Deaf-Blind Awareness Week is celebrated each year during the last week in June, in honor of Helen Keller’s birthday on June 27. This is an opportunity to honor those who promote literacy among children who are deaf, blind, or deafblind and there is no better champion than Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB).
FSDB is a fully accredited, tuition-free state public school for eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. Founded in 1885, FSDB currently serves over 1,000 students on campus and statewide. Their campus of more than 80 acres in historic St. Augustine features a Montessori-based pre-K school and five K-12 schools including access to virtual courses and dual enrollment opportunities.
“What makes FSDB different from other educational programs is the full access to world-class knowledge through language acquisition, development, and mastery,” said FSDB President Tracie C. Snow. “Student-centered experiences are designed to foster intellectual curiosity, nurture personal growth, encourage creative exploration, and inspire a lifelong love of learning.”
FSDB is a trusted statewide resource, providing comprehensive programs and services for students, their families, and the professionals who serve them. The goal is to increase awareness about the many campus-based and statewide educational programs and services provided, including ASL classes, braille literacy opportunities, seasonal campus expos, school-age outreach training, consultation, and evaluation services, and more.
As part of their focus on putting the unique needs of each student first, FSDB personnel work with students to develop confidence, acquire new skills and strengthen their ability to achieve success both within and outside the classroom. Students learn life skills essential for a successful transition to the adult world of independent living, employment, postsecondary education, and community involvement – including financial independence.
At FSDB, students gain the edge to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling the vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success.
Learn more about FSDB enrollment at https://www.fsdbk12.org.
For Spencer, having a backup plan when the unexpected occurs is critically important – and he has learned this lesson many times throughout his life.
Approximately 12 years ago, Spencer was a victim of an armed robbery at a gas station and the injuries he sustained left him quadriplegic. Since then, Spencer has had to adapt to the new challenges of living with a disability – and in that time, he has accomplished just as many things as his peers.
Spencer has served in a variety of capacities with different organizations and nonprofits, including as a board member of the Center for Independent Living of Northwest Florida and Northwest Florida Rehabilitation Foundation.
It was through a connection at Rehabilitation Technology Service Consulting that Spencer first learned about ABLE United – which proved to be the financial solution he was looking for.
“The constraints of living with a disability, and receiving any kind of public benefits, really hampers an individual’s ability to live a normal life,” shared Spencer.
Since enrolling, he has leaned on the funds saved in his ABLE United account many times – most recently when his home was partially destroyed and flooded by Hurricane Sally last year.
“I would not have been able to manage those unexpected expenses if it weren’t for my ABLE account,” Spencer added.
Having a secure backup plan with ABLE United has allowed him to focus on his passions in life, such as traveling and helping others travel.
Spencer is a travel agent and likes to focus on planning accessible travel. Any chance he gets, he wants to give back to the community and teach others about the benefits of planning for a brighter future with ABLE United.
We know there are a lot of resources available to the disability community, and navigating them can be overwhelming.
ABLE accounts can serve as more than just a financial tool but can also work alongside other resources too – that’s why we created ABLECon.
In our inaugural year, we are bringing a lineup of advocates and professionals together to discuss some of your most frequently asked questions.
Join us on Saturday, May 22 beginning at 8:30 a.m. for a series of four sessions covering topics as they relate to ABLE accounts, including special needs trusts, public benefit programs in Florida and guardianship.
Spanish Language and American Sign Language interpreters will be available for all sessions.
This virtual event is dedicated to educating the disability community on how and why an ABLE United account is right for them—and we hope you’ll consider joining us.
If you are on disability benefits and are looking to get back to work, a disability employment service, like employU, can connect you to a variety of resources and services at no cost to you. With services for both youth and adult clients, the staff at employU is able to inform you of resources available and guide you along the pathway to a successful and fulfilling career. One such service employU offers is the Ticket to Work program, which is specifically geared towards recipients of Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).
The Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program is a free and voluntary program available to recipients who wish to pursue employment opportunities. The program aims to help decrease reliance on SSI and SSDI and increase financial and independent well-being of program recipients. employU is partnered with the American Dream Employment Network (ADEN) and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) as an Employment Network Service Provider offering career development opportunities to beneficiaries.
