Born a Bulldog

By Zach Mecham

March 18, 2016

I am Zach Mecham, and I was fortunate to be born a bulldog. This is not a direct reference to the school I am attending (whose mascot is the bulldog), but more a reference to the character I’ve had since I was young. Whether I was refusing to eat my vegetables or ignoring those who doubted my ability to live, work and study on campus I have lived my life refusing to compromise. This is an attitude that was facilitated by my family. Little did they know it would backfire when it came to eating my green vegetables.

SSI: A Never-Ending Treadmill

By Blake Webber

December 26, 2015

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.

Three Words: “This is Nuts”

By Justin Farley

November 2, 2015

Growing up, I received a weekly allowance from my parents for doing my weekly chores like every other kid I knew at the time, but unlike most kids I didn’t like spending my money. I remember from an early age having a piggy bank to stash all my money in. As I grew older, my parents opened up a savings account for me. By the age of thirteen I managed to save enough money to buy me a brand new computer with all the best hardware. Having my own computer at that age was awesome, I didn’t need to share it with my siblings and it had the added benefit of making my older brother jealous. Mid-way through high school, I started a very small vending machine company.

Video: Andy Arias on SSI

By Andy Arias 

October 16, 2015

CareerACCESS Core Team Members Reflect on Washington, D.C.

Andy Arias and Daniel Mellenthin, two members of the core CareerACCESS team, joined CareerACCESS in Washington, D.C. to advocate for Social Security policy reform. Both took the time to reflect on their hard work and the experience as a whole.

August 21, 2015

Andy Arias:
The trip to Washington, D.C. was fruitful and enlightening. I’ve been coming to D.C. for the last three years in my role as a disability rights advocate for the Orange County Independent Living Center, and I can honestly say this  trip felt the most outcome-driven. The week in DC included many meetings with influential individuals, as well as Congressional Hearings and meet-ups focused on expanding the awareness of CareerACCESS and engaging key stakeholders in our initiative.

An Exercise in Patience, Persistence, Reward, and sometimes, Head-banging Agony: My Attempt at Navigating the Quagmire that is the Disability Social Security System.

By Matthew Shapiro

August 25, 2015

My name is Matthew Shapiro and I am from Richmond, Virginia. In the fall of 2013 I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a double major in Interdisciplinary Studies and Sociology with a minor in Psychology.  (I bleed black and gold and I would advise you not to mess with me when VCU basketball is on the television.) In my spare time I do the typical things any 24-year-old does. I hang out with friends, I attend sporting events, I play video games, and I travel.

Working on Work: Making a Tangible Difference

By Sarah Rizzuto, M.A., M.F.A

April 20, 2015

When I was sixteen, a counselor from the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) asked what my dream job was.

“I want to teach college.” I replied.

Without hesitation, he explained BRS’s goal was to make me “employable”. Apparently, this meant the agency didn’t assist with funding for my personal care assistants beyond a Bachelors unless I could justify it.

But you asked what my DREAM job was, I thought to myself. Dreams are equal opportunity; everyone can have one.

Shortchanged by SSI: A Counterintuitive Path to Financial Security and Independence

By Sarah Amin

March 25, 2015

As a recent college graduate in the summer of 2010, I was preparing for my big move to Washington, D.C. to attend graduate school at American University. Having interned in D.C. while in college, I had a sense of how daunting it could be for a student to secure affordable housing in a safe and accessible area near a university while managing the costs of living, transportation, and health care in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. Moreover, as a wheelchair user with an autonomic condition that limits the time I can function outdoors, I had a number of other challenges to consider in my transition to city life.

Ready, Willing and Disabled: On Being Determined To Work

By Kathleen Downes

March 4, 2015

I am twenty two years old. In a few months, I will graduate with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I want to be a social worker and a disability activist. By every official measure, I have successfully transitioned into that shadowy place with a notorious lack of information- adulthood with a disability. “Disabled adult”- it’s a title that attracts little public concern in a maze of government programs designed as though we never grow up. Twenty two is a pretty standard age to “grow out” of many disability services as though the supports and funding will no longer be necessary with the dawn of adulthood. “Silly rabbit, Medicaid waivers are for kids!” Oh. Is that not how the phrase goes? I totally meant to say Trix.

Social Supplement Income and Social Security Policies for the Disabled: A Disincentive to Work

By Derek Manners

February 18, 2015

My name is Derek Manners and I’m currently a law student at Harvard Law School. I have been receiving SSI since I was 18 and SSDI once my mom qualified for it since I was 24 due to the fact that I am blind. When I graduate in May 2016, I plan to work at a law firm in DC making approximately $167,000 a year. SSI, SSDI, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services have played a vital part in allowing me to get this far in my career. Without the funding, I would not be nearly as successful. Nevertheless, the current structure of SSI and SSDI has been a direct cause of the fact that it has taken me about a decade to graduate with my undergraduate and JD degrees.

Hidden Limits

By Jenny Weast

November 17, 2014

On October 14, 2014, I posted on Facebook that I was in desperate need of legal assistance and advice.

