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
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
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
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
A 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.