Adults with disabilities: 25 years old and older. For people younger than 25, click HERE to go my post on Free Stuff for Kids with Disabilities.
Free Stuff for Adults with Disabilities
This article is all about free stuff for adults with disabilities (and/or special needs*) Why? Because there are a more than a few lists of free things, resources and help out there for kids with disabilities (and/or special needs*), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one for adults with disabilities.
Which is either flattering or really depressing. Flattering, because it implies that we adults with disabilities have it all together and don’t need help, or depressing because there just isn’t much out there, and resources think that they are promoting them so well that lists of this type don’t seem necessary.
Either way you have it, I think it’s time to compile a handy list, and to update it as often as possible.
Personal story: I was kicking myself after I completed graduate school (on my own dime, time and with private loans) and found out that being deaf is considered a disability! As an honors student straight through, I could have easily gotten a scholarship, but I had no idea that I counted as “disabled”. Don’t be like me. Check these out:
JLV Counseling’s Clearinghouse of Scholarships for People with Disabilities: Comprehensive list of scholarships available to people with disabilities, categorized by disability.
Ruby’s Rainbow: Scholarships for people with Intellectual Disabilities to attend higher education.
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation: the point of DVR/DOR is to help people with disabilities find and keep jobs that suit them. If you need higher education in order to find and keep a job that suits you, DVR/DOR should help. This is not a rule but it is definitely an avenue to explore.
Financial Aid at Your Local University:
- sit down with a financial aid counselor (not a student helper!) and request information on all relevant grants, scholarships, opportunities, etc related to disability.
- meet with the disability services at your local university and request all information related to grants, scholarships, opportunities, etc.
- meet with the career counselor who works with disability/disability services at your local university and request information related to grants, scholarships, opportunities, etc. They might also have information on work opportunities.
Financial planning is incredibly important for us adults with disabilities. Here are some free resources to help:
ABLE Account: understand the ABLE accounts. We can save money in an account that will not go against SSI/SSDI.
The Red Book: on the heels of understanding ABLE accounts is “The Red Book” – Social Security’s annual book on benefits. The link provided is to a pdf of the book.
Disability Benefits 101: tools and information on employment, health coverage, and benefits. Not all states are set up with the calculator, but World Institute on Disability has a lot of other information on financial planning and benefits – check out their books and resources here.
PASS Plans: “A Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) allows a person with a disability to set aside otherwise countable income and/or resources for a specific period of time in order to achieve a work goal. Any person who receives SSI benefits,or who might qualify for SSI, or any person receives SSDI (or a similar benefit) and could qualify for SSI, may be able to have a PASS. There is no limit to the number of successful PASS plans a person may use in a lifetime.
Free Disability Passes
National Park Service: free lifetime pass to US national parks and more. There are some requirements and stipulations, so read through the application – which is linked here.
State Park Service: state parks have a disability discount – look up your state for more information and for the application. California’s is linked here.
Disney Disability Pass: this is changing as a result of the abuse, but it still helps us adults with disabilities.
I’m deaf, neurodiverse and I have never had much money. I’m also a travel junkie. I have found ways to travel the world for free or cheap on numerous occasions.
Obviously, my travel parameters are going to be different from those who have disabilities different from mine – I don’t use a wheelchair, I don’t use an attendant, and I can speak for myself.
BUT the first rule of travel is something like, “If you don’t believe it, nobody will.”
You have absolutely got to hold tight to what you want and what your vision is. There is a way to accomplish it, if you are willing to do the research to figure out how to make it happen (on a dime that is not yours).
Here are some places to start:
MIUSA: Mobility International. These guys are awesome – I want to work for them! They have a ton of information on traveling abroad, financial resources, etc, listed clearly and cleanly in their fantastic website. They also have staff that you can contact with more direct and trip-specific questions. I did, when we were going to Mexico, and they were helpful. Furthermore – they have information for Americans going abroad and people outside the US coming to the US.
The Foundation Center: search foundations to apply for funds. Don’t forget your intersections – that is, if you are poor or a female or a racial minority or LGTBQ, search under those groups as well for foundations that apply to you.
