Top Three Pressing Issues for Americans with Disabilities

Top Three Pressing Issues for Americans with Disabilities

The 2016 presidential and congressional elections are over, and by this point most of us know who will represent us in Washington next year. Without a doubt, this has been a very heated and contentious election season, and – like in previous years – Americans can only hope that all three branches of government will work together for the good of the nation. As the largest minority group in the United States, people with disabilities continue to face several pressing issues that we would like our elected representatives to address. These are the top three topics that are most important to people with disabilities all over the country.

Better Healthcare Access

Programs like Medicaid and Medicare are often the only type of health insurance people with disabilities have. Unfortunately, not all health providers accept these forms of insurance, particularly Medicaid, which is provided to people who are disabled, blind or older than 65 with limited incomes. Unfortunately, few hospitals and clinics accept this form of insurance, making it difficult for individuals with disabilities to have adequate and timely access to health care. This is especially pressing given the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities, who depend on programs like Social Security and Medicaid to get by.

Improvements to Social Security

This has been a longstanding topic of concern to people with disabilities. Most people are not aware, but individuals with disabilities who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have set limits on what they can make on the job. Furthermore, SSI recipients can only have up to $2,000 in order to qualify for this program. In 2014, Congress passed the ABLE Act, which will allow Medicaid and SSI recipients to create special savings accounts where they can save money without jeopardizing their benefits. I and thousands of other individuals with disabilities and their families applaud this legislation, but feel much more needs to be done to improve the system.

Funding for Programs Supporting People with Disabilities

In Illinois as in many other states, recent budget cuts have affected, or even eliminated altogether programs and services for people with disabilities. These include day programs for those with developmental disabilities, vocational services and other programs providing information and resources to these individuals and their families. In Illinois, for example, centers for independent living throughout the state are being negatively impacted by the lack of funds. These centers are crucial for people with disabilities, as they help them find valuable information and resources on how to become more independent.

The government should work together with the disabled community to address these issues. They are topics often overlooked by the general public and politicians, but are extremely important to people with disabilities and their families. Until the government addresses these problems, people with disabilities will continue to experience the negative consequences. Finding solutions not only benefits this population, but also the community at large. What other disability related concerns should our newly elected government address?   Please share your thoughts!

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What are some of the more common legal issues encountered by people with visual impairments?

May 1st is recognized as Law Day in the United States. To honor this occasion, I spoke with the folks at our very own Kane Legal Clinic. Located at the Chicago Lighthouse, this clinic provides legal services free of charge exclusively to people with visual impairments; it is the first and only clinic of its kind in the Midwest.

Paul Rink and Carol Anderson, both attorneys at the clinic, discussed some of the more common legal issues they see at their practice. Please note that these topics and statistics only pertain to the Kane Legal Clinic, and do not reflect those seen in other law offices.

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Employment Discrimination

About 10 percent of the cases seen at the Kane Legal Clinic are related to employment discrimination. These include individuals that were not hired, demoted, or terminated due to disability. Employment discrimination cases also encompass discrimination in education settings, when the individual is receiving training to become employed.

According to Paul Rink, senior attorney and director of the clinic, this form of discrimination may arise because employers don’t want to spend money on additional equipment. They might also assume that the person who is blind or visually impaired simply will not meet the job qualifications.

“The blind person has to be ready always to prove that he or she can meet the job qualifications if they have the proper tools to do it, and generally those tools exist,” Paul said.

Social Security

Also at around 10 percent, cases related to Social Security benefits are commonly seen at the Kane Legal Clinic. These cases often involve Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Clients often come to the clinic asking for general advice about the application process and to receive assistance in filing appeals or negotiating overpayments from Social Security.

Carol Anderson, attorney at the Kane Legal Clinic, believes that confusion is often the main cause of these types of cases.  She says that very often applicants who are applying under the definition of legal blindness – and even doctors – aren’t fully aware of the standards they need to meet in regards to their vision.

Another common mistake benefit recipients make is not being aware of the earnings limits allowed by Social Security. Not reporting these earnings can cause recipients to get notices of overpayment from the Social Security Administration.

Other common cases seen at the Kane Legal Clinic include those involving housing and general discrimination, personal property damage and theft, personal injury and identity theft. Attorneys at the clinic have worked on cases involving 23 areas of the law.

Both Carol and Paul believe that the best way for people – whether blind or sighted – to avoid many of these cases is through becoming informed about their rights and responsibilities. Being aware about any notices they might receive can also help.

“One of the best things that blind people can do is to read their mail and not ignore things,” says Paul. He also said that it is by ignoring notices that situations worsen over time, and that good organization is key to prevent this from happening.

*** Special Invitation ***

The Kane Legal Clinic would like to extend an invitation to readers in the Chicagoland area to attend their next seminar about identity theft on Wednesday, May 6 from 12 to 1 p.m. at The Chicago Lighthouse. Todd M. Kossow, assistant director at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Midwest Region, will discuss identity theft and how to avoid becoming a victim. To RSVP for this event or find out more about the Kane Legal Clinic, please call 312-666-1331, ext. 3137.

As always, thanks for reading, and we look forward to your questions and comments! You can email your questions to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.