Some people are born with disabilities and many develop illnesses or experience tragedies that result in disability. Regardless to how or when you become disabled, countless difficulties follow. Resources for education-based needs, living arrangements, social and community activities, sports and athletics, employment, dating, guardianship advice, the best rehabilitation services, adaptive equipment, as well as, pertinent financial information is always needed for individuals and families. In this article, I will provide some useful information and links to websites for resources that may help you or someone you know who may be disabled. So where do we start?
DO YOU HAVE/NEED A GUARDIAN OR POWER OF ATTORNEY?
Guardianship, Conservator and/or Power of Attorney (POA) are tools to assist someone with financial or medical decisions by appointing an agent or guardian to act in their stead. Michigan guardianship, conservatorship or POA can be obtained for “any formerly competent and incapacitated adult who, by definition, becomes disabled and loses the ability to take care of and make legal decisions for themselves properly” (Michbar.org). Let’s define and explain these different terms:
- A legal guardian is someone appointed by the court to make legal, financial and medical decisions for a disabled adult. They are referred to legally as a “ward”. A legal guardian is responsible for the ward’s care, custody, and supervision. The responsibilities of a guardian include making sure the individual has proper food and clothing, that they have appropriate living arrangements, their medical needs are met, and their property is safe. A limited guardian is only responsible for the duties stated in their court order.
- A Power of Attorney gives an agent control of specific affairs, general financial and/or medical power. Unlike POA’s, guardianship is restrictive and takes away the individual who is incapacitated, legally known as a ward, freedom to make decisions, guardianship is normally closely monitored by the court and is only granted when a person is legally incapacitated, meaning they are at significant risk of personal harm to themselves, or they are incapable of managing their property or financial affairs. For families caring for someone who is declared incapacitated, a power of attorney can simplify care by allowing the agent to make all medical and financial decisions for their loved one. Parents or guardians of an adult child with a disability or special needs should have powers of attorney prepared to protect their child’s inheritance and financial interests.
- A conservator is like a guardian but is solely responsible for taking care of an incapacitated adult's property. One person can be both the guardian and the conservator for an incapacitated adult. A conservatorship, much like a guardianship, limits an incapacitated adult's legal right to handle his or her own matters and could cost time and money.
In some cases, someone who is newly disabled may start out as “incapacitated” and later regain their mental stability whereas they become capable of acting and making decisions concerning their medical and financial well-being. If that is the case and you would like to change or challenge your guardianship, conservatorship or Power of Attorney, you can find more information at the State Bar of Michigan site.
If you are managing you own finances, let’s start by addressing some need-to-know information regarding the subject. Knowing where you stand financially is the most important issue that you face when disabled. Finances dictate where and how well you will live, as well as, your experiences which determines an individual’s concept of their quality of life. The first thing that someone newly disabled over the age of 18 should do is apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) online. Instructions to complete an online disability application through the Social Security Administration for disability can be found here. Being on disability does not mean that you cannot work. Social Security has income guidelines, work incentives and specialized programs that make it possible to work and still receive payments. For additional information visit SSA.GOV.
The next important thing you should do is apply to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) for benefits including the Food Assistance Program, health care coverage, State Emergency Relief, cash assistance programs, and more. These benefits are extremely helpful and will be a great asset to manage your finances.
Social Security Disability recipients can use the Ticket To Work program or special work incentives which include a Trial Work Period, Extended Period of Eligibility, Expedited Reinstatement, Continuation of Medicare and coverage of Work Expenses. If you’re a student with a disability under the age of 22, you can receive the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) and your earnings up to $7,670 are not counted when calculating your Social Security benefit. Another program offered through Social Security to reduce or end dependency on SSI benefits is the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The PASS program helps a person get items, services or skills to reach work goals and any money earned to use towards those goals won’t affect the Security Security Income (SSI) benefit amount. Information on these programs can be found in the Social Security Pamphlet, Working While Disabled: How We Can Help. This covers government options on earning an extra income of you’re on (Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or SSI (disability). Additionally, for 2020, a person who receives Social Security Income benefits can work but earn no more than $1,260 a month ($2,110 if you are blind), this is known as “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) which is allowed by the Social Security Administration (SSA), before they cancel benefits.