Google: I don’t mean to be flippant, but you have to research. A simple query of “free travel” led to this good (and recent) article.
Articles like that are good but don’t feature people who use wheelchairs in the photos, nor do they have people walking around using canes and service dogs! Here we go back to the first rule: “If you don’t believe it, nobody will.” You have to see yourself doing what you want to do, and really believe you can do it – and then reach out. Do you disclose? Do you have to? You can treat a lot of these travel opportunities as a job, and use JAN’s handy disclosure articles to help you. Linked here.
Deshae Lott Quality of Life Grants: “works to help American citizens with severe mobility limitations maintain hopeful, purposeful, engaged lives by providing some financial support for medically-necessary home-health-care services not covered by insurance, private or governmental, and not covered by any other non-profit organization.”
Medicaid: from a friend, “the full range of benefits from medicaid sometimes goes overlooked. they will pay for changes in your house so it is more accessible (5k every 5 years), they offer rides to appointments, reimbursement for travel to appointments, a case worker you can contact directly, and in-home caretaker hours..”
Easterseals: I feel a little guilty putting this in because the site is so vague and huge. Evidently though, they can be useful? You are supposed to find the branch office close to where you live, and see what they are able to offer you. Sounds like fun!
REquipment: wow, ’bout time. Used medical equipment, for free, without hassle from insurance.
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation: the point of a DOR/DVR is to help people with disabilities find and keep jobs. If you need some medical equipment (or something along those lines) in order to find and keep a job, they will usually help you. I got my digital hearing aids that way, years ago, and those bubbas aren’t cheap.
Department of Rehabilitation: The point of DOR/DVR is to help people with disabilities find and keep jobs (I know, I sound like a broken record player, I think that’s the 3rd time I’ve said that in this post). It’s an enormous goal and huge in it’s variables. Say you need a speech device in order to go to school so you can receive training so that you can be a train operator? = DOR will consider paying for your speech device AND tuition that is not covered by financial aid. A blind stylus? What about an iPad for deaf people, for Facetime/Skype online learning? I mean, DOR covers a lot of stuff, but you need to be able to fit what you are asking into the framework of being able to find and keep a job.
Center for Accessible Technology: they have an iPad loan program (and more, they are awesome, make sure you get to know them).
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (gotta love that name!): their description of what is out there is comprehensive and pretty accurate. It’s a good place to read through, then move on to their list of helpful organizations to reach out to, linked here.
National Library Service (for the Blind & Physically Handicapped): free library program of braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail.
Bookshare: An accessible online library for people with print disabilities.
Learning Ally: Audio books and learning tools.
There are a ton of discounts out there for us, way too many to list. I think instead of listing, it might be helpful for me to remind you to just ask.
Now, that can be a real pain in the butt, and you have to have enough spoons on hand to go through that whole, “hey! do you have a discount for people with disabilities?” and wait while they kind of look you up and down while searching through their memory banks.
If this is trying for you, some tips:
- Do you have a kid? Say it’s for your kid, until they are old enough to glare at you (‘Mom, why are you asking for a discount on your bifocals for me?‘)
- After you ask, look pointedly at your companion. Extra points if your companion doesn’t seem to have a disability!
- Do a little homework first and find out if the place has a reputation or not for being good community members – if not, then you are “offering an opportunity” and if so, you are “glad to be doing business with people who care.” Or something like that.
- Keep it light and friendly. If you can’t, don’t ask because it’s not worth the energy.
- Keep notes! Take down the person’s name and address them by their name! Write a thank-you note if they were awesome.
Want more? Here’s a HuffPo article on discounts/disability (thanks, Amy!)
That’s all I have now.
Many thanks to everyone on Facebook who helped with leads. Since this is the first “Free Stuff for Adults with Disabilities” post that I’ve ever written, it would be incredibly helpful to me and to everyone reading if you would add whatever leads you know of in the comments, along with the link.
Sharing is caring, right?!
“Special Needs” do not equal disability. These words should not be used interchangeably. Some people may have a disability but no special needs; others may have special needs but no disability. “Special Needs” is an education term; “disability” is a physical/cultural term.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.