Latino Chiricahua Apache, Two Spirits on the Board of Directors for Disability Rights California and National Disability Rights Network. ABLE funds are being saved to maintain a safety net while working to be self-sufficient.
LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST EPISODE WITH HECTOR
Perspective on ABLE from an ABLE Account Owner and Disability Advocate
In Hector’s Own Words…
My name is Héctor Manuel Ramírez. My pronouns are he/they/them. I am Chiricahua Apache Mexican. I am Autistic and I have a psychiatric disability, bipolar disorder and I am hard of hearing so I wear hearing aids and use CART and American sign language. I am somebody who is formerly homeless and I am someone who is formerly an institutionalized person. I live with my family here in beautiful Yaanga, Tovaangar. Many of you might know it as Los Angeles, California. These are the ancestral lands of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.
I am a disability rights advocate serving on the board of directors for Disability Rights California and with the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C. When I’m not working, I co-parent with my sister for my one-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew, so that’s a lot of work. I love gardening and singing with them.
As a person with a disability, I have been on Social Security benefits and I have also had well-paid jobs at various points in my life. Because of my psychiatric disability, sometimes I haven’t been able to work that much. At times, when I have needed benefits, I was not able to access them because I had other money. It created a lot of problems for me. I ended up homeless like many people do in those circumstances here in LA County.
I have a very strong family network though. For almost 10 years I slept on my mother’s dining room floor. She had a one-bedroom apartment. And that is how my family helped me. I couldn’t save money to get an apartment because, if I saved too much money, I would lose my Social Security benefits which would severely impact my disability. It did feel like a punishment and contributed a lot to my mental health problems, the stress and feeling like a burden to my family. The loss of independence was hard for me particularly as a Latino, as a man and as the oldest in my family. It felt really weird and uncomfortable – not that I’m ungrateful – that my family had to take care of me. That caused additional stresses for them that I wish they hadn’t had.
So when ABLE accounts came to California through CalABLE, I opened my account right away. For me, I use my ABLE account as a wellness tool and as a transformational tool in my life. I was able to open it up and, very soon afterwards through donations from friends and family for my birthday, I was able to get enough money to put a down payment on my house. It’s a mobile home, but it’s my home. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home and I have a whole bedroom with a door and my mother has a room in it as well. We got the keys to my new home on Mother’s Day and I gave them to my mom. That helped me reclaim a lot of what I had lost. Part of what I had lost was my sense of worth and independence because I felt so weird as a person with a disability in a system that kind of penalized me for it. This helped me regain my life.
During the pandemic, I don’t know how we would have fared had we not had this home. Many people in our family contracted the virus, and a few passed due to the virus, including my younger brother. My home became a place where we could take care of family members. My bedroom is where we were able to take care of my brother during his final days. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do that. I wish that he was here. But we were able to have that home space, my home space, to help him and that is something the ABLE account did for me. It not only changed my life, but the lives of my family for the better.
I want to let you in on a little secret, “Money is Medicine.” It’s not everything, but it is medicine. For people with disabilities oftentimes we haven’t had the privilege to accrue and to develop financial literacy. I wanted to prove that point wrong. When I opened my ABLE account I put $10* into opening it up. I didn’t understand how to use it, and while I was learning about it I was paralyzed at first, but I allowed myself the opportunity to learn, to make mistakes and to enjoy this new thing. It helps me and it helps my community. It’s a healing thing. Anything that we can do to take care of people with disabilities, or for people with disabilities to be able to do to take care of themselves, that is what I’m all about.
To hear more from Hector, check out the archive of our May, Mental Health and the Power of ABLE accounts panel.
*Note: At this time the minimum amount to open an ABLE account in California is $25. The average amount to open an ABLE account with most state ABLE programs ranges between $25 to $50.
Héctor Ramírez Highlight from the May 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter
Héctor Ramírez is a Latino Chiricahua Apache, Two Spirits who is also a member of the LGBTQ community. Up until last month, Héctor was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park, California. Ze* was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the “dining room” so that hir* mom could have the bedroom. As an individual with Autism and Bipolar Disorder, Héctor is ABLE-eligible and has been saving funds in hir ABLE account to maintain a safety net while working to become self-sufficient. Héctor has also been saving for a home, something ze would not have been in a position to do if it were not for hir ABLE account through CalABLE. A lifelong disability rights advocate, Héctor knows that hir story and goals are shared by others in the disability community that ze helps to serve through hir work on the Board of Directors for Disability Rights California and National Disability Rights Network.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we can think of no story more powerful to share with our friends and ABLE-eligible members of the Mental Health Community this month than that of our ABLE NRC Ambassador, Héctor Ramírez. Just last week, Héctor finalized the purchase on a new home with a down payment made possible by the funds in hir ABLE account. Last Thursday, ze got the keys to hir new home and got busy right away putting in new floors and painting it just the right color in time for Mother’s Day weekend, as a gift to hir mom who will be living there as well. They are thrilled to be out of the one-bedroom apartment and Hector is happy to no longer be sleeping on the floor. They even got a new bed for the dog. Héctor now owns a home and doesn’t think ze will ever have to move again.
Hector shares that, “I feel like this is a dream that is not happening but it is. My ABLE account has helped me in ways I did not think it would. I came into this program because I wanted to have a safety net for when my benefits were not there so that I would not end up homeless. And instead, I am moving into a new home for me and my mom. I have met some of my new neighbors and their families. While it’s only a couple of miles from where I used to live, I can’t help but think that even the skies look different. I have been waking up with so much excitement, it feels like being on the top of a rollercoaster about to start the ride, just about to plunge into the experience. I am so excited to start this new part of my life!”
* Ze and hir are the most popular forms of gender-free pronouns in the online LGBTQ community.