Going Out with a Disability: Will I Be Able to Go In?

Guest blogger Sean Gray is from Washington, DC and runs two independent record labels, Fan Death Records and Accidental Guest Recordings. He has written for local DC news outlets DCist and Washington CityPaper.

It was a November afternoon; it was a tough week as I had just gotten laid off from my day job. I decided I should probably leave my apartment, go see some friends and see a band play at a local bar/venue. I saw a Facebook event invite from a band I knew I liked, but as soon as I opened it and looked at the location, I knew I couldn’t go.

Sean Gray1

Sean Gray Performing

Sean Gray 2

Sean Gray Performing

I’m 32 and I have Cerebral Palsy. I’ve always been into music, especially not-so-well known artists. I’ve been going to concerts since I was 14 and many shows have helped shape who I am today. Music is a social experience, so it’s a good outlet to meet new people, hear new ideas, and really feel like part of a community. Some of bands who play smaller shows tend to push inclusion, which is great. The smaller performances I was going to when I was younger (and still to this day) have addressed many types of oppression. Yet, they never seemed to address disability and accessibility. I used to think my disability didn’t matter and that it wasn’t real because none of my peers were talking about it.

Going out with a disability isn’t easy. I’ve been socialized to believe that I can “do anything”. The reality is I can’t-not because I’m not smart enough or don’t have the skills-but because of the barriers put in my way because of how we treat and view disability in society. I wouldn’t question why there were stairs at a certain place, or why the bathroom wasn’t accessible because I was socialized not to. I was socialized to deal with it and view it as a part of life or some kind of hurdle that I just have to get over. I could never hide my disability, sure, but I would almost pretend it didn’t exist, especially when I was in any kind of social environment. I didn’t really start to come out with my disability until I was in my mid-20s. I started to question why people weren’t talking about my experiences, and really felt what I was going through was being swept under the rug. Maybe it was because the ADA exists, and maybe it was because there are visual reminders such as ramps, curb cuts, elevators, that people think life is now “easier” for those with disabilities, but in reality, at least for me, this wasn’t the case.

I got tired of not being able to go to a certain place because of inaccessibility. The whole idea of me just “dealing with it” started to really wear on me, and I got angry. Those with disabilities seemed to be stripped of certain feelings/experiences which can be romance, sexuality, and even anger. The angry disabled person makes others uncomfortable, and it should. Why should I have to just deal with it, or forego experiences because of this inaccessible world? While many might think “well you have friends that could help you,” it isn’t that easy. While I feel comfortable most of the time asking for help in inaccessible places, sometimes I don’t and just because I feel comfortable doesn’t mean everyone else with a disability does. Our experiences and disabilities are all different. I needed to own my disability and realize it as oppression. I don’t buy into the whole “my disability doesn’t own me” idea. This is a real oppression that needed to be recognized in my life.

If there’s one thing I have learned from underground bands is that I can advocate for myself. Instead of being angry, maybe I should call out the venue publicly and that be the end of it, but I wanted to do more. Information is power and if I could provide information on certain venues and their accessibility or inaccessibility, maybe it would help not only those with disabilities, but bands, patrons, and even the venues themselves to see who they are really leaving out at these places. I created a website containing detailed information about each venue I know in the Washington, D.C. area. This website, called “Is This Venue Accessible?,” would become a resource whenever needed. I tried to include little things that only my personal experience as someone with a disability would grasp such as: height of stairs, how sturdy are the railings, and if there are bathrooms on all floors.

While I don’t expect venues to change overnight (or even at all, especially the smaller places/DIY venues) I do believe this resource will make people think of accessibility issues they never thought of before. I hope that this site might put pressure on venues to rethink and retool accessibility in their establishments. If a bigger band or artist refuses to play their due to the lack of accessibility and the venue, it becomes a business decision. There is no one size fits all answer for accessibility. Just because I use a walker doesn’t mean what’s accessible for me is going to be accessible for someone who has a visual impairment. My disability is physical and easy to see, but that’s not true for everyone.

