A Bold Effort to Empower the Disabled Through Financial Education
By Madeline Kennedy
January 4, 2017
People with disabilities have unusual financial needs, and now a coalition of financial firms and nonprofits is trying to bring this community financial education programs specially suited to their lifestyle.
Above-average daily expenses combined with complex government benefits and generally fewer job choices make it difficult for those with a handicap to build savings. They often face suffocating medical bills, and even basic transportation can be costly due to special needs, notes Michael Morris, executive director of the National Disability Institute.
People with handicaps are three times more likely to live in poverty, Morris says. But that is slowly changing as more are able to enter the less physical workplace. “There’s this old idea that people with disabilities can’t work, or that they don’t have the ability to manage their money,” Morris said. “But that idea is rapidly changing.”
Now, along with their complex health issues more folks with disabilities find they must also manage a career. That’s a good thing. But if financial education has been light for the population at large–which it has–it has been almost non-existent for this demographic. So the institute is spearheading an effort to create financial literacy materials and coursework that focuses on those with a disability. In July, it announced a partnership with Wells Fargo to offer financial education courses at American Job Centers across the country.
The lessons will be sourced from Wells Fargo’s long-standing financial literacy program, Hands On Banking. The program includes lessons on basic money management such as budgeting, saving and investing. The institute also joined forces with Bank of America’s financial education program, Better Money Habits, to create similar lessons for people with disabilities.
Through the Americans with Disabilities Act and other measures, accessibility and opportunity for people with disabilities has greatly increased over the last few decades. But one of the community’s greatest challenges remains boosting employment and economic self-sufficiency. The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is nearly double that of the population as a whole, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“It’s not so easy as just saving,” Morris says. First you need income. Resources to get this group started down the path of financial security haven’t been there in the past, Morris says. But in 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) act, which allowed people with disabilities to open tax-free savings accounts where they can save more than $2,000 a year without losing any benefits.
Technologies like mobile banking, apps, and social media have made financial lessons more accessible, and now we have a targeted effort on the part of banks and nonprofits trying to reach this underserved community.