By Louise Smith
Registering as disabled can feel intimidating for a number of reasons, with many of them revolving around potentially lost opportunities. After all, the American dream dictates anybody can achieve their goals if they roll up their sleeves and work hard enough. But, what happens to the unfortunate individuals who are betrayed by their own bodies?
Thankfully, the government is ready to step in and lend a financial hand to many disabled Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act has helped countless people who would otherwise by hindered by physical ailments receive the same opportunities as their able-bodied compatriots. In addition, several funding streams are available to homeowners. Regardless of whether modifications are required to an existing dwelling or a disabled individual is seeking to be a first-time buyer, help is available.
Registering as Disabled
If you are curious about what financial aid you may be entitled to, you can use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to assess your options. Remember that this portal is for information only; it will not sign you up for any benefit packages.
To be eligible for benefits, you will first need to register as disabled with the relevant government body. This is arranged through the Department of Social Security (DSS) that has its own judgment criteria for what it considers to be a long-term disability. The DSS will conduct an investigation to decide which benefits you are entitled to.
The basic payment package for any disabled American is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is payable to anybody. Funding for SSI comes from the government, acquired through taxes. In addition, many people will be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is a private policy that provides money based on your own taxpaying contributions before becoming disabled (if applicable).
Know Your Rights
First and foremost, it's extremely important to know what disabled Americans are entitled to with regard to property. This largely boils down to the Fair Housing Act, a summary of which claims the following:
- Nobody interested in renting a property or applying for a mortgage can be declined on the grounds of disability.
- No disabled individual can be charged more than an able-bodied person for an identical property and access to facilities.
- No disabled individual can be lied to about the facilities within a property, including how disability-friendly it may be.
- No property owner may deny reasonable modifications to a property rented to a disabled tenant.
- An assistance animal, such as a seeing eye dog, cannot be refused access or tenancy under a no-pets policy.
This means, for example, a wheelchair user will be able to request a ramp be installed to the front door of a property, or that doorframes are widened to match national recommendations, and a landlord will not be able to reject these requests. What you will notice, however, is a landlord is not legally obliged to pay for making a rentable property more accessible to a disabled tenant. Instead, any modifications are billable to the tenant, and the landlord can also insist the tenant cover any costs incurred by removing these modifications at the end of a residency.
Let's use a bathroom as an example. Widening a bathroom door to accommodate a wheelchair will not be a reversible job, as it will not impact upon the ability of the landlord or future tenants to enjoy the room. However, if the tenant installs grab handles in the bathtub to make it easier to climb in and out, that's a different story. Not only will the tenant be required to pay for this work (including any potential reinforcement of the bathroom walls), the landlord can also insist the handles are removed when the tenant gives notice of their intention to move out. Again, the financial burden for this labor is on the tenant.
Finding the money to finance these modifications can be problematic for many disabled people. Thankfully, a sizable number of grants are available.
Sources of Funding
General Assistance and Advice
- Always discuss the impact of disability with Medicaid, as a policy may cover the cost of installing ramps and other home improvements to aid disabled Americans.
- The National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Resources offers a state-by-state summary of the advice and financial support available throughout the U.S. for disabled homeowners and tenants.
- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a body of community-minded individuals who run local community fundraising projects to assist those in need, including disabled Americans who may require home improvements.
- The National Council of State Housing Agencies is a central resource for anybody wondering how to contact their local authority and seek the help they may require.
- A USDA loan, designed for individuals with low incomes, can help with the of purchase a home. Disabled candidates are particularly likely to be looked upon favorably when applying. You can find your closest HUD agency here.
Grants and Charitable Ventures
- Modest Needs offer grants to disabled persons in the U.S. to help any family ensure their home is disability-friendly.
- [Re]Building Together is a not-for-profit venture that started out in a small Texan community and has now gone nationwide. This body calls upon professional builders and tradespeople to work on homes that require modifications, with particular emphasis on dwellings that house disabled Americans.
- The Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America Catalyst Project offer grants and loans in a variety of states to make necessary home improvements.
- Anybody who suffers a disability due to an injury to his or her spinal cord should investigate the Travis Roy Foundation.
- Habitat for Humanity, often simply referred to as Habitat, build homes for vulnerable or disabled Americans. Even if this is not an option, Habitat offers special payment plans for anybody who struggles to find conventional financing for a disability-friendly home.
- The American Parkinson's Disease Association provides grants and funding all over the country to assist those with Parkinson's disease with home improvements.
- Lions Clubs International, a charitable body closely linked with Helen Keller, offers assistance in home adaptation for individuals struggling with vision or hearing.
Help for the Elderly
Certain charitable bodies have been established to aid elderly disabled individuals. Advice and suggestions on how to make a home more comfortable can also be obtained here, or by consulting the American Association of Retired Persons.
The National Association of Home Builders also has suggestions on how to "age in place." However, it is not be able to assist with finances. For that, try the below resources:
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development has devised the Assisted Living Conversion Program to assist senior citizens who require particular help with home modifications, particularly if they become disabled later in the life.
- Anybody over the age of 62 and living in a rural area on a low income can apply for a Rural Housing Repair Loan or Grant from their closest state office of the United States Department of Agriculture. These funds can be used to finance any improvements that will make a home safer for disabled residents.
- Investigate the Federal Grants Wire for more information on the many varied grants available to senior citizens.
Help for Military Veterans
Disabled individuals with a history of combat can apply for help from a number of sources. The previously mentioned Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks has a division dedicated to veterans, but there are a number of specialty bodies that offer grants to disabled military personnel:
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should always be the initial port of call, offering two official government-sanctioned grants:
- The Specially Adapted Housing Grant is designed to help disabled veterans live independently. This could be used to build a new disability-friendly home, make adaptations to an existing dwelling or make up any cost difference between two homes if a disabled veteran is forced to move to a more suitable accommodation.
- The Special Housing Adaptation Grant is designed for wounded and disabled veterans who intend to remain in their current home and may require some financial assistance with amendments.
- The actor Gary Sinise, famed for playing the role of wounded solider Dan Taylor in the movie Forrest Gump, set up a foundation in his name. The Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment program offers grants to improve a home or build a new one to allow any military veteran to live in comfort and independence.
- The Army Wounded Warrior Program, part of the U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition initiative, is another resource of funding for former soldiers and their families who may need to make changes to their home following injury in service.
- The American Red Cross takes great pride on taking care of veterans, active members of the military and families impacted by service for our country. If disabled while on duty, it may be able to offer financial help for necessary home modifications.
While this list has covered the nationwide help available for disabled individuals, there may be a variety of other sources in particular states or towns.
There is a substantial amount of help out there, and there is no need to face the difficulty of disability alone. Together, we are all stronger. Accept any available support to ensure your home is safe and accessible.
Below is a summary of the resources that are available to help: