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On Target  eNews                                           September 2015 

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The ABLE Act: a welcome reform

When you or a loved one has a disability that limits the means to make a living, you worry about the future. But you generally must set aside that worry for the pressing concerns of surviving in the present, because saving for the future may risk your social security and Medicaid benefits. It’s a scary way to live.

The ABLE Act, signed by President Obama last year and signed into North Carolina law by Governor McCrory in August, is designed to help resolve that predicament. It will allow some people with disabilities to have a savings account of up to $100,000 without risking their benefits. Currently, only $2,000 in savings is allowed without affecting benefits.

The account is tax-deferred, and the funds can be used for expenses not paid by Medicaid, things like housing, transportation and education. People must have disabilities with onset before the age of 26 to qualify. The rules limit gift contributions to $14,000 per year.

While it has its limits, the ABLE Act should provide a measure of comfort to many North Carolinians with disabilities and their families.

More info on the ABLE Act from NAMI including a video with closed captioning.

Protecting the rights of tenants with disabilities

Most households in subsidized housing include a person with a disability or the elderly. These residents may rely on a number of caregivers to provide assistance with transportation, meals, shopping and other services that allow them to live in their own homes.   


In a case pending before the North Carolina Supreme Court, a public housing authority tried to evict a tenant based on the illegal drug activity of a babysitter in her home. The tenant said she knew nothing about the drug use and did not condone it. Disability Rights NC filed an amicus brief (a “friend-of-the-court” brief) urging the court to consider that the housing authority policy could result in the eviction of a tenant who is elderly or has a disability with no additional considerations taken into account.

Many people with disabilities already struggle to find accessible, affordable housing. A policy of eviction based on a caregiver's actions threatens their right to live in the community of their choice.

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Keynote Speaker announced for the 2016 Disability Advocacy Conference

Kristin Booth Glen

The keynote speaker for the Disability Advocacy Conference scheduled for April 20, 2016 will be The Honorable Kristin Booth Glen. Judge Glen will share her thoughts on how the disability rights movement has helped transform society’s view of incapacity and how the law should respond to a paradigm shift from guardianship to supported decision-making. She is dean emerita of the CUNY School of Law.


Judge Glen served as a judge on a number of New York courts and retired in 2012 from her position as a judge on the New York County Surrogate’s Court. Her final decision as a judge captured the attention of the autism and special needs communities when she proposed that banks and special needs trustees should take proactive steps to determine the needs of people with disabilities and to spend trust money to improve their beneficiaries’ lives. It is not enough to simply invest the trust assets; the trustee has a legal responsibility to visit the person with a disability, inquire about his condition, and apply trust income to improve his life.


Registration for the 2016 Disability Advocacy Conference will open in December. In addition to the keynote speaker, the staff of Disability Rights NC will offer a number of breakout sessions on topics such as disability law updates, Medicaid law and appeals, alternatives to guardianship, special education, resources for people with disabilities, employment, and voting rights. And the popular networking lunch tables will return this year.

Self-Help Credit Union now offering Assistive Technology loans

AT enlargement use CC attribution 2A North Carolina community development lender has developed a loan program for people with disabilities that is designed to help them acquire devices that improve their quality of life.

Self-Help Credit Union, headquartered in Durham and operating 19 branches throughout the state, announced the loan program this summer. People with disabilities and their family members may apply for the Assistive Technology (AT) loans. They can be used to purchase items such as communication devices, hearing aids, personal equipment, home modification ramps, vehicle upfits, and vehicle modifications.

Mercedes Restucha-Klem, a member of the staff at Disability Rights NC, served on the advisory board as Self-Help was developing the loan program.

Pictured: A CCTV (closed circuit television) device magnifies documents to provide detail for people who are vision impaired. Photo unaltered by cobalt123. CC by NC-2.0.

Two law fellows join our staff


As a supervisor in a day program for people with disabilities, Chris Hodgson grew frustrated with the systemic challenges faced by the people with whom he worked. Many wanted to live more independently and work competitively, but their options were often too limited.


“I got tired of bumping my head against solutions that just weren’t there,” said Chris. So he headed to law school and interned with Disability Rights NC during the summer before his third year. Now Chris has returned for a two-year fellowship. His project will focus on overcoming systemic challenges to competitive work – with competitive pay – for people in sheltered workshops.


A native of Chapel Hill, Lucy Ireland shares Chris' frustration and commitment to making a difference. Growing up with a younger brother with autism and seeing the challenges faced by him and the community around their family, she decided early on to study the law.

"I think legal advocacy is one of the most important ways to effect real change in this area,” said Lucy, who will also spend a two-year fellowship with us. She will work with the education team to protect the right to appropriate services for students with disabilities.


Both Chris and Lucy earned degrees from the University of North Carolina School of Law. We welcome their passion and commitment for improving opportunities for people with disabilities to be fully included in the community.

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