Defending the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (41 U.S.C. §§ 46-48c)
By: Scott P. Pavelle, Esq.
This article was written in mid-2003. It is intended to provide background
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,”
“The lawyer who handles his own case has a fool for a client.”
I am probably the foremost critic of the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (“JWOD”) Act program as administered by the Committee for Purchase from People who are Blind or Severely Disabled (the “Committee”) with the assistance/cooperation/collaboration of the two central nonprofit agencies (the “CNAs”) called NISH (f/k/a National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) and National Industries for the Blind (“NIB”). Other articles describe the structure of the JWOD program, discuss how contractors may oppose JWOD actions that would deprive them of government contracts, and offer some suggestions for its reform. This article defends the premise and the underlying worthiness of having a JWOD program in the first place.
Over the years I have observed that sheltered workshops seem to fall into two distinct categories, which I generally call the “Social Worker / Take-Care-Of-Me” model and the “Just Give Me A Chance” model typified by the Americans with Disabilities Act. My central problem with the JWOD Act comes from the fact that it is a particularly inefficient remnant of the first model, and my personal philosophy strongly favors the second. The inefficiency and waste are what add teeth to those objections.
There is a third model though, the “Who Needs Them Anyway, Just Keep Them Out Of Sight” approach. Samuel Johnson said “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization,” a quote that meshes well with a line that many have used, “a society is measured by how it treats its least fortunate members.” It’s probably inescapable that people will want to focus on that which is better, prettier, easier and more hopeful than things that are disturbing, depressing, and difficult. You could therefore argue that the impulse to ignore the handicapped reflects an inherent facet of human nature.”
Societies, and the governments that grow with them, exist to help us act the way we should rather than the way our basest nature would direct. Government should see to it that the handicapped receive their chances, and should help us to rise above any “natural” impulse to ignore them. The question is “how to do it,” and the answer lies in reforming the JWOD Act.