Every day I discover something new about life as a physically disabled woman and with these discoveries I also learn how to handle the multiple daily obstacles that I face. Obstacles such as the rising cost of medications or the increased health insurance premiums have taught me that being physically disabled is an extremely expensive life.
I’m not alone in believing that disability is expensive as there is extensive data that suggests persons with a disability are likely to have limited opportunities to earn income and have increased medical expenses. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) assures equal opportunities in education and employment for people with and without disabilities and prohibits discrimination based on disability, people with disabilities still remain overrepresented among America’s poor and undereducated. Many persons with disabilities often face significant limits to owning assets, such as homes, or to obtaining access to credit.
So, that’s why on March 25th, I decided to attend a personal finance workshop in celebration of Women’s History Month at Baltimore City Community College hosted by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. I must admit I started out with a plan to learn more information that I could share with friends of Disability Partnerships. Since economic empowerment is one of our three core program areas, I needed to start focusing on that program. My initial goal was to listen to the speaker, write down some quotes and draft Facebook posts that I could share with everyone about the event.
I also went because I know the reality. The reality is being physically disabled is a definite economic setback. Believe me, I am blessed and thankful and highly favored. However, I am often stretched financially as a result of my healthcare needs. Before I was injured, I had no idea of the financial drain that people experience with disabilities. If it’s not medical supplies, then it’s the cost of doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, equipment and caregivers. And let’s not forget the overwhelming cost burden of transportation. If you can’t drive then you are either paying somebody to drive you somewhere or always paying for public transportation or a cab.
I started out attending the event for my nonprofit and ended up absorbing information that I have happily applied to my personal financial life. I sincerely appreciated the message of the day from Michelle Singletary. She was the keynote speaker and is a personal finance columnist and author of the 21 Day Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom. Although she’s not physically disabled, her message will resonate with anyone who experiences the pain of trying to juggle multiple expenses with a limited income. My favorite part of her speech was when she encouraged the audience to be in love with budgeting. The way she described her love of a budget made me believe that budgeting could feel like eating the perfect meal with the added bonus of being serenaded by your favorite musical artist.
After attending the workshop, I also felt validated in my decision to include economic empowerment as a key program initiative. I have learned that economic empowerment is critical for persons with physical disabilities. Just to be clear, I believe that our community often suffers from a feeling of powerlessness as it relates to our finances and we want to be more in control of our economic destiny.
I know economic empowerment is widely recognized as a key strategy for enhancing the ability of persons with disabilities to live a full and successful life. I want my organization to partner with other entities to help foster the participation of persons with physical disabilities in decent employment, reducing poverty and enhancing income security.
Specifically, I want people with physical disabilities to own real estate, businesses and have the comfort of knowing that when they retire they will not empty out their 401k in one year just because they have multiple health issues. I want to see more persons with disabilities not only with decent employment, but also sitting on the board of directors of Fortune 500 companies or serving as a CEO who just happens to be in a wheelchair.
It is possible. For millions of individuals with physical disabilities, public policy efforts and the activities of organizations like mine simply need to work together to promote income generation, savings and asset building. I want to see an effort that empowers individuals with physical disabilities to pursue economic self-sufficiency.
Please take a moment and tell me what you think. Do you have any ideas on how to strengthen the economic sufficiency of persons in the physical disability community? If so, please share them. Because I truly believe that as Molière says, “the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”