It’s pretty simple. My name is Jenny and I was paralyzed in a skiing accident when I was sixteen years old and became a C5-6 quadriplegic. Soon after, I was told by our government that I could still go to college, have a career, and become independent. There were programs put in place that would support me in my dream to do each of these things. If I put in the work, they would pay for my caregivers to assist with all my personal care, housecleaning, shopping, medical appointments, etc.

Is Climbing the Ivory Tower Enough?

By Shawn Murinko

September 30, 2014

Like virtually everybody else, you were herded into our higher education system with a promise: if you make the arduous climb up the Ivory Tower the world awaits you with the opportunity to join the ranks of the employed. Therein lies the problem, however, as very rarely does this experience alone prepare you for the journey that lies ahead.

In college, if you are motivated enough to take in the full experience, you may easily find yourself withdrawn into a world of relative passivity entrenched in textbooks and regurgitating idealism in your writing assignments.

Receiving SSI: Are You Safe? Or Suffocating?

By D’Arcee Neal

September 24, 2014

As I write this blog, I’m sitting in my first office that I’ve been at for almost a year now. Thinking about the path that got me to this place is one that is reminiscent for almost all millennials these days, but I’d add that for those of us with disabilities, the hardship is only magnified by systemic inadequacies and limitless red tape.

Social security is for many, a needed relief to help mitigate circumstances where too little money would put you on the streets, starving. In places like North Carolina where I used to live, it provided me a comfortable moment to breathe after school when I had lost my job. But I have cerebral palsy.

The Search for Self-Sufficiency in the Face of SSI

By Gabriel Chesman

September 16, 2014

When I was 21 years old I sustained a random and still unexplained catastrophic spinal cord stroke which has left me a quadriplegic. Today, about 7 years later, I still face the overwhelming daily cost of healthcare, which unfortunately remains largely uncovered by medical insurance or government assistance.

In 2007, I was living in Philly where I was enrolled at Drexel University. Having just celebrated my 21st birthday in August, I was looking forward to a new semester: starting classes, hanging out with friends, playing my guitar. But on September 17th, my world turned upside down after I began to experience lower back pains and tingling sensations in my extremities.

Contemplating Careers with Chronic Illness: Thoughts on Employment As A Disabled Young Adult

By Maddy Ruvolo 

September 9, 2014

This year, I wrote my senior thesis on young adults with chronic illnesses. As a young adult with a chronic illness myself, it was coming from a personal place. I interviewed people about their experiences being chronically ill, how they perceived illness and how people around them perceived illness.

SSI, College and Working: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Kay McMillan

September 2, 2014

My parents raised me with the belief that I could do anything I want despite my cerebral palsy including going to college and receiving a good paying job. I always had a strong inclining of what I wanted to do as a career – be a disability rights advocate.  I knew that I wanted to make the world a better place for people with disabilities, so younger generations did not have to fight the same battles that I had to fight.

SSI, the Cage.

By Andy Arias 

August 26, 2014

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.

The Bureaucracy of Being Disabled

By Alice Wong 

August 5, 2014

A long time ago (the 1990s) when the people used dial-up modems and AOL as their email provider, I was a teenager in suburban Indianapolis itching to get out, go to college and earn some cold hard cash.

I have spinal muscular atrophy and used a wheelchair most of my life. Up until I was 18, my family provided all of my personal care. Once I turned 18, I applied for Medicaid and SSI. Having Medicaid allowed me several hours of home health per week.

Disabling Limits Created by the System

By Jimmy Curran

July 15, 2014

Growing up with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type 2, I have always relied on others for assistance with activities of daily living. Up until the age of 18 this responsibility fell upon my family.  With no assistance from the government, my mother raised me with the support of my other family members; however, when I turned 18 and it was time to go to college, I began to learn about the resources that are available for persons with disabilities such as myself including SSI.

Navigating a Mountain Maze: My Days on SSI

By Hamza Jaka

July 8, 2014

My name is Hamza Jaka, and I’m a recently alumna of UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) having graduated in Spring 2014. I studied Linguistics, and hope to attend Law School next fall. While I graduated from Berkeley, I’m originally from Fontana, Wisconsin, a very small, quaint town in Wisconsin, with fantastic cheese and great football fandom. Growing up, my small town life was kind of boring, so I quickly looked for many outlets. I tried my hand at acting, studying really hard, and various bees and academic competitions, but something that really appealed to me was disability advocacy.

Uphill Climb: SSI and Finding Employment

By Erin Tatum

July 1, 2014

Growing up with cerebral palsy, I always thought of my disability as a set of physical limitations that I had to overcome. Determined to prove that kids with disabilities could do everything that their able-bodied peers could do, I attended mainstream school and never had an aide in class.

By the end of my senior year of high school, I had racked up enough AP credit to be substituted in for a year of college. I was planning to move across the country for school, from my hometown in rural Pennsylvania to the Bay Area. I felt invincible.

“Only Employed, Responsible People Wanted”- Working Around SSI Toward a Career

By Justin Harford

June 24, 2014

A lot could be said about the hours of sleep that I lost growing up as a youth with blindness whose greatest fear was failure, and relegation to dependence and poverty on SSI.

My name is Justin Harford, and I am the Disability Community Advocate at FREED Center for Independent Living in Grass Valley, California. Much of my work involves policy and community organizing for positive systemic change at the local grassroots level for people with disabilities like myself.

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