By Blake Webber
The dilemma of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and the issues surrounding it make for a tough choice whether to accept the benefits or not. On the one hand, the health care benefits associated with SSI are great because of the high cost of wheelchairs as well as other equipment and medications. On the other hand, the restrictions associated with these benefits make for a never-ending treadmill. You can’t make enough money to survive without the benefits, yet it’s very difficult to live within the restrictions, namely the asset limit of $2,000. My name is Blake, and in my case I didn’t really have a choice but to go onto SSI at the age of 18.
I went on SSI because being born with cerebral palsy means I need several medications that are very expensive even with health insurance, which I originally had through my parents. Additionally, I started going to community college and couldn’t afford it. The two of these factors together made the decision to go onto SSI easy for me. Even though I’m now done with school, my medical needs and lack of employment mean for the time being I need to stay on benefits.
Being on benefits poses several issues, however. The income restrictions associated with SSI add complications to an already difficult job search. I’m 26 and despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to find employment. I’m currently volunteering at my local Independent Living Center, and in my free time I also work on computers and have volunteered at several local computer maintenance shops. Ideally I would like to be as independent as possible both financially and otherwise. The first step in this process is to find employment; unfortunately this is easier said than done. Even after finding employment it would still be difficult to be independent because if my income is too high then I lose benefits and may not have enough resources to support myself let alone anyone else.
Current Social Security policies not only limit income, they are also complicated and rigid. It’s difficult to understand the regulations, and working your way through the bureaucracy is frustrating and time-consuming. I believe that policies should help people with disabilities to become independent, not hamper our efforts to do so. Furthermore, whatever policies are used should have the input of the disability community. Right now, there is no middle ground; either a person is on benefits or they aren’t.
As a young person with a disability entering the workforce, I believe the CareerACCESS program can play a key role in both promoting and providing equal employment opportunities. The more opportunities the disability community has, the more we will be able to contribute to society. Because of this, CareerACCESS could become another tool in combating ableism and changing stereotypes. CareerACCESS would aid me in gaining employment and independence, which are essential for me to have a high quality of life. I hope to see employment become more accessible in the coming years and people with disabilities being viewed as valuable contributors to society.
Many people like Blake face challenges because of current Social Security disability benefits policies. You can support Blake and other young adults in similar situations by signing our CareerACCESS petition to reform current federal policies to allow young adults with disabilities to pursue their career goals and achieve independence. You can also follow CareerACCESS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and share our updates and posts.