Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Christmas will follow shortly thereafter. This seems like an ideal time to have a frank discussion about the many benefits of having a disability in this day and age.
At one time I thought there were no benefits to being disabled, but those were the early days while I was still in a rehab ward and had not yet been exposed to the many programs and services that awaited me when I was finally released. During those first few months, many pleasant surprises awaited me.
I soon discovered that having a blue placard hanging from my rearview mirror would allow me to park close to the doors of malls and other businesses, or wherever that accessible parking was available. It was even permissible to park on many streets without needing to feed parking meters. Cheap public transportation was provided for me if I needed it: a real door-to-door service, as long as I didn't mind waiting for the drivers to show up or expect them to take me on the most direct routes between point A and point B.
It wasn't long before a wealth of benefits was laid out before me. Employment didn't seem like a realistic option at the time, and I learned that if I didn't work it would open up many benefits based on my low income. The Social Security Administration
would pay me a monthly stipend, and I could also qualify for subsidized housing. Of course, everything has some drawbacks; finding accessible housing was not easy to do.
Low income could also qualify me for subsidized personal assistance services, and Medicaid
could cover all of my medical costs. Some electric utilities provided substantial discounts to customers who lived on low fixed incomes, and I began to think that all of my living costs would be covered without much effort on my part as long as I didn't work. Food stamps or Meals on Wheels might even be available to cover my nutritional needs.
All of the above seemed promising, but instead of taking advantage of the whole palette of benefits I decided to continue working, just as I had done before becoming disabled. That eliminated the programs that were based on low income, but my employment eventually led to discovering how extensive the benefits of disability can be.
While working as executive director of the California State Independent Living Council
, the legislature requested that we prepare a report listing the various state programs and services that were available to Californians who were disabled.
As we began to do research about those programs, it quickly became clear that there were far more available than I had been aware of. The extensive nature of the list made it clear that I was not imagining things; there really were benefits to being disabled.
When we tallied the final list, there were over 70 programs detailed in the report. While the funding often originated from the federal government, state agencies were responsible for administering or providing the services. Many of these programs are available in all states, although they may have different names or be administered by different state agencies.
Don't get me wrong; not every service was available to every individual. Some programs were age-specific, serving children or the elderly, and others served only those who had a specific type of disability. That was the case with many programs designed to serve those who had mental, developmental or intellectual disabilities of various types.
Many community-based organizations, such as independent living centers
and those that provide adult day health care
, are funded and administered through the same state programs. The funding for the services supports a broad network of individuals with disabilities who work there.
Not all of these programs require people to remain in their homes and wait for services to be delivered. As someone who was an active outdoorsman prior to my injury, I found it interesting that I could now purchase hunting and fishing licenses at reduced cost. There are fishing docks and piers designed specifically for wheelchair users at lakes and rivers throughout the country. We even have access to wheelchair accessible blinds which can be used either for bird watching or for waterfowl hunting during the right seasons.
For those who like to hunt other types of animals, most states with big game seasons also have specialized regulations for people with a variety of disabilities. We have access to private lands where no one else can drive, drawings for special hunts and can even shoot from our vehicles.
Finding employment that pays enough to support our independent lifestyles is not forgotten when it comes to the benefits of disability. The state vocational rehab agency will often fund the modification costs for vehicles we can use to get to work, and might even support the college tuition and book expenses to assure that we attain the education needed to compete for jobs in today's market.
The federal government, along with those in many states, provide qualified individuals with disabilities first choice at available jobs. Those jobs usually come with good pay and superb benefits, and should be one of the first places that people with disabilities look when it comes to seeking employment.
There are many more benefits too extensive to list here, and some are fairly obscure. For instance, California offers people with disabilities the opportunity to obtain a free suctioning permit for operating a gold dredge. How cool is that: Gold Rush anyone?
Finding the many services and programs that you might be able to access is not always easy. Check with peer counselors at your local independent living center
and call the information lines of whatever public agencies you feel might provide the services you need. You can find their numbers in the blue pages of your telephone books. Good luck, and happy hunting.
© 2012 Michael Collins