It’s Mindsets Like These That Will “Rot” Us: Our Response to Rep. Sean Tarwater (R)

By: Joanna McElnea, Disability Advocate, and Menachem Rephun, Creative Spirit’s Communications Team

By Chris Jarin, Creative Spirit Art Director and Disability Advocate

Creative Spirit strongly and unequivocally condemns the statement made this week by Rep. Sean Tarwater (R), chairman of the House Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development Committee, that people with disabilities will, in his words, “rot at home” without sheltered workshops, and that people with disabilities “really can’t do anything.” This perspective denies the basic dignity and humanity of the 61 million Americans with disabilities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). It is at odds with everything Creative Spirit stands for. 

Contrary to Rep. Tarwater’s assertion, we believe it is not economic equity for people with disabilities but rather the demeaning mindset he expressed that will truly “rot” us. Segregating people with disabilities into small boxes built on the misconception that they are incapable of independence or working outside of sheltered workshops keeps us small as individuals and as a society. It exposes the cracks in this country’s foundation, as sheltered workshops are modern slave labor. These workshops maintain walls and keep people with disabilities out of mainstream roles they could succeed in when provided with safety and support. In short, sheltered workshops will cause us to rot. We need to tear down the walls rather than build them up. Segregating people with disabilities based on what is “too difficult” or “too different” is not the solution. Society must work hard to break down inequality and include people with disabilities. We can achieve this by ending 14c, which allows employers to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wage, breaking down stigmas, promoting education, and much more.

Businesses solve global problems daily, and employment inequity is not an unsolvable problem. Society is more than capable of paying a fair wage to people with disabilities, and it just chooses not to. People with disabilities are the largest minority demographic in the U.S., and our voices can and should be heard. Rather than being restricted, we should be able to lead our own independent lives, which includes equal opportunities for fair-wage employment. We’re confident that Rep. Tarwater’s mentality will soon be a thing of the past in a society that truly values and appreciates people with disabilities as human beings and equal members of society. 

Kansas Disability Organizations Need Your Advocacy Help! 

Take Action – Help Stop Kansas From Passing Tax Breaks that Benefit 14(c)/Submin. Wage Certificate Holders!  Instead, Help Phase Out 14(c) in Kansas and Across the Country

This week, in Kansas’ Capitol, the KS House Chairman of Commerce, Labor & Economic Development/State Representative Sean Tarwater, Republican, uttered the words, “People with Disabilities Really Can’t Do Anything” during a hearing about a disability tax credit bill. Kansas disability rights groups were trying to close a loophole on opening up the tax credit to sheltered workshops in the state.  He also said that without sheltered workshops people with disabilities would “rot at home … there is no place for them to go.”

Tarwater’s comments are unacceptable, derogatory, and completely inappropriate –  especially from his viewpoint as chairperson of the Kansas House Committee overseeing commerce, labor and economic development issues. 

Adding insult to injury, Rep. Tarwater made his remarks to the committee he Chairs specifically to keep a provision in the bill (Kansas HB 2275) that will provide tax breaks to benefit 14(c)/Sub-minimum wage certificate holders. He painted the picture of pitiful people with disabilities who “can’t do anything” specifically as a tactic to pass this bill granting tax breaks that 14(c) holders can use to gain more business to bolster their budgets and help subsidize their sub-minimum wage operations.

Disability Rights Center of Kansas and the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities believe people with disabilities are the largest population of individuals with untapped talent in Kansas and across the country. We should be working together with our lawmakers to advance federal and state solutions that solve the unemployment crisis in the disability community and allow individuals with disabilities to live lives of passion and opportunity – not one of poverty, discrimination, and segregation.

You can read the full story here

YouTube video of State Representative Tarwater’s remarks here.


  1. Share these articles on social media and call Kansas Lawmakers to join forces with @DisabilityRightsCenterofKansas and the @KansasCouncilonDevelopmental Disabilities to develop a common-sense solution to phase out subminimum wage in Kansas, using the hashtags below. 
  • [INSERT ORGANIZATION] condemns the remarks by State Rep. Tarwater of KS and stands with @KS_DD_Council and @DRCKansas in calling for Tarwater to apologize to people with disabilities! No tax breaks for 14c entities! It’s time to #end14c. #KSleg #realworkrealpay 
  1. Lend your support and organization’s name to the growing list of organizations supporting the federal, bipartisan Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (TCIEA).
  1. Issue a National Statement condemning the Kansas Lawmaker’s remarks and any statewide or national effort to funnel tax breaks to bolster entities with 14(c) certificates. 

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