid for these items.

Two central nonprofit agencies. National Industries for the Blinf (NIB) and NISH, facilitate the participation of individual nonprofit agencies in the JWOD Program.(1) NIBB and NISH help identify supplies and services to be included in the program, provide technical and financial assistance to individual nonprofit agencies, and submit pricing recommendations to the committee. The committee's staff, NIB, and NISH work together to ensure that JWOD-participating agencies comply with all committee regualtion, incclusing requirements that concern the populations to served. The three organizations also work jointly in developing projects such as the JWOD population survey.


The research was conducted in the fall of 1991, using both a mailed survey of agency records and onsite interviews. Questionnaires were mailed to approximately 10 percent of the JWOD population at 417 participating nonprofit agencies. The response raste was an exceptionally high 95 percent, for a total of 1,657 completed. A total of 218 onsite interviews were conducted at 17 of the nonprofit agencies, a subset of the mail questionnaire population. More interviews took place at NISH-affiliated agencies than at NIB-affiliated agencies, as their employees makes up a larger proportion of the total JWOD population.

Population Characteristics

The main objective of the survey was to identify the types of disabilities represented in the JWOD population. The results show that:

* 5.16 percent have mental retardation;

* 30.1 percent have a visual disability;

* 22.9 percent have a mental illness;

* 17.9 percent have a physical disability;

* 11.2 percent have a sensory/neurological disability;

* 11.0 percent have a learning disability;

* 8.6 percent have a hearing disability;

* 8.6 percent have a speech disability; and

* 5.4 percent have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.

The total exceeds 100 percent because nearly half of the people served by the JWOD Program (46.6 percent) have multiple disabilities. Nearly three-quaeters (73.6 percent) of the JWOD workers were born with their primary disabilities. However, over 20 percent of workers whose primary disability is blindness became disabled after the age of 21, about twice as many as workers whose primary disability is not blindness.

The basic demographic data indicate that about two-thirds of JWOD Program participants are male, and most of the workers are between 25 and 34 years of age. Two-thirds of JWOD employees have never been married, and just over one-half of the population received no vocational training before entering one of the nonprofit agencies.

The data show that Caucasians make up the largest classification of JWOD workers, at 63 percent, followed by African Americans, at 28 percent, and Hispanic people, 7 percent. It should be noted that the percentage of African Americans in the JWOD population is much higher than that in the general work force. As for education, one-third of JWOD emplpoyees have high school diplomas, and another third have some high school experience. About 7 percent have college or postgraduate experience.

Most JWOD employees were unemployed or underemployed before their referral to the program; 76 percent were not working full time before entering a JWOD nonprofit agency. Referrals usually come from a state's department of vocational rehabilitation or the state agency for mental health.


The JWOD Program provides jobs for a group of people whose rate of unemeployment is extraordinarily high. "Two-thirds of all disabled Americans between the age of 16 and 64 are not working," according to the ICD Survey of Disabled Americans: Brigning Disabled Americans into the Mainstream, Louis Harris and Associates (1986). That figure is now closer to 70 percent, according to 1991 Current Population Survey 9CPS) data. Among people with disabilities who are employed, the CPS found that only 20.1 percent work full-time schedules. On the other hand, the majority of JWOD employees work full time, mainly on service, manufacturing, or assemble-related jobs. For some of these workers, full-time employment means working fewer than 40 hours a week due to the severity of their disabilities.

Commodities are generally produced onsite and include office supplies. cleaning products, furniture, paints, and textiles. Most of the NIB-affiliated agencies concentrate on the manufacturing or assembly of these items, oftem under the SKILCRAFT trade name.

Services are more often performed by NISH-affiliated agencies, and include both janitorial/custodial and grounds maintenance contracts performed at federal buildings, shelf-stocking at military commissaries, food service, and clerical work. These jobs are usually performed in settings integrated with federal employees separate from the nonprofit agencies' headquarters.

The total sales of these commodities and services in FY 1992 were $75.6 million. This money vovers both direct and indirect labor salaries, which can also be provided by people with disabilities. It also pays for raw materials and equipment, and approximately 4 percent goes to NIB and NISH for administrative and technological support.

During fiscal year 1992, the total number of direct labor hours worked by people who are blind or have other severe disabilities was 18.1 million. For the most part, this number has steadily increased since the program's inception, and record-breaking years have occurred since 1988.

The JWOD survey looked at longevity of employment at participating nonprofit agencies. Overall, one-third of JWOD employees have been working at their current agencies from 1-5 years. Twenty percent have been with their agencies for 10 or more years, while another 20 percent have been employed less than 1 year. The duration of employment tends to be slightly longer for employees working in NIB-affiliated agencies, partially due to the fact that NISH-affiliated agencies tend to make more placements into competitive employment.


In determining compensation, productivity is a major factor. Wages are based on either an hourly rate, a piece rate, or a combination of the two. Levels of productivity are generally determined by time studies, comparing an employee's performance with an established time standard. The survey shows that:

* 20 percent of the JWOD population is 100 percent produtive or higher;

* 44 percent of the JWOD population is 60 to 100 percent productive;

* 29 percent of the JWOD population is 20 to 60 percent productive; and

* 7 percent of the JWOD population id less than 20 percent productive.

Along with productivity, JWOD wages are also determined by the prevailing wage rates in the area. JWOD wagres range from just under $1 to more than $11 per hour. In fiscal year 1992, the total direct labor wages amounted to $95.9 million, with JWOD jobs often paying more than the federal minimum hourly wage. In fact, 56 percent of JWOD employees make the minimum wage or better, even though only about 20 percent work at full productivity. The direct labor average hourly wage in FY 1992 was $5.28 (up nearly 7 percent from the previous year). Of those participants who do earn less than the minimum wage, there are more than twice as many NISH/JWOD employees as there arw NIB/JWOD employees; this to some extent reflects the types of disabilities (e.g., mental retardation) and lower productivity lvels withEn the NISH population.

