Nathan Turner is saving for larger purchases. He has used his ABLE account to purchase an accessible vehicle and has saved several thousand dollars as a down payment for a home.
In his own words…
As an African American member of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generation, I have spent over 15 years advocating for higher levels of self-determination in the disability community, specifically for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I am committed to increasing economic self-sufficiency in the Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) and disability communities to help members of our community reach their full potential. I work with numerous stakeholder groups, including the Board of Trustees for Legal Aid of Western Ohio, the Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council Advocacy Task Force, The Ohio Self-Determination Association and the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Board of Directors, and the Ability Center of Greater Toledo. In 2021, I came on board with ABLE National Resource Center as part of a team of ABLE account owners and family members who serve as BIPOC Ambassadors helping ABLE NRC bring awareness of the benefits of ABLE accounts to BIPOC communities. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is an ideal time to shine a light on how an ABLE account can support competitive employment and financial independence for the approximately eight million ABLE-eligible Americans with disabilities.
This work is personal for me. I was born with advanced cerebral palsy and have a lot of personal experience navigating all types of public benefits, including Medicaid, Medicare, Home and Community-Based Waivers, Social Security and Social Security Administration Disability Work Incentives. This experience has resulted in a commitment to social justice, human rights and strengthening community inclusion, especially as they relate to the BIPOC and disability communities and the independent living movement. As a result of my personal experiences, I understand the difficulties in navigating complex eligibility requirements for public benefits while pursuing a career. I was fortunate to have a supportive family encouraging me to attend University away from home, which helped me build skills for competitive employment. Even with support, I feared losing my eligibility for needed public benefits once I began working. These concerns led me to follow the passing of ABLE legislation in 2014, and become one of the first people in the country to open an account with Ohio STABLE in 2015.
For me, ABLE accounts represent an opportunity for people with disabilities to exercise self-determination. This is important for BIPOC communities in particular, because many of us have limited opportunities to build wealth. This can often force people into making poor financial decisions in the short-term to accommodate unexpected expenses. Prior to the establishment of ABLE accounts, it was difficult for me to save for emergencies, contribute toward retirement and safely invest my money in an account in my own name that I could easily control without worrying about losing Medicaid. I tried many saving strategies before I opened an ABLE account. For example, a piggybank, prepaid cards and giving money to my circle of support to hold onto for me. None of those options gave me independent access to my own money or the opportunity to have my money grow in ways that people without disabilities, who are not reliant on public benefits, take for granted. These experiences made me realize the importance of financial literacy for people with disabilities, especially in BIPOC communities.
The ABLE National Resource Center has an abundance of helpful content to assist people wherever they are on their ABLE journey. The Roadmap to Enrollment and the Roadmap to Independence, both on the ABLE NRC website, are great places to start. The ABLE Decision Guide Series are interactive and very helpful in becoming familiar with the basics and moving to a more advanced understanding of ABLE accounts. The ABLE Employer Toolkit is a great resource for employers seeking to hire, retain and support a qualified and diverse workforce. ABLE NRC also hosts webinars, panels and podcasts with subject matter experts and ABLE account owners like myself who serve as ambassadors, sharing our stories and best practices. I have learned that money means freedom for people with disabilities and that competitive employment will almost always result in more financial stability in comparison to cash benefits.
ABLE accounts are flexible and, when paired with other work incentives discussed with a Community Work Incentive Coordinator, they can support an account holder in any working situation. ABLE accounts can be used for basic living expenses or longer-term savings goals. For someone utilizing a stepping-stone approach and working part-time to maintain public benefits, an ABLE account could be used for assistive technology, transportation or anything else they might need to live, learn or access their community. Full-time employees can do all of the above or use an ABLE account for unexpected expenses or as a more flexible retirement account. There is a lot of freedom in knowing that you have the ability to withdraw funds for qualified disability expenses as needed. Account holders who work may also able to contribute an additional amount from earnings.
I use my ABLE account to save for larger purchases. In 2019, I used my ABLE account to purchase an accessible vehicle and have saved several thousand dollars as a down payment for a home. For my longer-term career goals, I will continue to help others in my community and support them in understanding the complexities of working while navigating public benefits and healthcare programs. There is a strong need to engage BIPOC communities in all of this due to systemic barriers in education, justice and medical access that have become more apparent in the past few years. I am considering training to be a certified work incentives counselor to help me with this work and my ABLE account could help pay for that training.
ABLE accounts are a foundational strategy to build wealth, plan for the future or pay for unexpected expenses and generally make it easier to live, learn and access our communities. ABLE accounts ultimately allow owners the opportunity to live more self-determined lives. They can provide meaningful supports as people with disabilities in BIPOC communities create new opportunities for employment. The ABLE Act builds on the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act and provides a powerful tool to help millions of people with disabilities live life to their fullest potential while pursuing fulfilling careers.