July 26th is National Disability Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26th, 1990. The ADA ensures better access to goods, services, communications, and provides protection from employment discrimination.
At Philadelphia VIP, 25% of our clients are disabled. Many of them rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), both of which are programs that provide assistance to those with disabilities.
These fixed-income benefits often keep individuals in a cycle of poverty, especially those with disabilities. Their health stops them from pursuing full-time jobs, and Social Security rules restrict how much money they can make on the side if they try to supplement their income benefits. As a result, these individuals must live off of income provided by the government that keeps them near the federal poverty line.
If a legal problem arises, disabled individuals living off of these incomes cannot afford legal help. Sandra Cooper, a VIP client, experienced exactly this. Disabled and accruing debt due to her medical expenses and limited income, Sandra was approached by a debt collector who threatened to sue her for more than $20,000 and was not cooperative in creating a payment plan.
Luckily, Sandra researched organizations that could help her and found VIP. We quickly matched her with an attorney, and they negotiated to have the cases against her withdrawn. “It’s a big relief that they can’t come in and take my house,” Sandra said. “I can never say how thankful I am for my attorneys and VIP, helping low- or no-income individuals who have nowhere else to turn.” Volunteer attorney Frank Trapani, who specializes in debt collection cases like Sandras’, said that his clients are often grateful for his help. His pro bono work minimizes the impact these debts have on disabled people and allows them to focus on what actually matters in their day-to-day life – water, food, housing, and health.
So, this National Disability Independence Day, join us in reflecting on the changes enacted since the ADA was adopted, but also how limiting fixed income can be, and how you can help disabled individuals with their legal problems.