While 95.5 percent of JWOD employees interviewed said they are currently paying income taxes, almost two-thirds were not paying income taxes before entering the nonprofit agency.

Financial Assistance

Benefits and assistance provided to employees is another area the JWOD survey examined. Seventy-two percent of JWOD workers said they get some type of financial benefit. Within this group, approximately 33 percent receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments; 29 percent receive Medicaid or medicare benefits; and 20 percent receive Social Security Disability Insurance 9SSDI) benefits. In addition, 36 percent receive multiple benefits and 29 percent hace reduced the number of benefits they receive since entering the program.

JWOD employees were also asked if they limit the number of hours they work in order to remain eligible for other benefits. Ninety-five percent said they did not intentionally limit their work hours in the last year; the 5 percent who did reported they were worried about losing their Social Security or other benefits. This response differs from anecdotal evidence, and is a subject that the committee plans to reach in the future.

While the mission of the JWOD Program is to generate employmemnt and training for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities, many participating nonprofit agencies provide other services or assistance to their employess, such as transportation, housing, and counseling. More than 91 percent of those surveyed indicated they received job training in their current or previous position at the JWOD agency.

The assistance available depends on how large the nonprofit agency is and the resources it has available. For example, the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind offers a prevocational program, daily living skills training, senior citizen services, and a program specifically designed to serve people who have both visual and hearing disabilities. The Exceptional Children's Foundation in Los Angeles even has a fine arts program for its clients with mental illness or mental retardation. Most JWOD agencies offer placement services internally, while the remainder make outside placement aid available.

Competitive Employment

On an individual level, David Schafebook made the transition from JWOD employment to a full-time placement at the Shoprite grocery store. On a program level, competitive employment is an ultimate goal whenever posible. In the past, JWOD placements have numbered about 1,300 to 1,600 per year, out of about 20,000 people in the program. Most recently, 1,327 JWOD workers were placed during FY 1992. Alberto Torres represents another competitive placement success story. Mr. Torres has been visually impaired since birth, and became totally blind 13 years ago due to an inflammation of his optic nerve. He moved into competitive employment as a darkroom technician at the Bronix Hospital Municipal Center after working many years at Lighthouse Industries for the Blind in Long Island, New York. Today, he braves a 2-hour commute each way to his job developing x-ray film, preparing solutions, and maintaining the stock of supplies.

Employees whso have successfully gained competitive positions asre not included in the JWOD survey data, as they are not longer in the program. Consequently, the survey results do not reflect the accomplishments of JWOD employees and agencies with respect to successful placements in competitive jobs. It is important to realize that success in competitive employment depends not only on competence, but on job availability and employee interest as well. Family support in particular was found to have a high correlation with employee interes tin competitive placement.

According to the survey, no attempt has been made to place over two-thirds of the current JWOB employees. Reasons for this include a lack of interest or capability on the part of the employee or a lack of suitable jobs in the community. In some cases, the nonporofit agenices provide the best job in the employees who were placed but returned to the agemcy, manay were laid off became of a lackj of work, while others decided they preferred working at the nonprofit agency.

Residential Living

The survey also collected information on JWOD employees' current living arrangements. The largest percentage live with their relatives, about 36 percent. Almost 20 percent live with their spouses and/or children, and another 17 percent live alone. Interestingly, the survey reports that two-thirds of the JWOD population aged 75 and older live by themselves, which is significantly more than the general population; however, the sample size for this group is fairly small. Additionally, more JWOD workers who are blind live independently than do these with other severe disabiliuties. But less than 2 percent of the entire JWOD population live with residential supervision by health care workers.

Since entering the JWOD Program, about one-third of the employees report they are living more independently. As promoting independence is one intention of the program, this data is indecative of progresss toward the overall JWOD goals.


The survey findings emphasize that the committee is serving its intended beneficiaries--people who are most severely disabled--and of this group, those who are unemployed. These findings confirm that JWOD contracts provide employees with disabilities an opportunity to earn much better wages than would be possible in the absence of federal contracts. And while the program's focus is helping people with severe disabilities, the Federal Government also gains in the exchange, as it pays fewer benefits to people with severe disabilities who work on JWOD contracts.

The survey will be of great value in helping the committee determine how to better serve the JWOD population and providing a batabase from which to track future changes. For example, the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on JWOD employment and competitive placement efforts remains to be seen. The survey tells us that most JWOD employees are currently unaware of ADA and its implications regarding their future employment.

In the last few years, sales and employment data show that the program has been growing dramatically. Specifically, FY 1991 was a year of major growth due to large military purchases for Operastion Desert Shield/Storm. In light of the recent Department of Defense cutbacks, the JWOD Program will face more challenges in continuing to provide employment for the increasing number of people with severe disabilities who want to work.

The JWOD Program has served as a catalyst to generaste countless jobs for Americans who are blind or have other servere disabilities since the program's inception over 50 years ago. Almost half of the population served today has more than one disability, and this trend is expected to continue in the future. Rehabilitation professionals should consider the emplolyment opportunities created through JWOD contracts as a placement option for the people with disabilities they serve. JWOD work makes meaningful training, self-confidence, and increased independence a reality for employees. These jobs can serve as stepping stones on the road toward independence, integration, and self-sufficience.


(1) See American Rehabilitation, Spring 1991: "The JWOD Program and NISH," p. 14, for related article.
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Title Annotation:training & employment program for the disabled
Author:Putnam, Kimberly M.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Training programs for working with older American Indians who are visually impaired.
Next Article:Screening for undetected substance abuse among vocational rehabilitation clients.

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