By Andy Arias
I grew up in the foster care system and being someone with a significant mobility disability I was assuming that social security was the only way for individuals to survive. There were no examples of people with disabilities that I was around that were working and contributing members of society. I remember saying to my foster mother once, “Am I going to be homeless when I grow up?” All I saw growing up was homeless panhandlers in wheelchairs on the street.
This was one of my biggest fears. As I grew older I knew that I needed to do more in my life, that I had to fight for more than just the $750 that my foster family or my mother got to take care of me. I had no control of that income when I was a youth and I felt like it was this charity given to me because I was diseased or sick.
As I moved out as a 17-year-old, I then realized I needed to live on Social Security for a bit to get my bearings. I decided that the $750 that I received a month was not enough to have any kind of a semblance of a life. I had no idea that there were other supports such as regional centers or the Department of Rehabilitation to help assist me in these transitions. So instead of relying on security paycheck that would run down the 5th of the month after I paid rent, I decided to get a job and finish high school. I was working two different jobs and hoping not to be poor for the rest of my life. I had no idea that my disability would require me to have regular medical care as I aged into my disability. No regular health insurance would provide for my durable medical equipment or surgery that I needed and I had no idea of the consequences that it would cause. So I continued to work with ignorance of the system and what the damage would be later on to me working or receiving medical benefits.
Here in lies the problem with the system I worked in order to survive, I work so hard that I did not pay attention to the fact that Social Security needed to know every cent that I was making even if I reported the income. I had no idea this was going to affect my healthcare later on in life and know that I needed to be in the security cage in order to maintain my freedom and independent life. This Life ideal needs to change for persons with disabilities. We cannot be reliant on a system that only allows us to climb so high but yet penalizes us for climbing higher to reach our dreams. If I would’ve known what I know now, I would’ve done the same thing but been very cautious and hid as much information as I could so I was able to maintain the benefits for my future. This system needs to change for future generations we need more incentives for jobs and more incentive to get out of the boxes that society places on people with disabilities.
There is no system set up to stop the fear for young adults with disabilities that want to get off social security benefits, specifically SSI. There is no system set up for foster youth with disabilities that prepare them to be independent and thriving individuals. Group homes that youth sometimes get placed in are just another way of institutionalization. Point of fact, Social Security is only supposed to be used as a stepping stone to achieve career or vocational goals. However, the way our society looks at disabled individuals is if you have a disability, social security is your only form of income and therefore you are less valued as an individual. I sometimes feel that social security is a way of keeping individuals right where Society wants them in order for them not to organize thrive and threaten a system.
CareerACCESS would be the beginning steps to assist young adults with disabilities who want to live, thrive and work in the community to get out of the social security cage. Maybe even make them more independent than they ever dreamed.