The employU program includes:
- Benefits/Work Incentives Counseling
- Career Planning/Counseling Job Search and Placement
- Resume creation and Interviewing
- Ongoing Employment Support
- Assistance with Work Accommodations
Your “ticket” through this program allows you to seek employment while continuing to receive cash benefits for the first 12 months. There is no income limit in the first year under this program. Additionally, beneficiaries continue to receive Medicare for at least 93 months after the last Ticket to Work Program month has been used and SSI recipients continue to receive Medicaid after they stop receiving SSI cash benefits due to working full-time, up to certain income levels determined by the state. There is also no need to worry about reapplying for SSI or SSDI benefits if you find you are unable to sustain full-time work. All in all, it is a no-risk program.
Through employU, you can also consult with a Certified Work Incentive Practitioner (C-WIP), providing you an easy access point to acquire initial and ongoing benefits support you need to attain, maintain, and advance in employment. This includes:
- Analysis and verification of your benefits
- Benefits Summary and Analysis report (BS&A) customized to you
- A copy of the Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) from the Social Security Administration
- Continued short and long-term customer support
As an employU customer, you will have the opportunity to participate in a full-service career exploration program. Through Vocational and Psychological Evaluations, you can take a deep dive into your personal attributes and abilities to formulate career plans. You can also participate in workshops such as Pre-Employment Trainings which help prepare you for the current job market.
When you are ready, you will be matched up with an Employment Specialist who will work with you one-on-one to secure the job that is right for you. They will help you develop a resume, accompany you to interviews, and advocate on your behalf every step along the way. They will even stay with you for three to five months once you have been hired to make sure you fit right in and are comfortable in your new position. It is an experience completely tailored to you and at no out of pocket cost.
While having an ABLE United account gives you the ability to save beyond resource limits and pay for expenses as they come up, service providers like employU can set you on a path to a rewarding and sustainable career. Together, both of these resources can help you achieve your goals and obtain a more secure financial future.
For more on employU and the services they offer, visit https://employU.org
Many receiving stimulus funds because of COVID-19 may be worried about exceeding the $2,000 asset and resource limit imposed by public benefits programs like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
Now is the time to consider opening an ABLE United account.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on personal finances and showed us how important it is to save for the unexpected. An ABLE account – which offers tax-advantaged savings and investment options – may be a good place to save all or a portion of stimulus funds for the future.
While economic impact funds are not generally treated as income by federal, state, and local programs, funds not spent or contributed into an ABLE account within 12 months will count as a resource, likely to impact eligibility for current or future benefits.
Your ABLE United account is about more than saving. It’s investing in a better life.
Para obtener información en español sobre cómo funcionan los fondos de estímulo con las cuentas ABLE, haga clic aquí.
ABLE United team at the 2019 Family Café
The Annual Family Café is incredibly unique and remarkable in its ability to bring thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families together to connect, identify resources and learn from each other – and it is the largest statewide cross-disability event in the nation.
As an organization founded and staffed by family members of individuals with disabilities, The Family Café understands that this community often faces financial challenges. That is why there has never been a registration fee to attend the annual event.
What to Expect
The Family Café is committed to addressing the real-world needs and concerns of the disability community. Their wide range of breakout sessions are developed by the Planning Committee which consists of representatives from state agencies that serve individuals with disabilities, partner disability organizations, families, and advocates. The committee considers feedback that they collect from attendees, as well as their own expertise, as they set the agenda and select breakout sessions for inclusion.
Sessions at The Annual Family Café cover a wide range of topics. To help attendees find the right info to meet their needs, some sessions are organized into “tracks.” This year tracks will include:
- Assistive Technology
- Birth through Age Five (early childhood)
- Disaster Preparedness
- Mental Health
- Military Families
- Smart Money (financial planning)
- Youth (transition-age youth and emerging adults)
Additionally, sessions outside of those tracks will touch on an array of topics, including the arts, specific disabilities, and conversational roundtables.
Top Reasons to Join
People sometimes ask where the name The Family Café comes from, and there are a few reasons. First, a café is a friendly place where anyone can walk in and get what they want. The idea for the event was first developed by people sitting around a kitchen table, too, so the theme seemed to fit. But most importantly, “café” is an acronym for the organization’s values that also tells you why it’s worth being a part of The Family Café.
