Newly Disabled? Know Your Rights!

Legal Guide for Newly Disabled and Disabled Seniors

Disability is something that will, most likely, touch you at some point in your life. If you or someone you love is dealing with a new disability, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, close to 1 out of every 5 people in the United States - a full 19 percent of the population - reports some type of disability, and this number is growing. Among seniors specifically, the number is even higher. If you find yourself in this population for the first time or are caring for a medically disabled senior that you love, here are some things you need to do to protect yourself, and your legal rights, in the days ahead.


Transitioning to "Disabled"

When you are faced with a new diagnosis of disability, you may find yourself facing a period of transition. While the diagnosis itself is likely almost a relief, giving you a name for what you already knew was going on, but the emotional impact of being "disabled" and knowing that you are not going to simply "get over" the physical or mental symptoms you're experiencing can take its toll. In the midst of all of this, you are going to need to take some steps to make the transition smoothly. Here are some tips and strategies to use during this transition period.
  • Give yourself timeThe official diagnosis of a disability, or the sudden onset of a disabling illness, can require some time to adjust. You're going to face intense emotions during this time, including sadness and even the potential for grief and depression. Give yourself time to feel these emotions.
  • Get organized - Get your home organized so that you can function well with your new limitations. Ask for help as you organized, but aim to get everything to a point that you can live as independently as possible.
  • Find support - Find a community either online or in your local community with people who have a similar disability. This will give you a resource to tap as you learn to navigate life. Also considering seeking out a therapist or counselor who specializes in your type of ailment.
  • Talk to your employer - If you are still working, talk to your employer about accommodations. Learn your legal right to reasonable accommodation, and let your employer know what would be necessary. Approach your employer with a plan for how you can continue to contribute to the office with your disability in mind.
  • Get an official diagnosis - If you haven't already, get an official medical diagnosis of disability from your doctor. This will be critical to apply for benefits and protect your legal rights.
  • Find a local advocacy group - Advocacy is essential when dealing with a disability. Most states have a disabilities rights group that offers the services of an advocate when needed. An advocate will help you stand up for your rights and get legal help when those rights are violated.
  • Call social services or the department of Health and Human ServicesFinding services for disabled individuals in your state isn't always easy. In addition to your local advocacy group and support network, contact your social services or department of Health and Human Services office to learn what resources are available for you. Services like shuttles for handicapped individuals and home meal deliveries for those who are housebound are not widely advertised, but may be available to you.
In addition, now is the time to start applying for services. Services can give you the medical coverage and income that you've lost due to your disability. Some places to apply include:
  • Social Security Disability - Social Security Disability benefits are for people who can't work because of a medical condition that will last at least one year, which includes most disabilities. You can apply for this online after you receive an official diagnosis of disability from your doctor, but do so carefully. Denial of disability benefits is common, because the Social Security Administration has stringent requirements for this particular benefit. You may wish to work with a lawyer to increase your chances of having your application approved. Social Security Disability is available to those who have worked long enough to earn a sufficient number of working credits.
  • Supplemental Security Income - SSI is a program for disabled adults and children with limited income and resources and some seniors who are disabled and meet specific financial resource. You must visit your local Social Security office to file an application for SSI. SSI is available to people who are disabled and either have never worked or have not worked long enough to build credit for Social Security.
  • Medicaid - Most people who receive SSI are also eligible to receive Medicaid insurance coverage. However, Medicaid is a state program with federal funding, so each state has different requirements for eligibility. To apply, go through Healthcare.gov or your state's Medicaid office.
  • Medicare - Medicare Part A and Part B is automatic for disabled individuals who get approved for Social Security Disability benefits.
  • State Temporary Disability Benefits - Some states offer temporary disability benefits to get you through the period of time between your diagnosis and the approval of your SSDI or SSI application. Apply for this through the Department of Family and Social Services or the State Office of Social Services.
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program - The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) provides money for food when you don't have income coming in or when your disability income is below a certain level. Apply for SNAP through the social services department.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - If the disabled individual is a primary breadwinner, the family may qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a supplemental income program for those who meat financial-need eligibility rules.
For additional help in the early days of a disability diagnosis, visit:

Understanding Your Rights

Dealing with a new disability is overwhelming, but there is a silver lining to this cloud. Several federal laws are in place to protect people with disabilities. One of the most important things for you to do in the days ahead, after applying for the financial and medical support you require, is to understand these laws and how they apply to you. Here are the five most important legal protections that protect your rights as a disabled individual.
  • Americans with Disabilities ActThis act, which passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, specifically in terms of jobs, compensation, job training and other factors specific to employment. It applies to companies with 15 or more employees, and this includes state and government agencies. In a nutshell, this act requires facilities to make reasonable accommodations to allow an individual with a disability to continue to work, and also prohibits hiring, firing or advancement discrimination. Companies can refuse to hire disabled individuals only if they can prove that doing so creates unfair hardship.
  • Fair Housing ActThe Fair Housing Act protects disabled individuals, as well as other populations, against discrimination when buying, renting or getting a mortgage for housing. In other words, you can't be denied a loan, rent application or home purchase offer on the basis of your disability alone. Federal law also requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for disabilities or allow residents to make those disabilities themselves.
  • Telecommunications ActPassed in 1996, this law requires telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to ensure that their products and services can be accessible to those with disabilities, if possible. This includes the need to provide TTY phone capabilities for those with hearing impairment. The law also addresses the need for closed captioning and other accessibility options for video services to allow those with hearing and speech disabilities access.
  • Air Carrier Access ActThis act prohibits the discrimination based on disability by any air carriers when someone is trying to travel by plane. Air carriers have an obligation under this law to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, and cannot refuse transportation on the basis of disability, unless the passage of the person would put the flight's safety at risk. Airline carriers may not require advanced notice of disability with the exception of disability that requires the crew to prep the plane. Airline carriers can't limit the number of handicapped people on a flight nor require handicapped people to travel with an attendant in most instances.
  • Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped ActThis law from 1984 requires polling places to make accommodations for people with disabilities for all federal elections. If no accessible location is possible, then disabled individuals must be provided with a means of casting a ballot outside of the poling place on election day. Assistance and aids for disabled individuals to register to vote is also required. An addition in 2015 gave permission for polling officials to give disabled and elderly individuals a spot in the front of the line if requested.
For more information about these acts and laws, visit:

