By: Sophia Bong
Navigate The Benefits Maze While Re-Integrating Into The Workforce
If you are a person with a permanent disability, you have many unforeseen challenges, but you can more easily beat the odds by navigating the social stereotypes and economical mazes out there.
Everyone is familiar with the dismal statistics suggesting that full-time employment and severe disabilities do not mix well, especially for people who use wheelchairs. But with preparation, perseverance, and the proper situations, the odds improve for disabled people to reintegrating into the workforce.
Businesses exist for profit. Government and nonprofits have “missions.” Too much lip service is paid to hiring people with disabilities. You might even find a well-worded statement to that effect on some companies’ websites. But when it comes down to it, all they care about is finding the best people to help their businesses succeed. As it should be. Be prepared to show knowledge of what the company does and what you have to contribute to the company. Be prepared to demonstrate through your knowledge, have a well-constructed resume, and a professional presentation. All that matters to the employer are the “essential tasks” (HR language) of the job.
This is not to ignore the fact that some employers may operate under grave misconceptions about workers with disabilities.
They are concerned that the person with a disability doesn’t have the skills, won’t be as productive as others, or might be hypersensitive to being evaluated or disciplined. Some employers might even doubt whether they’d be comfortable being around a person with a disability.
As the person with the disability, your interviews with these shortsighted and essentially discriminatory views might be offensive. Fair enough; but don’t allow yourself to be obscured behind your own defensiveness. This could lead to playing into more insidious disability stereotypes, i.e. the angry cripple who is easily upset, or that your impairments have impaired your self-esteem. When confronting social stereotypes, the goal is to get the employer to see a qualified person who wants the job. So be confident in your qualifications and abilities.
Employers will have concerns or questions related to disabilities, like how they might affect job production, but they cannot cross legal boundaries by asking about the interviewee’s disability. It is verboten. I suggest taking the initiative to talk about disability issues that are relevant to the job. Describe whatever “reasonable accommodations” (ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – language) that might be needed, if any, and would help the employer see that the disability won’t be a concern. Now the employer can easily address concerns related to job performance.
Once this issue is cleared, they will see beyond your disability and realize that disabilities by themselves do not preclude success in the job, that people with disabilities are more capable than ever in this transformed modern society full of assistive devices. The sooner the employer is able to see beyond the disability and see a qualified person who wants the job, the sooner the focus will be directed back to your resume.
Be prepared for the consequences if performance doesn’t meet par. Consistently fail to perform on the job, or over-indulge in inappropriate behavior, and you’ll get yourself fired. As it should be. The worst thing a person with a disability can do after they have the job is play into an employer’s assumption that people with disabilities have a built-in sense of entitlement, expecting the bar to be lowered, or want to be let off the hook if performance falls short.
When the right job is found, set high standards and do not only score the rewards of work, but help the very culture of work get real about people with disabilities. Be part of the growing and substantially untapped pool of fully qualified workers who happen to have disabilities, and who have more to contribute in the workplace than ever before. Pave the way for everybody else to jump into the fray and live the full lives we all deserve.
Being qualified, overcoming stereotypes, and addressing any needed reasonable accommodations are important. In choosing a job, also keep in mind the navigation of the benefits maze, Social Security benefits, and avoiding potential traps, especially with Social Security Disability Insurance. If a person is receiving SSDI payments and also working, earning a little too much income can become an all-or-nothing nightmare. Will the job’s pay and benefits match the needs of permanent disability that are currently being covered by SSDI benefits?
For instance, a common cause of anxiety among SSDI recipients is the continuing disability review (CDR), which usually occurs every seven years in the case of a permanent disability. However, the Social Security Administration has the option of requesting a CDR sooner. The average CDR examines income from work since the previous CDR, looking for earnings that exceed set limits. In 2018, the limits are $850 per month for a trial-work period (TWP). During a TWP, the beneficiary may test their ability to work and still be considered disabled for up to nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in a 60-month period. Any month the earnings exceed the TWP value, that month will be counted towards your nine months.
You only qualify for one TWP per SSDI claim. One way to offset this low value is to consider any impairment-related work expenses. If your monthly earning minus your impairment-related work expenses exceed $1180 per month ($1970 for applicants who are blind), then that month is considered a substantial gainful activity (SGA) month that will count towards your nine months… so keep a record of all expenses. You can apply for expedited reinstatement the first month that you earn less than SGA. This will trigger a new TWP, with restrictions.
Working part-time will augment your income, but earning too much can cause a loss of benefits. The ultimate goal is to make enough to break free of benefits, but this requires a huge leap in income to offset the expenses involved for many people with disabilities. Find the right job that allows a vision for a future so that a plan to achieve self-support (PASS) can be implemented with SSDI. This allows a recipient on SSDI to set aside SGA-earning to purchase something to help achieve work goals (like an adaptive vehicle or schooling).
When considering insurance benefits, a SSDI recipient can also apply for the Medicaid buy-in program. This allows the recipient to retain health care coverage through Medicaid in spite of earning more than the allowable limits for regular Medicaid. Also, keep in mind that a spouse’s income, which may not have an effect on SSDI, will disqualify a SSDI recipient from the Medicaid buy-in program.
Understanding the benefits maze, despite being troublesome, can have a positive outcome on the person’s path to reintegration into the work force.