Collaboration, Advocacy, Friendship, Empowerment
And of course, there’s one more reason to be part of The Family Café – and that reason is Fun!
There’s a lot to be learned by getting connected with The Family Café, and a lot of work to be done to build a more inclusive world, but it’s also important to have a great time, spread positivity, and celebrate an inclusive community.
COVID – 19 Precautions
Last year, The Family Café and their Planning Committee made the decision to transform the event into a virtual one. Instead of bringing thousands of people together for three days, they offered a series of 26 interactive live sessions over a two-week period in June 2020.
While there were aspects of the virtual event that worked well, and many people appreciated the ability to view content online, nothing takes the place of face-to-face interaction of a traditional Annual Family Café.
At this point, it’s too early to say exactly what The 23rd Annual Family Café will look like, but the organization is hopeful to see everybody in person at the Hyatt Regency Orlando from June 11 – 13.
How to Get Involved
As a small nonprofit organization, The Family Café relies on the families they serve to spread the word about what they offer. To learn more, donate or to register for this year’s annual event, visit familycafe.net.
Ryan learned a hard life lesson at the young age of 16. After jumping from a tree into a canal in South Florida and becoming quadriplegic, he was challenged in ways he never before experienced. But through his trials, he discovered a newfound motivation to live life to the fullest.
Now, he uses this motivation to help others through the hardships of living with a disability.
“I learned that life isn’t over when you live with a disability,” says Ryan. “I love being a cheerleader for anyone that is struggling.”
Ryan graduated from Florida Atlantic University with his master’s in business administration in 2008.
“I encourage anyone with a disability to further their education, pursue work, find a hobby, participate in support groups, and most importantly, live life to the fullest,” he shared.
One tool that is critical to ensuring his independence is his ABLE United account. Ryan learned about the program at a disability expo at Nova Southeastern University – and today uses his ABLE account to maintain his independence and pay for his housing and accessible improvements.
As president of the Broward Chapter of the Spinal Cord Injury Support Group of South Florida, Ryan continues to inspire others and share his words of wisdom. Since 2009, Ryan has managed the support group which now meets virtually to provide friendship, education, advocacy, and resources to their more than 300 members. To get involved, visit www.scisg.org.
With the beginning of a new year, it’s important to consider taking a moment to review your financial goals and objectives and align your savings and investment plans for the year ahead.
We’ve invited Thomas Nurse, Special Needs Strategic Consultant and proud father of Shelby, an ABLE United account holder since 2016, to answer some of your questions when it comes to saving and investing.
Q: Why is it important to save?
A: For individuals with disabilities, saving means so much more. When you are able to save money, you can buy options – options mean choice, choice equals freedom. Currently, many public benefits programs that support individuals with disabilities, like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid, require limits in income or assets. But, ABLE accounts are an absolute change of that culture and allows the opportunity for you to now buy your way into greater freedom.
Q: When should you start saving and investing?
A: The decision to start saving or investing varies for individuals and families; but if you can, start now. One of the most wonderful things about ABLE United is that anyone can contribute to an account. For example, when a child is first born with special needs, that is a great time to open an account, when you can encourage the support of friends and family.
Q: What kind of benefits do I get by opening an ABLE United Account?
A: ABLE United creates the opportunity to dream. It helps that individual with a disability envision a future and a goal that they can work towards. These accounts are a complete change from a poverty enforced life to being in control and having essential benefits that are necessary because of your disability.
ABLE United also provides an incredible opportunity for family involvement because now instead of not talking about money or benefits or estate/ future planning, this sets a foundation to engage in real meaningful conversations about money and the future.
Q: Do I have to file taxes on an ABLE United Account?
A: The specific requirements to file taxes are certainly a question for your tax professional but in general terms the earnings are not taxable.
It’s also important to know that each ABLE United account is treated separately, and each will receive separate tax documents. At the end of each year, account holders will receive a 5498-QA showing contributions and the establishment of an ABLE account. If a withdrawal was made, you will receive a 1099-QA showing the earnings and basis of the distributions.
Q: Are contributions considered an asset?
A: The money in an ABLE account is an asset to the individual with a disability. But it is important to remember that income-based and needs-based programs like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid do not count the money in an ABLE account as a resource that could affect eligibility.
Q: What is the FDIC savings option?
