For Tricia Riccardi, applying for jobs isn’t as easy as submitting résumés and arranging interviews. Because she has a disability – the 37-year-old mom has been quadriplegic since age 5 – she says potential employers immediately dismiss her as a potential hire.

“Even though I have a degree, nobody will hire me because of my disability. I really want to work, and I’ve been looking for a very long time,” she says. As a result of being forced to live on just her husband’s income, Riccardi says managing household expenses is much more challenging.

Riccardi’s experience illustrates some of the financial challenges faced by people with disabilities, according to a report released in July from the National Disability Institute. The study, which uses data taken from 26,509 adults from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, found that the 12 to 19 percent of Americans with disabilities are far more likely to live in or near poverty than other Americans, and they are more likely to say it’s “very difficult to cover monthly expenses.” About 30 percent of Americans with disabilities agreed with that statement, compared to just 15 percent of the general population.

[Read: Why You Probably Need More Disability Insurance .]

The report also found that people with disabilities are less likely to have emergency funds, less likely to have planned for retirement and more likely to have lower levels of financial literacy. Almost two-thirds of ​respondents with disabilities reported a household income of $25,000 or less, compared with one in four respondents without disabilities.

“For all of us, the status quo is unacceptable,” said Michael Morris​, director of the National Disability Institute at a July event on the release of the report. He added that the median income of U.S. households that include someone with a disability is nearly 2.5 times less than it is for households that do not include a member with a disability.

Katherine McDonald, ​associate professor at Syracuse University who specializes in disability studies​ and co-author of the NDI report, estimates that 1 in 5 people with disabilities cannot work​, and those who do work tend to earn less and live in poverty at much higher rates. She also points out people with disabilities report lower levels of financial satisfaction and higher levels of financial distress. In addition, they report higher levels of unpaid medical bills and are less likely to say they could come up with $2,000 within the next month to meet an unexpected expense. ​They’re also more likely to turn to expensive, non-bank methods of borrowing, like pawn shops. [Read: Caring for a Sibling With Special Needs .] Even among those who have full-time jobs, some disabilities require significant health and personal care expenses, which can add to one’s financial burden. Aimee Wehmeier, ​executive director and CEO at Paraquad, an independent living center for people with disabilities in St. Louis, says because she was born with muscular dystrophy, she requires regular personal care assistance that costs around $2,500 to $3,000 each month. She notes that she's only recently been able to start saving for retirement. “Although it’s better late than never, starting a retirement plan at the age of 43 with a significant disability is a little frightening,” she says.

Wehmeier emphasizes that one major hurdle people who need significant medical support face is that they cannot easily save money and accumulate assets – an essential component of financial self-sufficiency – without risking losing Medicaid. She says she previously had to turn down employer-paid retirement benefits to avoid losing her eligibility for Medicaid. Today, she says she finally makes enough money to pay for her medical ​support needs, including an accessible van and personal care assistance, so she can begin to accumulate assets without worrying about her Medicaid eligibility. "While I am grateful to be self-sufficient, it took me 25 years," she says. She also worries that in the future, she'll have to get back on the Medicaid system and possibly "lose everything," referring to the assets that she is now accumulating.

At the NDI event, Kathleen Martinez​, the Labor Department's assistant secretary for disability employment policy, noted that many people don’t realize some of the extra expenses people with disabilities incur are what allow them to work. “Many of these expenses … enable us to work and engage in our community,” she said. As an example, Martinez, who is legally blind, said she was using a $5,000 piece of machinery that helped her read her speech, and other people might use modified vehicles or personal attendants.

Martinez also called on the financial industry to make it easier for people with disabilities to be customers. When she purchased a home in California, she said she had to visit nine different banks before finding one that would offer her a loan. “They just did not believe that I would be capable of work and capable of paying back a loan,” she said. Then, when she finally got the loan, she couldn’t read it​ and had to ask someone else to read it for her. “There are a lot of things financial companies could do to make it easier,” she said.

[See: 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Money .]

Congress is currently considering a bill, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, which would create tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities to make it easier for them to pay for certain expenses such as education, housing and transportation. Money saved in accounts created through the ABLE Act would not prevent people from participating in federal benefits programs like Medicaid​.

Morris added that 24 years after the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, he wishes there were still not such financial disparities between people with disabilities and people without them. “People with disabilities are not getting ahead. They are less financially capable. They have more medical debt. They are less likely to own a home, and those who do are more likely to fall behind in terms of mortgage payments. … [The findings] present a picture of concern, a picture we thought would be better.”

Riccardi says she would like to see greater support for people with disabilities through expanded government programs, like the ones currently being considered, and also greater education of employers so they are less hesitant to hire people with disabilities. That way, she says, she and other people with disabilities would find it easier to land jobs that help support themselves and their families.

Compare Offers

Compare Offers

Raymond Mitchell, Author

Post a Comment