The 21st Show

Goodwill Lays Off Disabled Workers, Then Reverses Decision; Flooding And Federal Aid; Shedd Aquarium Rescues Sea Lions; Emoji Inclusivity


The Land of Lincoln Goodwill, which runs 15 locations throughout Illinois, raised controversy by laying off dozens of disabled workers. Mike Mozart/Flickr(CC BY 2.0)

The Land of Lincoln Goodwill, which runs 15 locations throughout Illinois, decided to lay off dozens of disabled workers. Plus, Gov. Pritzker wants local communities to report flood damage so Illinois can qualify for federal aid. Also, we'll talk about how marine biologists in Illinois are helping to care for the increasing number of sea lion pups that are washing up on California shores. And, emoji have become a common form of communication on keyboards around the world, but are these little symbols as diverse as the people who use them?

A story about a Goodwill operation in Central Illinois has gotten lots of local and national attention in the past 48 hours. The Land of Lincoln Goodwill, which runs 15 locations throughout Illinois, decided to lay off dozens of disabled workers.

Its President and CEO Sharon Durbin said it was because of the minimum wage increase that Governor JB Pritzker signed into law earlier this year even though the laid off workers are already, legally, paid less than minimum wage.

“It really was not a job," Durbin said. "We gave them through grace out of our budget to pay them so they had a paycheck to go home with." 

This news got a lot of attention quickly. Local families and state lawmakers expressed outrage, everyone from State Senator Andy Manar, to Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, to state attorney general Kwame Raoul. Last night, even Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted about it. 

This all started on Monday evening with a report by Mark Maxwell for WCIA in Springfield. He’s the station’s anchor and capitol bureau chief.

State Senator Julie Morrison is a Democrat representing Illinois 29th district, which includes Chicago’s north and some northwest suburbs. She’s also the chair of the Human Services committee, and passed several bills in the last session designed to increase state employment of people with disabilities.

Update: Land of Lincoln Goodwill announced Wednesday afternoon that they would reverse their decision and reinstate the salaries of 12 participants in its Vocational Rehab program. Read Mark Maxwell's update on WCIA.


Residents throughout Illinois have been hit hard by flooding this year. In fact, one in three counties in our state have been declared disaster areas by Governor Pritzker.

Now, his administration wants local communities to report that damage so Illinois can qualify for federal aid. In order to qualify, the state has to meet or exceed $19 million in damages. 

Alicia Tate-Nadeau was on the line with us. She’s the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


Experts are finding more and more sick sea lions and abandoned sea lion pups off the coast of California.

Luckily, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is doing something about it. The aquarium has sent specialists to the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute in Santa Barbara, where they are caring for over 55 rescued pups.Their job is to nurse the pups back to health, help them regain weight, and eventually return them into the wild. In addition, they’re helping respond to marine life distress calls that the Institute receives every day.

To learn more about why this is happening and what Shedd’s experts are doing about it, Kurt Heizman joined us on the line. He's Shedd’s supervisor of sea lions and birds of prey and a member of its Animal Response Team.


If you keep in touch with friends and family through text message, or maybe use an app like Slack at work, you’ve probably used an emoji or two those little smiley face symbols you can find on your smartphone keyboard.

Of course, nowadays emojis include much more than just faces. You can find everything from food to animals to emoji couples, or emoji families. There are prayer hands. Maybe you use them all the time and didn’t even know they were called emojis!

That variety is part of the reason why almost everyone on the Internet has gotten in on the emoji game.  Adobe says emojis are used by a full 92% of the world’s online population.

But even with more than three thousand emojis to choose from, you can’t always find the one you’re looking for to express yourself or one that reflects you. Two of our guests today are working to make emojis more inclusive.

Ranjitha Kumar is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois. She and her colleagues actually created a bubble tea emoji. She joined us in the studio in Urbana.

Melissa Thermidor is a member of Emojination, an international grassroots group that works to make emojis more inclusive and representative of diverse backgrounds. She also is social media lead at the National Health Service in the U.K. 

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