Sunday, March 8, 2015

ABLE: Positive change and a fighting chance

Just before Christmas of last year, President Barack Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or ABLE, allowing people with disabilities to open tax-free accounts where they can save money without fear of losing government benefits.
As soon as the Treasury Department writes eligibility requirements, states will be responsible for establishing and managing the program, expected to begin accepting applications from people by the end of this year.
In Savannah, this means new doors could be opening for the thousands of people who struggle to find work because of a disability.
On Tuesday, representatives of the Low Country Down Syndrome Society and Coastal Center for Developmental Services spoke about providing opportunities for disabled people at the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly SMART Luncheon at Savannah Morning News.
Brian Hussey, a board member with the Low Country Down Syndrome Society — whose son, Sean, also has Down syndrome — said employing those with disabilities can change the way people view this demographic.
“(Having) a real diverse workforce and looking at an opportunity to consider employing an adult that is differently abled will not only change the life of that individual but change your organization,” Hussey said.
According to the National Disability Institute, under the ABLE Act, people with disabilities can save up to $100,000 without risking their eligibility for Social Security and other programs. Interest earned on these savings, capped at $14,000 a year, will be tax free.
Cindy Burns, community development coordinator at the Coastal Center for Development Services, also spoke during the luncheon, showing a video of three developmentally disabled adults now working at various businesses in the community.
“A lot of times you’re seeing someone and you’re going to go, ‘I wonder how they got that job?’ or ‘I wonder what took place before they walked in?’” she said. Burns said many of their clients exceed the expectations of their employers, citing an example of one man, Jason Thompson, who’d never had a driver’s license before but now operates an industrial warehouse sweeper for Pooler-based OA Logistics.
“The value of a person is not determined by their income, status or stereotype, but by their passion, purpose and dedication,” said Burns.
The Low Country Down Syndrome Society, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, will have its annual Night of Champions event at the Westin on May 14.
“These children — these people — are truly capable of so much more than we give them credit for,” Hussey said.

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