Saying Goodbye to Senator Tom Harkin, and Hello to the ABLE Act: A Historic Week in the Disability Community

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Hello everyone, and welcome to our blog this week!

Well, it is with mingled emotions that we introduce the topics that we will be writing on today.  To begin, this week marks the retirement of renowned Iowan Senator Tom Harkin.  In addition to his advocacy work on behalf of seniors, small business owners, women and children, Senator Harkin also authored the landmark legislation that improved the lives of individuals with disabilities all across America: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Senator Harkin’s unwavering support of and advocacy for individuals with disabilities has been incredibly beneficial to the disability community over the course of his career, and he will certainly be missed. In homage to Harkin and his work, the first portion of our blog will be devoted to the ADA, and will describe how this important piece of legislation protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in America every day.

As well as celebrating the career of Senator Harkin and the ADA, we will also take the opportunity to celebrate some other, very welcome news: we are incredibly excited to announce that the Senate has passed the ABLE Act! The vote was taken on December 16th, and the Act passed by an overwhelming majority of 76-16. Please join us as we briefly discuss how the ABLE Act can affect any financial plans you may have for your family member with a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: What is it?

At its core, the ADA is a piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Passed in 1990 and amended in 2009, the ADA has five main “titles”: employment, public entities and transport, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous provisions.

Title 1: Employment
This title ensures that individuals with disabilities shall not be discriminated against in the workforce on the basis of that disability; it calls for all “entities” (employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor organizations, etc.) to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities, and prohibits entities from firing or refusing to hire employees with disabilities based on that disability. It also restricts when questions of a medical nature can be asked, and requires that all health-related information remain private, among other things.

Title 2: Public Entities & Transportation
This title of the ADA states that public services cannot deny service to individuals with disabilities, and cannot deny participation in programs or activities that are available to people without disabilities. In addition, all public transportation must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Title 3: Public Accommodations
Under title 3, public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc.) must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. All new or planned construction must be made accessible during construction. All existing public accommodations must remove barriers to service through modification, if readily achievable.

Title 4: Telecommunications
This title states that all telecommunication companies must ensure that they offer services to individuals with disabilities that are equivalent to the services that individuals without disabilities receive. This includes offering services such as TTY (teletypewriter) and TDD (telecommunications devices for the deaf).

Title 5: Miscellaneous
This title includes a provision that prohibits threatening behavior or retaliation against people with disabilities or those who attempt to help individuals with disabilities as they assert their rights under the ADA.

Senator Harkin himself summarized the ADA perfectly in a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post, celebrating the Act’s 20th anniversary: “The Americans with Disabilities Act — signed into law on July 26, 1990 — has been described as the Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities. It sets four goals for people with disabilities: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. But at its heart, the ADA is simple. In the words of one activist, this landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: “the right to live in the world.” It ensures they can go places and do the things that other Americans take for granted.”

If you would like to read about the ADA in more detail, please visit the ADA homepage at www.ada.gov.

The ABLE Act has passed! Now what?

As we stated earlier, the ABLE Act was passed by the senate by an overwhelming majority – 76-16. It has been stated that President Obama has promised to sign this act into law, with individuals with disabilities being able to access their ABLE Accounts by the end of 2015.

So, the next question on the lips of many Americans with disabilities is this: what exactly does this mean for me? Well, as financial planners for individuals with disabilities, we can help you answer that question. To start, if the individual’s disability began before he or she was 26 years of age, the ABLE account means that this individual can now begin to save for the future without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits – any funds in an ABLE account will not be counted in the asset or resource limit as established by SSI or SSDI.

If you would like to learn more about the ABLE act, please click here to access our blog archive on the subject. As well, we are hosting a workshop titled Understanding SSI/Medicaid & SSDI/Medicare in January that will include a section on the ABLE Act, and how it fits into your special needs financial plan. Please click here for more information, or here to register for this workshop.

Would You Like More Information?

Once again, thank you for visiting our blog today. We hope that we provided you with some valuable information on the ADA, or the ABLE Act, that can help you help yourself, or a family member or friend with a disability. If you have any questions on the content of this blog, or would like to suggest a blog topic for us to cover in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us! We love to hear from our readers, and will happily answer all your questions.

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