My dream is to have this expand beyond just the D.C. metro area. The response has been great with many people offering to help with accessible web design and even putting this all into a searchable database. Accessibility is something that still seems to be ignored. We need to start rethinking how we view disability and what it means to have a disability. In the end it’s simple: accessibility is inclusion and if we are excluding one, we are excluding all.

 

Congress Passes ABLE Act

Washington Wire
Subscribe now to UCP’s Washington Wire for weekly news from Capitol Hill
and Action Alerts on pressing public disability policy issues. 

 

The U.S. Senate passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 by a vote of 76 to 16 late Tuesday evening, agreeing with the House of Representatives that the bill should become law. President Obama is expected to sign the bill soon.

The ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act allows individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to save money tax free for their disability service needs, and allows these assets to be exclude for purposes of eligibility to receive needed government supports including Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). ABLE addresses barriers to independent living because individuals’ access to certain essential government funded programs can be lost once they establish a minimal level of income and savings.

Beginning in 2015, children or adults who acquire a disability before age 26 will be able to annually save up to the amount of the IRS gift tax exclusion, currently $14,000, and up to $100,000 total while remaining eligible for public programs such as Medicaid and SSI.  The ABLE Act will allow for similar certain individuals with disabilities and their families to maintain savings accounts similar to 529 saving plans for education.

Once the President signs the ABLE Act, the federal government will issue guidance on exactly how to set up and fund ABLE savings plans.

 

A Tribute to Disability Activist Stella Young

Stella Young

“I use the term porn deliberately because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people.” – Stella Young on “inspiration porn” images of people with disabilities.

The headlines are heavy today with the news that comedian and journalist Stella Young unexpectedly passed away over the weekend at the age of 32. Many of you may recognize Stella’s face if not her name from the video of her TED talk in April of 2014, which has been widely shared on You Tube and social media and racked up millions of views worldwide.

Stella was born with Osteogensis Imperfecta, a genetic disorder causing bones to break easily. She used a wheelchair, although she’d be quick to point out that this fact does not automatically turn her into a noble inspiration for the rest of humanity.

“Stella’s frank way of making her point, with her razor-sharp wit wrapped in a genuinely warm and inviting smile will be missed in the world of disability advocacy,” said Stephen Bennett, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. “We all talk about the same issues Stella talked about, but she really knew how to present things in a way in which people had to stop and take notice.”

“Just a few months ago, our national external affairs staff viewed Stella’s TED Talk in preparation for a deeper discussion of how nonprofit organizations portray people with disabilities in our communications, marketing and development materials,” said Ruben Gonzales, Chief Development Officer of UCP. “It was so valuable for our staff members without disabilities to get that perspective.”

In honor of Stella and her work, here’s a link to ABC’s website with a list of “17 Things Stella Wants You to Know as demonstrated in quotes from her work.

Young, Queer and Crippled: We’ve Got Spirit Too

Andrew Morrison GurzaTo commemorate Spirit Day, the following is a guest post from a noted blogger and disability advocate who is also gay and a person with a disability. Andrew Morrison-Gurza is a Disability Awareness Consultant with an MA of Legal Studies specializing in Persons with Disabilities. Andrew also has the experience of living as a person with a disability. He understands that the concept of disability is one that many individuals are very new to, and they may not feel comfortable to discuss it. Through his work, Andrew aims to give everyone the opportunity and most importantly, the permission to start the conversation by discussing his day to day lived experience and making disability accessible to everyone. About the terminology he uses in his post, he notes “Cripple is a term that I have reclaimed as one of empowerment. It is not the politically correct terminology for Persons with Disabilities, but it is how I self-identify.”

 

By Andrew Morrison Gurza

I was sitting in my 11th grade math class, and there he was: an absolutely stunning spectacle of man (or, at least what my 16 year old brain considered to be “man” at the time).   Everything inside me told me to go talk with him, my palms were sweaty, his smile made me melt to the floor—it was now or never.  I had just come out of the closet, and based on all the TV and movies I had seen, now that I had admitted my sexuality, my quest for a long term partner would be that much easier.