Once on Social Security, you are subject to SSI Asset Limits which only allows recipients or applicants for SSI benefits based on disability to have $2000 or less in assets or savings. (Social Security Disability Insurance recipients do NOT have an asset limit). SSI Asset Limits do no account for the significant costs of living with a disability and people should not be punished for saving to cover the cost of raising children, healthcare not covered by insurance, adaptive equipment, accessible housing and transportation, homecare and many other expenses. I found that there is one exception to this rule called the ABLE Act. The Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, better known as, the ABLE Act was established for people who were injured before the age of 26 as a means for them to save for all the things not generally associated with the cost of a disability. You can open an ABLE Account and “save up to $27,490 $27,490 each year in an ABLE account without affecting Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and most other benefits, as long as you meet all the other benefits rules” (Disability Benefits 101, 2020). Some rules and stipulations apply, for instance: of the $27,490, $15,000 can come from any source of unearned income, the balance can only be saved if you’re employed. For more information on Michigan’s ABLE account program (MiABLE) click here and apply for enrollment here.
Don’t worry if your disability occurred after age 26 because there is still hope. ABLE Age Adjustment Act has been proposed by legislators so that beneficiaries whose disability occurred up to the age of 46 can open an ABLE account. The bill was proposed last March has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance by the Senate but has yet to progress since (Congress.gov). The bill is sponsored by 22 Senators, not including Sen. Gary Peters or Sen. Debbie Stabenow of our great state. Get involved and write an email to Sen. Stabenow here and Sen. Peters here to ask for their support.
Assisted Living vs. Group Home vs. Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Independent Living
Being newly disable and transitioning to a new living situation requires a lot of planning and can be very stressful. It can be pretty overwhelming figuring out your new living arrangement and you need to know your options. There are many options depending on your disability, how much care you need, how much independence you can manage, and so on… First, you need to know the differences between assisted living, independent living, group homes, and skilled nursing facilities.
Assisted Living – You may choose to live in an Assisted Living community which is for people who need help with daily care, but not as much help as a skilled nursing facility provides. Assisted living facilities can range in size from as few as 25 residents to 120 or more. Residents usually live in their own apartments or rooms and share common areas. Assisted living facilities provide a wide range of services to individuals who want to maintain some level of independence but require support with activities of daily living (ADLs).They are generally provided with many services including: up to three meals a day, assistance with personal care, help with medications, housekeeping, and laundry. Residents’ care plans are overseen by RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Residents also have 24-hour supervision, security, and on-site staff, and social and recreational activities. A list of top assisted living facilities in Michigan can be found here.
Group Homes – You may want to reside in a licensed or unlicensed group home with 2-5 other individuals. Group homes or Residential homes offer more personalized care and continuity of care, high client-to-staff ratio, home-cooked meals, smaller monthly fee, and a more homelike environment. Group-home care can include both custodial care and care that is provided by skilled and medically trained professionals. On-site medical assistance is not required for all group homes, but an outside skilled nursing service can be employed separately for residents who may need it based on their disability. Group homes may be a good option for those who cannot live independently and whose family members may not be able to provide their daily care. Group homes are homes are located in a residential community and a disability service provider both maintains and controls a household as well as coordinates the supports for those who live in the home. A list of Michigan group homes can be found here.
