Life with a disability is not easy. Whether your disability is the result of an injury or an illness, the experience can impact your sense of self and shake your faith in the future. Living with a disability means making peace with uncertainty.
A disability is about more than the condition itself. No matter what your disability may be, its effects can ripple out to virtually every aspect of your life, from home and family to work and finances.
Your disability doesn’t have to overtake your life or rob you of your hopes and dreams for your future including your dreams of living a prosperous life. This article explores the strategies you can use today to start building a more financially secure tomorrow regardless of your disability.
Know Your Rights
When you have a disability, you’re probably facing a lot of doubts and uncertainties about your ability to compete in the workforce, especially over the long term. Chances are, managing your condition will require frequent time off for medical appointments and treatments, and these may crop up with little or no warning.
You may also need a flexible schedule to help you manage your fatigue or your treatment. Your working environment may even need to be modified to enable you to do your job. These modifications may include the installation of adaptive equipment or giving you access to a quiet room where you can privately take medications, do necessary exercise, or simply rest when you need to during the workday.
The important thing to remember is that you have a right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. In fact, it is illegal to discriminate against any worker on the basis of disability. This is such an entrenched and important law that all employers in the United States are required to include an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement in their employee handbooks and related materials.
At the same time, of course, you have to remember that the term “reasonable accommodations” is ambiguous and subjective. To make sure that your legal employment rights are protected, the first thing you need to be able to do is to make your own case for your job candidacy. Show your prospective employer that you are the right person for the job. Prove to them that any accommodations you may need are more than reasonable given the benefits you will bring to the company.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a vocational or “transition” portfolio that showcases your unique skills and training. You can even bulk up this portfolio with the help of a vocational rehabilitation counselor. VR counselors not only serve as helpful liaisons to prospective employers, but also people who can also connect you with continuing education and professional development resources. This way, you’re making yourself irresistible to your future boss!
If your disability limits your ability to work or prevents you from working altogether, you may be entitled to government benefits and other forms of financial assistance. There are even programs, such as the PASS program, that can allow you to receive career training or to pursue a degree without losing your Social Security benefits. The core requirement is that you intend to use your training or studies to pursue work that is suited to your health needs.
If you do receive government assistance, it’s important to realize that the programs you rely on are subject to government funding, and that makes them vulnerable to budget cuts. In the United Kingdom, for example, recent tax cuts have taken away £28 billion, or around $35 billion US, from the national welfare program. This has led many Britons with disabilities to turn in desperation to high-interest loans just to survive. The US is far from immune to a similar fate. No matter how robust the economy may seem, government benefits may be reliable, but they’re not fool-proof. It’s crucial to have a Plan B should some or even all of those entitlements evaporate.
A Penny Saved
If you are looking to secure your financial future when you have a disability, one of your best strategies is something that everyone, those without disabilities as much as those with them, should be doing: economizing.
For instance, the cost of a new car can significantly eat into the household’s monthly budget. However, with a bit of research and strategy, you can find a great used car that meets your particular needs and style without busting the bank. And if you require modifications for your vehicle, the money you save on purchasing a pre-owned vehicle can be put toward those adaptive devices, which will prevent you from going deeper into debt.
Another important money-saving strategy is about tackling one of the greatest sources of debt in America today: student loans. If you have federal loans and your disability began after you signed the promissory note on the loans but it’s now impacting your ability to work, you may be entitled to loan forgiveness or cancellation.
If you have private loans or don’t qualify for loan forgiveness, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of interest you pay or the amount of your monthly payment. You can consolidate your loans or refinance at a lower interest rate. Some loans are eligible for income-based repayment plans, which can be particularly important if your disability limits how much you can work.
Living with a disability is not easy, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up your financial independence or your dream of a financially secure future. There are a range of resources you can use to help you protect your finances from federal entitlements to tax cuts. Best of all, as a person with a disability, you are entitled to legal protections to safeguard your ability to work despite your condition. You have a right to reasonable accommodations to help you maintain your career or even launch a new one, ensuring that your disability does not deprive you of the life and security you and your family deserve.
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