As I pushed the joystick on my 300-lbs. wheelchair towards him, I began to realize that it wouldn’t be that easy, and all of these thoughts about how I was ‘too disabled’ began to flood my brain. I never did tell my high school crush how I felt about him, but the feelings of uncertainty and fear with respect to my disability lingered. The more and more I got messaging from the media reminding me that “it was okay to be gay,” I would also wonder in the back of my mind, “yes. But is it okay to be gay and disabled?”

Spirit Day is a brilliant initiative designed to combat bullying and homophobia against LGBTQ+ youth. With this in place, Queer youth are told that they matter, and that they have a voice in our ever changing queer-scape. I think that Spirit Day also allows for us to remember the queer voices that we don’t often hear about. For me, that is the queer cripple.

It is important to remember that they exist too, but they may be navigating their queerness in entirely different ways: with Personal Care Assistants who help them with everyday activities many people take for granted, struggling with feeling different amongst the different, and having very few role models who embrace both their disability and their sexuality openly.

Imagine feeling burdensome to everyone because everywhere you look, you are not at all represented. Imagine worrying that you might not get your basic needs met if you come out, and imagine worrying that you might never be loved – all because you sit rather than stand.

It is in our youth where changes in the LGBTQ+ experience will truly come, and so it is our young LGBTQ+ community who must be introduced to the Queer Cripple. We must teach them that it is okay to have questions about disability, and it is okay to be a little bit scared of what they don’t understand.  We must show them now, that all bodies have value, so that by the time they start accessing their sexuality in real-time, the good looking guy in a wheelchair will be someone they will approach as they would anyone else – perhaps with questions and queries, but without fear and fakery.

Spirit Day can also ensure that we celebrate disability in the Queer community. By actively discussing disability (and all that comes with it) on Spirit Day, we can show young Queers with Disabilities that there is indeed a place for them, and they will be a part of this bright rainbow that we all are trying to shine under.

Thank you for reading! If you want to find out more about the work I do as a Disability Awareness Consultant, or find out how I can “make disability accessible” to you through blogging, presenting or speaking, please head over to www.andrewmorrisongurza.com

 

 

Leader in Universal Design Field to Kick Off Design-athon

Design-athon Revised Header
John Salmen, AIA, CAE, is scheduled to kick off the UCP’s Life Labs initiative Enabled by Design-athon: DC Edition on Wednesday, November 5. The president of Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc. and internationally recognized leader in the universal design field, Mr. Salmen has specialized in barrier free design for more than 35 years, creating environments to be usable by people of all ages and abilities, to the greatest extent possible. He is one of the leading experts in the technical aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and has authored several books including: Accessible ArchitectureThe Do-Able Renewable Home,Accommodating All Guests and Everyone’s Welcome.

He joins Adrienne Biddings, Policy Counsel for Google. Brett Heising of www.brettapproved.com and Maria Town, the influential blogger who created http://cpshoes.tumblr.com/. Also on tap is the 2013 DoSomething Grant winner, Diego Marsical. The speakers will offer “lightning” talks on accessibility and design for people with disabilities at the Great Hall at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library from 6:00-8:00 p.m., which will be followed by networking time at a happy hour at a local establishment to be determined. This event is the prelude to a two-day design workshop at Google’s D.C. offices on November 6-7 where teams will compete to come up with the best design. A $25 registration fee is required for the workshop, however, the Wednesday evening event is FREE and you do not have to participate in the full workshop to attend (registration is required and space is limited).

“This is an opportunity for designers, technologists, engineers, students, caregivers and people with disabilities to collaborate and learn from each other how to use human-centered universal design concepts to solve every day challenges,” said Marc Irlandez, Director of Information, Technology and Life Labs at UCP. “We believe good design goes a long way towards helping people live as independently as possible by making day-to-day tasks just a little easier.”

