This year quietly marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Since its enactment, we've seen a fair share of pushback, but at the same time, we've also seen greater strides towards tangible equality for the disabled. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year that roughly 17 percent of disabled Americans were steadily employed in some capacity. That may seem like a far cry from where we should be, but it represents a fair bit of growth from how things stood back in 1990. Still, unemployment rates in 2014 were higher for those with disabilities than any other single group of people.
Of course, finding—and keeping—a job is simply one problem in the often-convoluted and tangled web Americans with disabilities face every single day in their unending quest for civil liberties.
And now, after a gaffe regarding one of their part-time employees went viral, one massive chain—Applebee's—is learning the hard way that the path can also be a tad complicated for employers who wish to employ people with disabilities, with or without the best intentions.
It turns out that Applebee's actually "forgot" to pay an autistic employee an entire year's worth of wages.
Twenty-one-year-old Caleb Dyl began working as a prep cook at a Rhode Island Applebee's sometime last summer after being placed there by Resources for Human Development, a nonprofit specializing in finding employment for those with disabilities. Dyl—who has autism spectrum disorder—apparently showed aptitude for the position during a training period and soon began working "tirelessly" at the location three times a week as a part-time employee.
"We were told by RHD that Applebee's was going to hire him, and he was going to get paid," recalled Caleb's father, Bob Dyl. He went on to say that "One young man told me they were lucky to have him, that Caleb just continues to work and work and he won't stop until the end of his shift."
This is where things become a bit unclear, because there was apparently some sort of breakdown in communication between Applebee's and the nonprofit. As it turns out, the restaurant chain never gave Dyl a dime of the wages he was owed, and claims they were totally unaware of the situation. Dyl's parents are saying that despite filling out the appropriate forms, checks simply never came.
"He was enjoying the job, so we really weren't focused on the income so much," said Dyl's father. "But after that amount of time, you kind of wonder what's going on."
Eleanor Clancy, a regional director for Applebee's, says that "RHD never contacted us." She added, "The first we heard of this was when you [Target 12 news] called. But this is on us. We obviously feel terrible."
The repentant Applebee's says that they will now be sending a check for 166 hours worked based on records kept by RHD. This seems to be yet another point of contest, however, considering Dyl never once clocked in for work and, according to his parents, actually worked closer to 350 hours.
Caleb Dyl's case seems to be indicative of a convoluted system ripe for reform. Yet it is by no means the only, or even the worst case example of those with disabilities being unfairly or inadequately paid. In fact, there is no minimum wage standard for those with disabilities in America. One disabled worker in Maryland was documented as earning only $0.06 cents per hour.
We still have a hell of a way to go before fellow Americans with disabilities are treated as true equals in the workforce, and it looks as though the path there will not be an easy one.