Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sheltered Workshops: A Good Thing Or A Bad Thing For People With Disabilities?

Workforce Investment Act

Currently, most students with disabilities are referred to sub-minimum wage jobs (often times substantially less than the $7.25 minimum wage rate) at workshops when they graduate from high school. There is new legislation under consideration in both Houses of Congress that would alter their pathway into the workforce. Under Section 511 of the Workforce Investment Act, people under 24 years of age could not be employed by workshops unless they have sought employment in other settings first. This legislation also requires that state vocational rehabilitation agencies provide “pre-employment services” to students at schools in their area.


There are many who are supportive of passing this legislation. They believe it will re-route youth into more fulfilling career paths who may have otherwise been automatically steered toward subminimum wage employment. Christopher Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, is quoted as saying that this proposal is an “important first step toward eliminating wage discrimination against people with disabilities.”

However, there are those who fear the passage of this legislation will only hurt the disability community. Parents and caregivers of individuals with severe cognitive and developmental disabilities feel that sheltered workshops are the only option for certain individuals because of the limitations their disability puts on them. By taking away the option of workshops, Congress is taking away these individuals’ ability to “have something to do”, be out in society, make friends and have a sense of self-worth.

Forward RISE Logo
I’d be interested to see exactly how this would work. In my opinion, this proposal has great potential for getting people with disabilities into society in a very real way. At Forward RISE, we are committed to inclusion, and the passage of a proposal like this is a great step towards this goal. There is a significant segregation between the two communities of people with and people without disabilities and the only way to fix this is through real inclusion. State vocational rehab agencies can begin their work with students when they reach high school age so that they can prep for transition to life after school. This school in New Jersey has a great program for its students with developmental disabilities that offers real-life skills and industry certifications to help them land a job or to succeed in college. 

When I was in high school, I remember taking a questionnaire that narrowed down my interests into possible career paths. There could be a modified version of this for people with disabilities. If a person only has one option – sheltered workshops – they will never learn if they have the potential to do something different.
Why is this so important? We have to consider the bar that we set for people with disabilities. Are we setting the bar too low by assuming that the best place for anybody with a disability is a sheltered workshop? I say yes! Too often, assumptions are made on people with disabilities. It is presumed that they are incapable of making decisions, keeping a schedule or following directions, let alone having higher-thinking qualities needed for employment. Destination Desserts changes the game by assuming that people with disabilities do have the ability to hold down a job outside of a sheltered workshop. 

But we also have to realize that there are certain individuals for whom sheltered workshops would be the best environment. Taking away that option completely would devastate many individuals and families who rely on these places.

As with anything, change can be scary and difficult, especially when we are talking about a community with such a varied group of people. This proposal can be the beginning of the desegregation of disabled and able-bodied people. I can’t wait until the word “inclusion” is no longer a part of our conversation because at that point, it will just be.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bullied Boy Gets Charged After Recording Bullies In Action

A 15-year-old boy with a comprehension delay disorder, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder complained to his school and parents that there were bullies who were intimidating him and physically attacking him yet the school failed to intervene on behalf of their student. He decided to take action and use his school-issued iPad to record an incident with the (rational) thought that if he had proof he could stop the bullying. Boy, was he wrong! Instead what happened was he, himself, was charged with disorderly conduct for secretly recording individuals who didn’t give consent to being recorded! If you’re thinking, “Surely this can’t be happening now, in today’s society” you are very wrong, my friend. He was just found guilty on March 19, 2014. You might also be thinking, “This must have happened somewhere outside of America because this type of unfairness would not be allowed in an advanced country such as ours”, and you would be wrong on this account, as well. This happened in the great state of Pennsylvania, one of 12 states that require the consent of all parties when making a recording. The bullies have never been punished.

Thankfully, the DA eventually decided not to pursue this case and dropped the charges after it gained public attention. But there is something seriously wrong with Lt. Robert Kurta, the officer who made the decision to file a citation against the teen, and the legal system if a teen who isn’t being protected by their school takes matters into their own hands in a non-violent way. You can watch an interview of the teen here.