The event is sponsored by Google, CareerBuilder, Sprint Relay, PCS Engineering, Sugru, the CEA Foundation, Tech Shop and Coroflot. Academic partners include Marymount University and the Cocoran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington, University. It has been featured on the Core77 Design blog and in the Tech Shop newsletter.

Get more information and register at http://ucpdesignathon.org/.

Who Cares About Ken Jennings? A Teachable Moment

Yesterday, former Jeopardy champion and aspiring TV host, Ken Jennings made a highly offensive comment on Twitter. Many of his 177,000+ followers reacted with harsh criticism and several media outlets soon picked up on the storm, reporting on his comment and the ensuing furor online.Ken Jennings Screenshot

So who really cares about Ken Jennings or what he said. He is, after all, a self-described “fixture of yesteryear.” We could jump on the bandwagon and bash Ken for being none-too-bright when it comes to sharing your private thoughts on such a public forum, especially if you’re trying to build a fan base to launch another 15 minutes of fame. We could point out all that is wrong with this statement, but that’s hardly necessary. Those 41 characters pretty much say everything you need to know (as does the fact that almost 23 hours hence, after plenty of criticism, he has not attempted to remove the post.)

But for organizations like UCP, which have spent the better part of 65 years advocating to give people with disabilities the opportunities they need to fully participate in their communities and in our society, this is a teachable moment.

The lesson here is that for all of our progress – greater accessibility to public places, innovations in technology to make day-to-day life easier, reducing discrimination in education, housing and the workplace, more and better public services and support – we really haven’t accomplished much if people with disabilities are still regarded as “less than” people without disabilities.

It is that attitude that is so evident in Mr. Jenning’s post. He’s telling the world that using a wheelchair somehow diminishes what he would consider an otherwise attractive person.

That is sad. But it’s not sad for us. It’s only sad for Mr. Jennings and others like him who have not yet understood that disability doesn’t mean diminished. If we can use this unfortunate moment to make people stop and think for a moment – and possibly check their own attitudes – then we have a truly teachable moment. Maybe Mr. Jennings has given us a gift and offered us some knowledge about the prejudices that still lurk under the surface.

I’ll take “Enlightenment” for $1000, Alex.

New Event Series for Young People with Disabilities and Young Veterans

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and Student Veterans of America (SVA) announce a unique partnership that will allow both young adults with disabilities and young veterans to network and increase engagement and collaboration. The project was developed with the support of the National Youth Transitions Center and the Youth Transitions Collaborative (www.thenytc.org).SVA Circle JPEG

An educational series of events called “Engage: A Diverse Event Series” will take place between September and December 2014, covering finance, adaptive sports, disability and military history and wrapping up with a social evening of networking. The events will be open to youth and young adults with disabilities from ages 14-26 and veterans under the age of 35 in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Each event will have a specific subject of focus, addressing key social and educational components and offer a welcoming atmosphere.

The events are free but space is limited for each event, so registration is required. The hope is that by bringing together people from different backgrounds, they will be able to better learn from one another about their individual and shared experiences. Overall, the event series is designed to be a basis for further collaboration within the D.C. area, and serve as venue to further spread best practices.

EVENT DETAILSAdaptive Sports

Wednesday, September 24 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

National Youth Transition Center at 2013 H Street NW in Washington, D.C.

Financial Education
Network and share your challenges with optimizing financial resources with financial planning experts including representatives from TD Bank, who will offer advice and guidance through interactive budgeting activities. Food and drinks will be provided!


Tuesday, October 21 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

National Youth Transition Center at 2013 H Street NW in Washington, D.C.

Adaptive Sports
Continue to network while learning about adaptive sports with representatives from Disabled Sports USA who will share their stories, answer questions and demonstrate equipment. Food and drinks are provided!


Wednesday, November 18 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. 

American History Museum at 14th & Constitution Avenue, NW.

