According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from August, 2014, 80.2% of persons with disabilities are not participating in the labor force. The non participation rate for persons without disabilities is only 31.8% according to the same report. The latest-recorded unemployment rate for disabled job seekers (from August 2014) stands at 12.8.%, versus 6% for the non-disabled community. These are discouraging numbers, but my point in this writing is not to embolden the badness of the labor landscape for those people in the disability community who are trying to engineer their employment, either as an employee, or as the owner of their own venture. Rather, I'm going to outline several opportunities and resources you may be unfamiliar with, which could hopefully turn those despairing ratios around by June, 2015.
When I refer to locality, I'm establishing a base in and around DuPage County. Why I'm doing so is because I work, worked, and went to school in DuPage, and the service providers in this area are especially helpful and skillful in their dedication and achievement.
SASED is a wonderful place to start if you're just getting out of school and in the process of indexing your options in terms of oncoming challenges, inspiration, goals, and activities to help you become confident and prepared to succeed as an adult in the workplace. Here, you can find firsthand knowledge, advice, support, and services aimed at transitioning an individual's mindset from the schoolyard to the workplace.
Speaking of transition, TPC is a goldmine for job seekers looking to network with prominent businesses and service providers within and around DuPage County. TPC frequently features speakers declaring support for those living in the disability community, promoting accommodations, employment opportunities, and developmental initiatives aimed at preparing young adults with disabilities for a life of working possibility, responsibility, and hopefully, independence.
I wouldn't be able to mention independence in DuPage County's disability services arena without mentioning AIM CIL. The mission of AIM, like all Centers for Independent Living is to assist persons with disabilities to become empowered. This means that AIM CIL is the place to go if you're looking to express and expand your authority and control as an individual with a disability, setting and accomplishing goals for yourself, and putting yourself in a position to succeed by realizing your potential as, for example, an employee or employer. The chief component of Independent Living philosophy is the promotion of a person's right to direct their own life.
Like the name indicates, SSI is theoretically designed as a temporary financial resource used to add to an already existing source of income. In practice, SSI stands as the only source of income for individuals and families living in very desperate circumstances. The current maximum benefit entitled to SSI beneficiaries is $721 per month, so this is not a resource to exclusively rely upon as a livable income. If you currently don't think you have any other supportive options (you do: Use the resources referred to above, reach out to me in the comments, or click on Contact Us on the AbilityLinks Home Page for advice and assistance), SSI cannot be applied for online. You need to contact your local Social Security Office and get the process started with a case manager.
A PASS is a work incentive tailored to laborers with disabilities. The reason it exists is to allow a beneficiary to continue to receive SSI while earning above the income threshold which determines eligibility for the reception of SSI. This means that you could work and make money, and this income can be applied toward a goal or series of goals that will allow you to provide for and support yourself, eventually rendering benefits like SSI unnecessary. For example, you're receiving SSI, but you get a new job, and through the course of working at this job, you determine that you can do your job better (consolidating your employment security and positioning yourself for a promotion) if you got a new computer installed at home that would allow you to be better connected to your co-workers and thus work with greater availability and more efficiency. A PASS will prioritize that computer, allowing you to dedicate the income generated by your new job towards its purchase, while using SSI to pay for living expenses (food, utilities, rent) until the computer is yours. The key to a PASS is a goal oriented towards you securing your independence outside of the provision of benefits like SSI.
SSDI is a benefit to pursue if you have been working and have paid into social security, but are now unable to work (because of the progression of a disabling condition, an injury, or illness, for instance). If you have a disability, but are able to work and earn substantial income (which clearly means different things to everyone, but here is what the government considers substantial), you won't be eligible for SSDI based on your own employment background. However, you can be eligible for SSDI, no matter your individual working record, if you are the spouse or child of someone who is retired, disabled, and/or deceased, and they are or were an SSDI recipient (Click here for background on family eligibility). The clearest determiner of whether to apply for SSDI is you; decide if you, as an individual with a disability, can start or continue to work and provide for yourself. If you can, then don't waste your time applying for SSDI; instead, use the resources and services explained above to embark upon or progress your career.
There's a lot of benefits and incentives for individuals within the disability community interested in employment. I believe what I've provided here to be a productive, useful, and direct starting point, but I also know any discussion of benefits is complex, intense, and customized to the individual. Applying for these resources and services can be stressful and irritating. I do have personal and professional experience in coordinating benefits and work incentives, so if you have specific questions or concerns, by all means, let me know in the comments.