A: Investment requires risk and the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. An individuals’ risk tolerance is specific to their situation and preference. One of the greatest worries we saw at the beginning was people not wanting to take on more risk. Some people just want to put their money in a savings account, just like a bank. The FDIC savings option allows you to save without taking on any additional risk.
Q: What’s the difference between the investment options and FDIC savings option?
A: It’s important to remember that ABLE United has the benefit of being under the investment pool of the Florida Prepaid College Savings program, so these are industrial grade investments with deeply discounted fees that an individual would never have access – you are getting a super good deal and accessing really high-grade investments. You also have the ability to choose from predesigned portfolios that range from conservative, moderate, and growth as well as international and US funds.
But, more importantly, now individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to invest and grow their money and contribute to our powerful economy. As a father and a financial professional, I understand the opportunities the financial industry provides to the general population which have historically excluded individuals with disabilities and the power of choice that comes from being able to manage your own money and future.
Q: Why would you recommend ABLE United?
A: I would highly recommend that individuals consider utilizing ABLE United for several reasons, one of them being the importance of freedom of choice that I have previously explained. But an ABLE account also protects your options when it comes to eligibility for benefits programs. Finally, the fact that the individual with the disability is in charge of their future and can provide leadership and contribute to society is one of the main reasons I would recommend ABLE United.
When it comes to financial planning for individuals with disabilities, it is important to understand that each person’s situation is unique. The information provided in this article is of general nature and individual recommendations should be consulted with your own financial professional.
ABLE accounts were created to help individuals with disabilities realize their hopes and dreams – and prepare for whatever their future may hold. As we enter the holiday season, now is a perfect time to contribute to your loved ones’ account through the gifting page and help contribute to their financial freedom.
“Special needs parents are overwhelmed as they try to put their arms around their child’s diagnosis,” says Linda Bennett, mother to Ryan who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at an early age. “Everybody has a different journey, but ABLE United allows us to sleep better at night knowing our child’s financial future is safe.”
Built to be flexible, anyone can contribute to an ABLE United account on behalf of the individual with a disability, including the individual, family, friends—and even organizations like civic groups, churches, or non-profits.
“We can be recipients of other people’s kindness. We can also have the joy of giving back,” says Bobbi Wigand, Executive Director of Victory Living Programs in Fort Lauderdale.
Similar to a GoFundMe page, the gifting page can have an established goal and be shared with individuals and/or organizations as a way for them to give gifts instead of physical presents. It also allows those that want to help financially but, in the past, have feared jeopardizing their loved ones’ important benefits. With ABLE United, that fear is now eliminated as, generally, funds in or withdrawn from an account do not impact eligibility for current or future benefits.
The gifting page is also easily shareable on social media or through email to reach those that live both near and far.
It is important to note that all contributions made directly to an ABLE United account from a third-party are not considered income to the individual with a disability; rather, contributions are considered completed gifts.
As we reflect on the last year, it has certainly been challenging, but we are proud to see more and more Floridians choose ABLE United to support their savings goals – in turn, achieving financial flexibility and peace of mind.
Cody is always striving for independence.
She is employed at Bealls in Sarasota as a cashier and is also a senior at the University of South Florida studying Professional and Technical Communications. Born with Spina Bifida, she is determined to be both personally and financially independent, and her ABLE United account allows her to do just that.
Having first learned about ABLE United by attending the Annual Family Café event, which is the largest disability conference in the state, Cody was instantly drawn to the fact that she would be able to save without impacting her benefits.
As a Supplemental Security Income recipient, she is only allowed $2,000 in resources. But, with ABLE United, she is realizing her dreams – and because of her account and the ability to now save over $2,000, she is the proud owner of a bright red 2020 Toyota Corolla.
“Purchasing my first car was a big goal for me, and it’s something I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to achieve without my ABLE account,” she shared.
Cody is able to contribute leftover funds from her federal financial aid and the earnings from her job into her account to pay for everyday living expenses and save for the future. Her next goal? Saving to purchase her first home.
By not being defined by her diagnosis, she is breaking out of societal norms and sharing her talents and passions with others.
“I am living with no limits thanks to my ABLE United account,” explained Cody. “My hope is that the resource restrictions and income limits will be removed one day; but, for now, I have achieved financial freedom.”