In a Nutshell: People with disabilities and their families can face untold financial difficulties. Oftentimes, these families struggle simply because they’re unaware of the resources and services available to them. TASH is a nonprofit organization committed to helping people with disabilities and their families connect with the services that benefit them most. TASH also advocates for complete inclusion in work and education so everyone, regardless of their physical or mental abilities, has a fair chance at reaching their potential.
Raising a family, running a household, caring for children and loved ones — these are among life’s absolute most demanding responsibilities. A parent’s job is never done because the people in our care depend on us for so much: food, shelter, guidance, protection, fundamental care, and let’s not forget all that transportation to and from this practice, that rehearsal, or so-and-so’s birthday party.
But when caring for a loved one with a disability, these personal and financial responsibilities increase exponentially. Even with adequate help, parents and caregivers of people with disabilities are often stretched extremely thin, and at times, providing care takes up so much time that finding resources and services for their loved ones is nearly impossible.
Fortunately, there are organizations like TASH, a nonprofit group that advocates for human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities and their families.
Founded in 1975, TASH has 30 state chapters and members in 34 countries, where it promotes equity, opportunity, and inclusion, and works to eliminate the social injustices that diminish human rights for people with disabilities.
“We want to ensure that people who need a great deal of support in order to live the kind of life that everyone wants to experience actually have the access to the services and support that meets their needs,” said Ruthie-Marie Beckwith, TASH’s Executive Director.
The 74 million people with disabilities in the US make up the country’s largest minority group. Every day, the chances are good that you or someone you know faces challenges associated with disabilities. TASH is there to ensure that people with disabilities are not pushed to the periphery of society but rather are given their human right to work, get an education, and have access to quality, affordable health care.
Working to Help Everyone Have Access to a Meaningful, Quality Education
Education is critical to childhood development. It’s vital not only to future financial well-being and employability, but school structures also serve to help people adjust to society while spending time in peer groups. People often learn just as many valuable lessons in the hallways and playgrounds as they do in classrooms and libraries, and everyone — regardless of his or her ability — deserves a chance to learn and grow from those lessons.
According to a Plan International study, children with disabilities are 10 times less likely to attend school than children without disabilities. And, unfortunately, when these children do make it to school, it is oftentimes in a segregated setting.
One of TASH’s principal goals is its inclusive education efforts. TASH seeks to reform school communities so they are places where all students are integrated and treated as competent, valued members of their schools. Beckwith explains that this inclusion model benefits both students with and without disabilities.
“Inclusive education is when the child receives all the services in the same setting with their non-disabled peers,” she said. “It takes a lot of planning and training on the part of the professionals, but at the end of the day, what we find is that those children are better prepared socially and academically to move into post-secondary opportunities. Data shows that when all children are educated together, the overall scores improve across the board. All children perform better when children with disabilities are included in the classroom with their non-disabled peers.”
Beckwith said that, when all children are included in a classroom setting, there is greater access to the entire student body for peer-mentoring opportunities, and information is presented to learners in a variety of ways, helping everyone learn.
“So, your son or daughter who may not have a disability, but has a different learning style, is more likely to have information presented in a way that makes sense to him or her because the teachers are looking for broader ways to communicate the material,” Beckwith said. “Also, material gets reinforced for everyone in peer-mentoring situations where children are helping one another to learn that material.”
Employment Opportunities for People With Disabilities
The rewards of education extend beyond the classroom, just as the benefits of employment go beyond earning wages. In addition to a paycheck, work can bring meaning and identity to a person’s life. These traits are important to everyone, especially people with disabilities.
TASH is committed to helping increase employment for people with disabilities and ensure they receive adequate raises. Part of the organization’s Employment First agenda entails influencing policy to earmark more public funds needed to support integrated employment.
Federal mandates, like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, have been a huge step in the right direction.
“This law states that vocational rehabilitation services should begin no later than the age of 14,” Beckwith said. “That means children with disabilities are ideally supposed to have access to a range of services that will maximize their ability to graduate with a regular diploma or a certificate that’s employment-related to a particular occupation.”
The US has seen a recent increase in interest in high school vocational and occupational programs that better prepare students for employment options after graduation. These programs are being rolled out for students with disabilities for the same reasons. And, with the current labor shortage plaguing American businesses, the more people leaving high school with a marketable skill under their belts, the better.
“While kids are still in school, they have the opportunity to work and begin to explore occupations and fields that they might be interested in pursuing when they graduate,” Beckwith said. “For employers, that means they have a workforce that has historically had better attendance, lower turnovers, and greater overall dedication to things like customer service or whatever makes that business successful.”
Educating Families and Their Loved Ones on Resources Like ABLE Accounts
When families are focusing nearly all their energy and resources on ensuring their loved ones with disabilities have full and happy lives, it’s hard to find time to locate resources that can make things easier. Oftentimes, families aren’t even aware of services and programs available to them.
TASH’s team helps educate individuals and families on programs like ABLE accounts, tax-free savings accounts created especially for people with disabilities. These accounts help them and their families more easily save and prepare for expenses like education, housing, and transportation.
“ABLE accounts have been a huge breakthrough with regards to financial planning for families that have members with disabilities,” Beckwith said. “Up until now, if you had any type of supplemental income, you could have no more than $2,000 in an account before your benefits were cut off. Essentially, under this model, in order to be eligible for benefits, you have to remain poor. Money in ABLE accounts doesn’t count toward your benefits, which means that people are now able to more easily make car or mortgage payments and other things.”
ABLE accounts are an excellent resource for families doing their best to save and provide security for their loved ones. Qualified expenses vary, and most people with disabilities are eligible.
Everyone Wins When Families are Connected with Communities and Benefits Specialists
Raising a family can be inherently isolating. Between working and tending to the needs of a household, there is little time to network or build alliances. And, when families are doing everything they can to provide for a loved one with a disability, time is even more precious.
It is easy for families in these circumstances to become disconnected. The problem goes beyond simply not knowing where to get services and resources. Social isolation deprives children with disabilities and their families of an engaged environment that benefits everyone, especially those who need community support the most.
“Community is critical to everyone. I’ve met regularly with families who were struggling to provide support,” Beckwith said. “I’ve seen families become increasingly at risk for getting disconnected from their community because of the basic demands of providing care and support for their loved ones. And the day-to-day demands become greater as the needs for their loved ones increase.”
She adds that TASH helps families know that they don’t have to go it alone. The organization understands the commitment and uncompromising love families feel and does everything it can to make sure that people have more time to focus on living happy lives.