Americans with Disabilities Act
Fair Housing Act
Telecommunications Act
Air Carrier Access Act
Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
How to Protect Your Finances

After a disability diagnosis, you must answer a number of questions. One of those is how you can protect your finances. Unfortunately, statistics show that over half of those who are disabled in America are not employed, compared to just 21 percent of the non-disabled population. Even if you have savings you can use, it will not last forever. Also, disabled seniors are often targeted by scammers, so they are at high risk of having their hard-earned income stolen or scammed. You are going to need to take a look at what you can do to protect you finances and your financial security. Here are some important tips and strategies to help ensure you're protected.
  • Take advantage of insurance - If you had disability insurance prior to your diagnosis, use it. This is a great protection to take advantage of if it's available to you.
  • Understand your rights as a disabled employee - Your employer has to follow the rules in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means you may not be fired or have your application denied based on your disability alone. If you can do your job, ask for the reasonable accommodations that you are allowed by law, and get a lawyer involved if your employer is not helping.
  • Tap into worker's compensation - If your disability occurred because of an injury at work, you may be legible for workers compensation insurance coverage. The amount you will be paid depends on your state's laws, but take this if it's available to you.
  • Name a Durable Financial Power of Attorney - For those who have a disability that limits their abilities to make decisions, such as mental disabilities or dementia, naming someone as the durable financial power of attorney is an important protection. This helps protect the financial future of the individual against his or her own poor choices. It also helps protect them against others who may wish to prey upon the most vulnerable population of people. Naming someone as a financial power of attorney gives that individual the right to manage your finances if you no longer can due to illness, injury or disability.
  • Apply for disability income - Apply for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income. If you are denied, get help from an attorney to fight the denial.
  • Find places to cut - If you can't go back to work, find places in your budget where you could cut spending. Dining out, entertainment, club memberships and even cable television are not necessities.
  • Look for work you can doJust because you can't do your former job after disability doesn't mean you can't work. Find disability-friendly companies and apply for a position that more easily accommodates your disability.
  • Get to know the exploitation laws in your state - Most states have exploitation laws that protect disabled and elderly individuals against financial exploitation. Learn these laws, or ask someone to help you understand them, so you can seek help if you feel you've been exploited.
  • Know your credit - Your credit report is a great place to check for any financial problems due to exploitation. Check yours regularly.
  • Safely store documents - Safely store financial documents, and shred those items you don't need to keep. Protecting yourself against identity theft is an important step in protecting your financial future.
In addition to these tips, you need to consider the special tax ramifications of your disability, such as:
  • Disability tax credits - If you have been diagnosed with a permanent disability that prevents you from having consistent employment, and your adjusted gross income is less than $17,500 for single filers, you may be eligible for a disability tax credit that could virtually eliminate the tax you owe. Calculate your credit amount on Schedule R on your federal tax return.
  • Filing taxes on disability income - If you receive disability income, you may not have to file taxes at all. For individuals who make less than $25,000 and receive disability benefits, a return may not be required. This increases to $32,000 for married filing jointly. Keep in mind that state tax returns may have different requirements. If you have an income higher than this, you may have to pay taxes on part of your disability benefits.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit - The Earned Income Tax Credit is a credit for certain low-income taxpayers. Sometimes those receiving disability will qualify. To get this credit, you have to file a tax return.
For more information about protecting your finances after disability, visit:
How to Protect Your Medical Rights

When you have a disability, you need access to quality medical care. Yet you aren't the first person most insurance companies want to insure. Here are some things you can do to protect your right to medical care.
  • Apply for Medicaid and Medicare - If you are reciting SSI or Social Security Disability income, apply for the appropriate Medicaid or Medicare program.
  • Consider supplemental insurance - If you can get it, consider a supplemental insurance program to cover those items not covered by government programs.
  • Know Your HIPPA rights -HIPPA's Privacy Rule protects your health information from being shared with those you do not want to know it. This can be invaluable to disabled individuals who want to maintain a level of privacy. Under this law, any information your medical professionals put in your file or conversations they have about you with other medical professionals is confidential. Billing information and information stored on the health insurance provider's computer is also confidential.
  • Know your insurance rights - The Affordable Care Act makes it easier for people with disabilities to get insurance. Understand your rights in the healthcare marketplace.
  • Know your rights to medical leave - Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, and some state Worker' Compensation laws, have provisions allowing disability-related leave for workers injured on the job. The amount of leave you are allowed varies based on state Workers' Compensation laws. FMLA allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions.
  • Name a Healthcare Power of AttorneyIf your disability is such that you could lose the ability to communicate or make decisions in the future, name a healthcare power of attorney. This individual will have the right to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer do so. Choose someone you trust to follow your desires for interventions.
  • Write a Living Will - Write a living will that outlines what you would want for life-sustaining interventions should you become seriously injured or ill. This will ensure your desires are carried out, even if you are not able to communicate them. A living will can also be called an Advanced Directive.
For more information about these legalities and concerns, visit:

Additional Information

For additional information about your rights and how to protect them, and where to get help when you need it, visit:

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