Skilled Nursing Facilities – A Skilled Nursing Facility or Nursing Home may be your best option when considering finances for those who require a higher level of care than can be provided in an assisted living facility around the clock assistance. A skilled nursing staff consisting of RNs, LPNs and certified nurse’s assistants (CNAs) provide 24-hour medical attention to residents. Skilled nursing facilities can be short-term rehabilitative stays, which are covered in-part by Medicare for up to 100 days, in many instances. Although, Medicare does not pay for long-term or permanent stays in nursing homes. Medicaid does cover extended stays in skilled nursing facilities for seniors and people with disabilities who may have limited assets, low income, and require a high level of care. More information about State assistance for skilled Nursing Facilities click here.
Independent Living – Independent living is for people with disabilities who are capable of managing their personal affairs or live in the family home. If this applies, you may choose to live independently by renting an apartment or house or purchasing a home. You can also choose to live in your current or family home and get the appropriate coordinating supports and adaptations. According to your disability, family support and medical needs, you may have 24-hour nursing assistants or visiting nurses, as needed.
If you need or know someone who lives independently and may need financial help, apply for Michigan utility and heating bill assistance programs. Many other financial assistance programs for Michiganders can be found here.
When they say, “college isn’t for everyone”, they were not talking about you! Many people with disabilities decide to continue their education and expand their knowledge, pursue career goals and lead very successful lives as a result. If you are disabled and interested in going to or going back to college, there are some things you should know.
1. Every college and university has a Disability Services office. Disability Services offers accommodations for adaptive or modified equipment, testing arrangements for extra time, note-takers, alternative media formats, and more.
2. There are often private scholarships designated for disabled students at many colleges and universities. Check with the financial aid office at your school of choice.
3. You can have your school loan debt forgiven by applying for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge of your federal student loans or TEACH Grant service obligation. A TPD discharge will release your obligation to repay your loans or complete your TEACH Grant obligation. Learn more about TPD discharge here.
From personal experience, I would recommend that if you do not have an extreme amount of debt to wait until you finish your degree program or other educational goals to discharge your debt. For example, if you owe $1500 in school loans, pay that amount out of pocket if you have limited financial aid and may need to take out additional loans to finish school. No need in racking up new bills when you can write them off after your degree completion.
Setting career goals and choosing to pursue them is a tremendous stride with a rewarding outcome. Going to college offers a great opportunity to socialize with others because there are groups with people who also have disabilities, who may be able to encourage and help you or vice versa. College gives a person a unique sense of independence, community, and self-reliance which can build confidence for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities like to have fun and learn new things like everyone else. Having a disability or special need does not designate you as a bystander. If you or your child is in a wheelchair but wants to ski or have down syndrome and wants to swim, there are organizations that can make it possible. Michigan has many sports/recreational organizations for special needs and differently-abled bodies to participate in sports and recreational hobbies that provide adaptive equipment for safe and fun activities. Here are some organizations that may be of interest:
Address: 46000 Summit Parkway, Canton
Ages: Ranges based on program; Leisure Club Programs ages 15-plus.
Cost: Varies based on program; open to residents outside Plymouth-Canton, too.
Whether you or your child has a developmental or physical disability, you are welcome to get active with the therapeutic recreation programs. Leisure Club Programing includes a non-competitive bowling league, dancing, swim, karate & movie nights and more. Plus, they offer an adaptive sports class to teach participants how to play everyday sports with their abilities. In summer, kids 8-14 can also sign up for Camp A.B.L.E.
Address: Various venues throughout downriver community
Ages: No age requirement
This downriver team offers sports for the physically disabled and those with special needs, including swimming, baseball and bowling.
Address: Meer Center, 6892 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield
Ages: All ages
Cost: Vary by program and amount of dates program is meeting.
Find sports clinics in soccer hockey and basketball in the winter months; plus summertime sports camps.
Address: 1008 Orchard St., Ferndale
Cost: Varies by class
This facility offers year-round fitness, athletic and sports programs for children, teenagers and adults with special needs. Current class options include Youth Athletic training, baseball, speed training, Zumba, yoga, boxing and more. Class trials are free and sponsorships are available for families in need.