Disability and Military History
Hear from the curatorial staff of the Division of Armed Forces History and the Division of Science and medicine at the Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program followed by behind-the-scenes tours of collections of armed forces and disability history. Snacks and drinks will be provided. And, of course, enjoy networking!


Wednesday, December 10 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

National Youth Transition Center at 2013 H Street NW in Washington, D.C.

Networking Reception
Enjoy an evening filled with networking, food, beverages and music, as we wrap up our event series.

 

REGISTER BY CLICKING HERE!

 

Please contact O’Ryan Case, UCP’s Director of Membership and Public Education at (202) 973-7125 or ocase@ucp.org if you have any questions.

Remembering a Great Camper, Volunteer, Staff Member and Brother

Guest post by Bill McCool, Executive Director of UCP of Delaware

 

Petey & Mary 2

Peter Collins was a camper, volunteer and staff member for United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware’s Camp Manito.  Mary Arden Collins, who is a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles, recently produced a video about her wonderful brother Pete, who passed away in May of this year.  The video tells a great story about Pete, who found ways, both big and small, to give back to the camp and the people he loved.   

Pete started at Camp Manito when he was three years old.  His mother put him on the bus that came to pick him up at their house, but she secretly followed the bus to make sure that he was going to be ok.  It must have worked out, because for the next 35 years, Pete came to camp every summer.

Mary Arden also has her own camp memories.  As a teenager, she became one of the camp volunteers and eventually a counselor.  Mary Arden pursued a music career, but she has always been proud of her association with UCP’s Camp Manito.  When she would come back to Delaware, she would come to the camp and perform for the kids.  She and Pete, who played a bodhran drum, performed together.

Pete & Mary edit.jpg

There has always been a sense of family at UCP’s Camp Manito, probably because we have watched so many children grow up here.  As small children, they are campers; as teens, they become volunteers; as high school and college students, they become staff; as adults, they move into the community and they find ways to give back to the program and to the kids who are following after them.  And while the progression is not the same for everyone, there is a feeling of belonging and sharing that envelops all of the staff, volunteers and campers.

When Peter was too old to attend as a camper, he became one of the camp staff and then a volunteer.  His annual position here was camp receptionist.  He answered the phone, directed callers to UCP staff and took messages.  In the morning, he greeted campers and their parents when they arrived; in the afternoons, he used our public address system to call campers to the lobby when their parents came to pick them up.  He chased down staff to give them their messages.  During the off season he stayed in touch with his camp friends, calling them and talking about good times at camp, telling them he was anxious for summer’s return. He was here every June; he always came back to take care of the phones and do his job.  He was good at what he did, and he was reliable; we always knew we could count on him.

Like any charitable organization, UCP has had its up and down periods, and during one down period, UCP had to cut back the number of weeks the camp could be open from six to four weeks.  Pete made a decision that changed the course of that summer for all of the children who were here.  He donated enough money to help UCP stay open for an additional week of camp.  His love for the camp, our campers, and the work he was doing meant a great deal to Peter.  He gave his donation happily, and he was here that week doing his job as usual.  His donation meant others could enjoy what he had always enjoyed – a longer summer together with the friends they loved.

Pull together any group of adults who attended camp when they were younger and the stories you will hear will amaze you.  It’s the power of camp; it’s the power of their shared experience.  They have an appreciation for the program and a love for the people they grew up with.  Peter was that person too.  He showed his deep feelings for our children and the camp that particular summer and every summer he was here.  We lost Peter this year, but he will never be forgotten by the folks who all shared the same love he had for Camp Manito.

Please take a few moments to watch and hear the video put together by Mary Arden.  The song was written by Mary Arden and Pete was her inspiration.

