Supporters of adult workers with disabilities advocate for existing wage system

Dallas Kerzan believes every person with a disability should have the freedom to choose how they pursue employment.

That’s why Kerzan, her daughter Yael and several other members of the Portage A-Team chapter visited Madison on Tuesday to meet with state lawmakers on National Day for Choice. The event aims to raise awareness about adult workers who have a disability.

“When our kids speak, these legislators listen,” Kerzan said. “It was empowering for them. They just want to have their choices honored.”

Kerzan said the federal government wants to increase the minimum wage, but she’s concerned such a decision would box people with disabilities out of certain job opportunities and hurt companies such as Northwoods Inc., which offers rehabilitation services and job coaches on site.

Northwoods Inc. CEO Jolene Wheeler said the A-Team members’ voices are being heard because of their strong advocacy efforts.

“People with diverse abilities deserve to choose where they work and how to spend their day,” Wheeler said.

Kerzan is an advocate for disabled workers and lives in Pardeeville with her family. She said her daughter Yael, who has a disability, has found various employment opportunities at both Walmart and Northwoods.

But every person who has a physical or intellectual disability handles rigorous workloads and schedules differently, Kerzan said.

Workers at some job sites are paid for how much work they do, instead of being required to do more than they can handle, she said.

“We support choices of all people,” Kerzan said, adding people should be able to choose from more than just one option.

“We’re counting on him to get the ear of his colleagues in Washington,” Kerzan said.

Grothman in 2018 introduced a bill aimed at retaining the current system for allowing special wages and job coach services for people with disabilities. He also toured Northwoods on March 19 and met several people who receive job assistance.

He told the Daily Register he wants the U.S. government to leave the system the way it is and continue to allow adults with disabilities to pursue work on their own terms and feel satisfied in doing so.

“Northwoods does a great job, and there are some extremists who want to put an end to that freedom for these workers to choose, and it would just be a disaster,” Grothman said.

Grothman said some people can work full time and others only part time, but either way he believes their positive attitudes benefit other people in the workplace.

The issue has also been on the mind of state Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo.

Considine said although he was caught up in a budget hearing session Tuesday, he has met with A-Team advocates on several occasions and appreciates what they do to provide a voice for others.

He believes every person should be able to experience the camaraderie and fulfillment of holding a job of their choice.

“I hope they find a way to carve out a place for Northwoods in that legislation,” Considine said.


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