Address: Pontiac Lake Recreation Area in summer, Pine Knob in winter
Phone: Contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This Michigan chapter of Disabled Sports USA has adaptive downhill skiing and snowboarding in the winter and adaptive water skiing and kayaking clinics in summer for those with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities. Many participants’ disabilities range from amputation and paralysis to cerebral palsy, head injuries and developmental disabilities, the site notes.
Address: Carleton Middle School, 8900 15 Mile Road, Sterling Heights and Beech Woods Recreation Center, 22200 Beech Road, Southfield
Ages: 5-18 (enrolled in elementary, middle or high school)
Cost: $25/registration fee, additional fees for transportation and lodging when traveling to competitions and conferences locally, regionally and nationally
Sign your kid up to play basketball with this local group. Practices are 7-9 p.m. Mondays at the Macomb County location and third Wednesdays at the Oakland County spot. Prep team or varsity team available – both co-ed. While athletes don’t need to use a wheelchair daily, they must have a disability that affects their lower extremities, organizers note.
Address: Drop-in program at a variety of locations in Oakland County
Ages: Vary based on activity
Cost: contact for details
Oakland County Parks has partnered with more than 30 non-profits to provide golf, dancing and other recreational opportunities for people with special needs.
Address: OUCARES at Oakland University, 425C Pawley Hall, Rochester
Phone: 248-370-2424 or email email@example.com
Ages: Programs for ages 4 through adult
Cost: Varies based on program; ranges $50-$130 and scholarships are available
Kids anywhere on the autism spectrum along with their friends and siblings can participate in these sports programs, which throughout the year include indoor and outdoor soccer, swimming, judo, basketball, volleyball and SNAG golf for beginners.
Address: Various locations in Sterling Heights
Ages: Vary based on activity
Cost: Vary based on program and whether resident or nonresident. Contact for details
Find a plethora of activities for kids with various disabilities, such as dance exercise, bowling and basketball. Check online for the latest newsletter detailing programming.
Address: Various counties across southeast Michigan
Phone: 248-688-9603 (southeast region office)
Ages: 2-7/Young Athletes Program, Special Olympics begins at ages 8-plus
Find a multitude of sports offerings through Special Olympics Michigan, including skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, basketball, cycling, gymnastics, golf, volleyball and many more. Open to kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as cognitive delays. No prior experience necessary. Reach out to the Special Olympics Michigan – Southeast Region to get hooked up with your county’s specific contact. Learn more on the Be an Athlete page.
Address: Miracle Field, Southfield Civic Center, 26000 Evergreen Road
Ages: Noncompetitive and competitive leagues for kids and young adults 4-plus
Cost: $75/10-game baseball season (includes major league jersey, hat and trophy), $50-$75/other programs
This Easterseals Michigan program welcomes kids with any disability to play one game per week – no experience necessary. With the help of “buddies,” kids can learn the game and have an opportunity to bat, run bases and score. Games are two innings and last an hour – plus the participants use safety equipment. Other programs through Miracle League of Michigan include dance, bowling and touch football.
Address: Games at Canfield Alkali Arena, 2100 Kinloch St., Dearborn Heights
Sign up to play adaptive wheelchair floor hockey from October-May. Kids with a range of disabilities such as muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, arthrogryposis, osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bones) can join in.
Phone: 248-644-9036 (Birmingham), 734-261-2161 (Livonia)
Ages: Varies by program; opportunities available for kids ages 3-plus
Cost: Varies based on members or nonmembers
Find an adaptive fitness program with non-competitive games in tennis and yoga at the Birmingham Family YMCA and Livonia Family YMCA. Adaptive swim lessons also available at Birmingham Family YMCA and Macomb Family YMCA. Also, adaptive personal training is available to help establish healthy habits. Offerings may vary by location; contact your local YMCA for details on offerings.
Did we miss any local organizations? Let us know in the comments so we can add them to our list.