Bill McCool

 In Memory of Peter Collins, by Mary Arden

 

Navigating the Worlds of Education and Employment with a Disability

Special guest blog post by Maureen Marshall, Electrical Engineer

 

Maureen Marshall 3

Having cerebral palsy (CP) definitely has its challenges and there is no denying that, but there are also so many possibilities for achievement in both education and where that education leads you down your career path.  I was diagnosed with CP at the age of 2 and, though my parents were told I may never attend regular classes in school or actually ever learn to read and write, I proved everyone wrong and successfully attended regular classes– even advanced classes because I pushed myself to prove everyone wrong and excel.  I graduated, not once but 3 times: I graduated from high school; I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Business Administration degree in Technology; and a Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

 

Believe it or not, the biggest challenge I had in school was with the teachers.  While I was in elementary and middle school, I was forced out of orchestra class because I did not hold the bow correctly and I failed typing because I did not type with both hands.  In both cases, neither teacher was willing to recognize that I physically could not do what they wanted me to do, nor even the fact that I was able to succeed through modifying the way I performed the task.  Not having full use of my right side, I held the bow with a firm grip; no pinky finger up and I typed with one hand; not both. 

As I moved through high school and college, I learned to not register for classes that would be a physical challenge for me and cause further pass/fail issues, such as gym and swimming classes.  It was not worth the fight with the school administrators to get them to accept my limitations.  Instead, I enjoyed sports with my friends, who accepted these limitations and took swimming classes on my own where there was no pass/fail criterion.  When it came to choosing a field of study in college, I recognized that I would need a career that focused on my strengths and one that I could advance in.  I always loved and did well in math and science courses, so engineering was the path I chose to take– which I have had great success. Engineering allows me to use my knowledge and experiences, with little or no physical activity. There are so many different engineering positions and fields to chose from– one can definitely find one that fits not only their strengths but their abilities.  I have also found that industry is very accommodating to those with disabilities and will make every effort to ensure all obstacles are removed.  For instance, if you chose to work in a manufacturing plant, where getting around can be difficult, they have been known to install elevators or even mark walkways to allow wheelchair accessibility.

Maureen Marshall 2

I’ve experienced some interesting moments from the time I graduated to now– and one I’ll never forget is my first interview!  During the middle of the interview, I had to leave the room to get a form at the request of the person interviewing me and, when I came back to the room, I landed flat on my face.  For some reason, from the time I left the room to re-entering it, someone had placed a 2×4 board across the bottom of the doorway, which I tripped over when walking back into the room.  Mortified and embarrassed, I decided to get up as quickly as possible, gain my composure, laugh (instead of cry) and simply comment, “Well, that wasn’t there before!” and move on with the interview like nothing happened.  To this day, I will never know if that was an interview tactic or a simple mistake of someone working in the office area.  However, I am happy to say I got the job and I think a lot of that had to do with how I handled that situation! 

I have never called out my disability to any potential employers or future colleagues and over the years very few have inquired, even though it is very noticeable.  What worked for me, is taking on every situation, like there is nothing limiting me, and simply ‘adjust’ as needed.  An obstacle I have to overcome on a daily basis is when I am with a group heading either to a meeting or out to lunch and they head for stairs.  I will simply let them know to meet me by the elevator or ask where I could meet them after I find the elevator.  I have to say I have been very blessed with employers and colleagues that have never called out my disability either.  Do not get me wrong, there have also been a few challenging moments throughout the years too.  

Several years back, there was an incident where I was out of the country for a business trip. While at dinner with a group of colleagues, one of them decided to call me “Crip” (a term short for cripple).  I was shocked when I heard this reference and especially from a superior.  At first, I ignored what I heard, hoping I was mistaken.  However after he repeated it several times, I quickly stated in return, “I am sorry.  Are you talking to me?  Because if you are, I do not answer to that, nor does my disability change who I am and why we are here.”  Unfortunately for him, he continued to refer to me as “Crip,” even after my request throughout the dinner.  All I could do was continue to ignore him.  I was very surprised that the others around the table never participated nor tried to stop him right then and there.  However, once we landed back home and returned to work, he was fired on the spot because they had addressed their concerns with our Human Resources Department without me knowing– taking quick care of the issue. 

I have also had bosses that have treated me differently than others, not because of my performance, but because they were not comfortable with my disability.  In cases like this, I have learned it’s best to move on and get out from under them as quickly as possible– take actions in my own hands and find a new position.

Maureen Marshall 1

In today’s day and time, if one is treating someone differently– not promoting them, holding them back from situations or otherwise– it’s their problem and not yours! 

In the end, I am very proud to state that I am witness to the fact that the professional environment for persons with disabilities has improved over the last 20 years.  More and more buildings are accessible and employers are welcoming the diversity in the workplace.  Unfortunately, there will always be those that still need to be educated on acceptance of persons with disabilities.  The good news is that we are the change agents and it is up to us to teach them that those with disabilities are very capable of being high performers.

If I were to offer advice to students with disabilities who are interested in careers in engineering and technology, it would be– do not let anyone or anything stop you! 

 

Marshall is from Royal Oak, Michigan and has been married for nearly twenty years. She has three sons and has held a career as an Electrical Engineer in the automotive and defense markets for more than twenty years.

Social Security Disability Benefits: Can I Apply?

by Lisa Giorgetti, Community Liaison, Social Security Disability Help

 

LisaProfile

Everyone is encouraged to live life without limitations, no matter who you are and what you face on a day-to-day basis. Just as many people encounter daily obstacles, the disability community has additional challenges to face, from going to physical therapy to paying dreaded medical bills. Health and other costs of living can certainly add up and put strain on your wallet. Social Security Disability benefits can help your family obtain some desired financial relief. Knowing all the facts and information about disability benefits helps better prepare you for the application process in order to file a successful claim.

 

 

Preparing for the Disability Application Process 

There are a number of steps to take in preparation for the application process. These steps will help ensure the success of your Social Security Disability claim.

 

Disability Benefits Programs

The first thing to consider when applying is to decide which program you’re eligible for, either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you’ve been a member of the workforce and suddenly find yourself unable to complete any sort of work activity and receive income, you could qualify for SSDI. You need to have paid the correct amount of Social Security taxes, depending on your age, when you were working. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi 

But what if you haven’t had the chance to obtain enough work credits or if the SSDI payments aren’t enough? Then SSI could be your answer as it’s a need-based program. You will just need to prove that your assets and household income are below the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) threshold. Also, if you have a child living with a disability and you meet the asset and income limit, you would want to apply for SSI through the parental deeming process. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssi/qualify-for-ssi

 

Determining Disability Under SSA Guidelines

No matter what disability benefits program you apply for, whether SSDI or SSI, you need to be classified as a “disabled” individual by the SSA. This means that your condition needs to be long-term, at least 12 months, or permanent that absolutely prevents you from performing any sort of work activity whatsoever.

The SSA also has published a “Blue Book” of medical listings with detailed criteria required to qualify for disability benefits as a result of a disabling condition. If your disability is listed in the Blue Book, you will just need to prove that you meet the requirements set forth. If, on the off chance, your condition isn’t listed, don’t worry. You will just have to prove that your condition meets the criteria of one of the listings or that it results in absolute inability to work. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions

For example, cerebral palsy is found in the Blue Book in Section 11.07 under neurological disorders. Since cerebral palsy is a long-term condition, your chances of receiving benefits can be likely. This is because cerebral palsy is considered by the SSA to be a “presumptive disability”. As a result, you may be able to: 

  • Start receiving payments, while the SSA reviews your application;
  • Receive these payments for up to six months during the application process; and
  • If SSA then denies your claim, you do not have to pay back the money sent to you.


Getting Together the Paperwork You Will Need
           

When getting ready to apply for benefits, you will need to show SSA proof of:

  • United States citizenship or legal residency in the US
  • Age
  • Living Arrangements
  • Medical Records
  • Income and Assets
  • Work History

Make sure to provide originals with your application, and keep copies to yourself (the only copies the SSA will accept are certified copies from the entity that issued them).

