This blog post is part three in a series on lessons learned from the asset development community to help advance financial stability for persons with disabilities and the vision of National Disability Institute (NDI), a leading national non-profit focused on building better economic futures for individuals with disabilities and their families. Persons with disabilities experience one of the highest poverty rates of any underserved population in America, currently double the national poverty rate. Michael Morris is the Executive Director and Dr. Johnette Hartnett is the Director of Strategic Partnership Development for National Disability Institute. You can visit them on the web at www.realeconomicimpact.org.
Building a better economic future for Americans with disabilities was a conversation National Disability Institute started nearly a decade ago in the basement of the National Cooperative Bank on Washington, DC’s I Street. With nearly 1 in 3 Americans with disabilities still living in poverty, we brought together disability organizations, research institutions, federal agencies and community asset building groups over brown bag lunches to answer the critical question: why are so many Americans with disabilities living in poverty and how can we change it?
Many ideas sprang from these sessions, helping to inform and grow National Disability Institute, the first national non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to building a better economic future for all persons with disabilities. These important conversations built a lasting partnership between the disability and the asset building communities, resulting in three powerful lessons which have helped millions of Americans with disabilities take steps out of poverty toward greater economic self-sufficiency.
The first lesson
was about the power of collaboration. The second lesson
was about the ability of demonstration projects to inform and promote policy change. The third, and (for now) final lesson:
Financial education is an important key to economic self-sufficiency. Helping people with and without disabilities navigate often-complicated rules and regulations and helping them understand the programs and services available to them to achieve economic self-sufficiency is a vital key to economic independence. National Disability Institute promotes financial education for people with disabilities through all of its public and private partnerships. We have worked with the FDIC to get their Money Smart curriculum in Braille so it is accessible by users who are blind or visually impaired. We’re piloting a Building Economic Strength Together (BEST) Club at the University of North Florida to help both individuals with and without disabilities learn the importance of savings, budgeting and basic money matters. We have also worked with our partners at IRS and students and faculty at Gallaudet University, the world’s leading undergraduate liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing based in Washington, DC, to have students develop a website to train and inform deaf and hard-of-hearing VITA volunteers using training in American Sign Language (ASL).
Thanks to the lessons learned from our friends in the asset building community – the power of collaboration, the ability of demonstration projects to promote policy change, and the importance of financial education – and the amazing partnerships we have built in communities across our great nation, people with disabilities are making important strides toward brighter economic futures. Modernizing public policy is a priority for all low-income Americans – with and without disabilities. We must stand side-by side with one voice across diverse segments united by our core truths to continue the critical work of poverty elimination and economic empowerment.