Thanks to The Mobility Resource for bringing this story to my attention.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ABLE Act - Savings for People With Disabilities

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was introduced in Congress in February 2013 and it has recently been analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan federal agency that that provides budget and economic information to Congress. If and when it is finally passed, it can make a huge positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

ABLE Act – What it means
The ABLE Act would amend the IRS revenue code in such a way that would allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996. The money accrued in that account is not considered taxable income to the individual and their eligibility for SSI or Medicaid is not at risk, which are often times the only income and medical coverage people with disabilities have. 

A real life example:
Tony’s sister has a beautiful little girl who was born with cerebral palsy. Little Maggie is the light of her mother’s eye but she has a long road ahead of her. Tony sees how much it costs to get the equipment Maggie needs and deserves in order to be included in the rest of the family’s daily life. Maggie’s mom works very hard but can’t possibly cover all the expenses on her own.  Medicaid only covers the very basics and even those things are often a fight to get. Tony decides to help out by setting up an ABLE account for Maggie’s needs. He knows it won’t count as income to Maggie’s household so there’s no risk that the SSI and Medicaid Maggie and her family rely on will be affected. Family members & friends regularly deposit money in Maggie’s account for holidays & birthdays and Maggie’s mom is able to pay for the expenses that Medicaid doesn’t cover.

Key Characteristics

  • Anybody (including the individuals with disabilities themselves) can set up an ABLE account and multiple accounts in different states can be set up for one individual
  • Qualified expenses include education; housing; transportation; employment support; health, prevention, and wellness; miscellaneous expenses (such as financial management or legal fees); assistive technology and personal support services
  • Earning and distributions from the account would not count as taxable income to the owner
  • Contributions would be made using cash from the contributor’s after-tax income
  • Assets in these account would be disregarded when determining the individual’s eligibility for most federal means-tested benefits such as medical coverage
  • The first $100,000 would be disregarded when considering the eligibility for SSI

ABLE Act – Impact on SSI
In order to quality for SSI, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 in assets (for couples it’s $3,000). If their assets exceed this maximum amount, they must spend down the excess before they can qualify. Think about what this means! A person with disabilities cannot have a “rainy day” fund or a savings account for fun vacations like the rest of society. Doesn’t every financial expert say that we should have at least 6-8 months of expenses saved in case of an emergency? I guess people with disabilities don’t have emergencies like people without disabilities! Why would they need to have money saved up? The reality is, people with disabilities have higher medical expenses but are expected to live in poverty before they can qualify for government assistance which covers the very, very basics! And I hope that you, dear reader who doesn’t have a disability, will not become disabled due to an accident or illness because any money you’ve worked so hard to save up until then will have to be handed over until you have almost nothing left.

Another real life example:
Joe has always been a hard worker. He got his first job as a cashier at age 16 and was taught to save by his parents. By the time he turned 26, he managed to save over $15,000 in a savings account. For his 27th birthday he and his friends decided to go bungee jumping. That decision cost him his legs. After a freak accident, Joe became paralyzed from the waist down. He had to stop working because of his injuries and no longer had medical coverage. He applied for SSI and Medicaid but because he had so much money saved – money he was saving to buy himself a home – he didn’t qualify. Joe had to spend all that money he worked so hard for before he could find any assistance. A man who was independent and always worked for the things he wanted now had almost no money left and had to depend on the government for what little they could do for him.

Support is growing
Thankfully, the list of people and organizations that are behind the ABLE Act is steadily growing. The passage of this Act is crucial to people with disabilities and their loved ones.  

Congressman Crenshaw states it well: 
"No longer would individuals with disabilities have to stand aside and watch others use IRS-sanctioned tools to lay the groundwork for a brighter future. They would be able to as well, and that's an accomplishment we can all be proud of."

To see if your state’s Representatives and Senators support the ABLE Act you can check the following websites:

It’s time for the government and certain populations in our society to expect those with the least to give the most!

Equality for all, ALWAYS!

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