 

Meeting Eligibility Requirements 

As previously stated, each medical condition listed in the Blue Book has eligibility criteria that need to be met in order to be considered disabled. If you’re able to meet the requirements, you will need to prove to the SSA with proper documentation, such as doctor’s notes or observations from a therapist. 

In the example of applying with cerebral palsy, as an adult or child, the specific requirements vary:

For a child to be eligible to receive benefits due to cerebral palsy, the SSA will compare the child’s motor skills and abilities to those of children within the same age group. For example, if the cerebral palsy interferes with the ability to:

  • Take care of personal hygiene
  • Feed himself or herself
  • Participate in activities for children within his or her age group without assistance
  • Problems with one of the above, coupled with seizures, a low IQ for his/her age, and/or speech, hearing, or vision impairments
  • Using his or her hands, arms, and/or legs

For an adult applying for SSI or SSDI benefits due to cerebral palsy, they must keep in mind that in order to qualify for benefits, the disability has to affect the applicant’s activities of daily living. These activities include:

  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Household chores

If your cerebral palsy interferes with these activities, then you have a higher chance of being approved for disability benefits.

 

The Application Process

There are many SSA field offices located throughout the country; so it should be easy to find a location that is close to you. However, you may apply either:

  • In person
  • By mail
  • By filling out an application online

 If you decide to apply in person, it would be better to call in advance to schedule an appointment, since sometimes the field offices are crowded and you may have to wait in line.

 

What Happens if Your Initial Claim is Denied?

If your claim is denied, no need to panic. There’s still a possibility to be approved for benefits. In fact, most people are denied when they first apply for benefits. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t simply apply again. Instead, use the appeal process. The denial letter will include the information about how to file an appeal. Make sure you appeal within the 60-day period provided for doing so. It’s also helpful to know that:

  • Some jurisdictions require a reconsideration process before you can get a hearing; while others will allow you to schedule a hearing without the reconsideration step.
  • The person who will be in charge of your hearing will be an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
  • The ALJ was not involved in your initial application process
  • Sometimes, a videoconference hearing will be allowed. If this is the case, the SSA will notify you beforehand.
  • The ALJ will ask you questions about your disability
  • A vocational expert may also be present and ask additional questions

  

What Can You Expect in Terms of Benefits? 

Once you’re approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you can expect to receive additional payments (beyond the initial presumptive disability payments):

  • Between four to six weeks from when you receive your notification of approval
  • On the first day of every month
  • SSDI benefits are based on the applicant’s work record and earnings while working
  • SSI benefits are independent on the applicant’s work record; so even if you have never worked, you can still be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

 

Should You Hire an Attorney? 

Disability lawyers and representatives can assist you throughout the entire process of applying for SSI or SSDI benefits. When initially applying for benefits, getting all of the paperwork together can be done by you or a loved one; so if you are comfortable getting that part of the process done without legal assistance, then you can do so.

However, if your benefits are denied and you have to go to a hearing, it would be best to appear with an attorney, since they will know which questions to ask you to better show the judge that you are entitled to benefits. 

You don’t need to worry about having to come up with the money to pay your Social Security Disability lawyer. Their fee is a percentage of the benefits awarded to you in the form of back pay. Also, you don’t have to worry that your funds will run out in order to pay for your lawyer, since, by law, they can only take up to 25% (up to a maximum of $6,000) of any past due benefits owed to you. 

Although the process can appear to be daunting, every year, thousands of people are able to get their benefits successfully. If you or your loved one lives with a disability, you have the option to apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. These are benefits you may be entitled to by law, and they can significantly alleviate any financial stress you may be experiencing. 

 

Lisa Giorgetti is from Boston, MA and is the Community Liaison for Social Security Disability Help where she works to advocate for disability awareness and assist people throughout the Social Security Disability application process. For more information about Social Security Disability assistance, visit http://disability-benefits-help.org or contact via email help@disability-benefits-help.org.