When it comes to opportunities for work after SCI/D, there is some positive news on the horizon. With the job market expanding and US unemployment rates at a low, it is a good climate for individuals with disabilities to return to work and experience the personal rewards and sense of security that employment provides. As it stands, though, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is almost twice that of the general population. This is due to a lack of understanding and communication between policymakers and employers – as well as individuals with disabilities themselves, about how one gets off SSDI or SSI and successfully back to work.

For those who utilize them, there are currently available tools, like the Social Security Administration’s free Ticket to Work (TTW) program that allows for protection of SSDI and Medicare benefits as a participant transitions into full or part-time work. In addition, Ticket to Work acts as a safety net in case an employee is unable to sustain employment or faces a medical complication, allowing participants to restore their benefits without reapplying. Additionally, Ticket to Work connects jobseekers with Employment Networks (EN) that help coordinate benefits, assist with Social Security Administration communications and can aid in facilitating workplace accommodations.

Still, Ticket to Work and similar programs can be misunderstood, cumbersome, and fly under the radar enough that our community is unaware of their existence or how they function. While it’s positive that resources are available to help individuals find a position that fits, these programs are currently falling short in adequately engaging and supporting people with disabilities who want or need employment.

Even with the guidance of Ticket to Work, it’s common that individuals encounter “overpayment” that leaves them needing to repay earnings to Social Security. For Dani Izzie, a C-5/6 quad who utilized the Ticket to Work program when she returned to work in 2014, “It was pretty straightforward and helped me get a head start. You still have to be diligent about keeping records. They continued to pay me after the trial work period, so I had to deal with a frustrating process to pay them back.” The prevalence of complications like this highlight current programmatic inadequacies.

It is vital that this discussion is elevated in a way that alleviates the confusion that keeps people with disabilities dependent on SSA benefits and unable to utilize their professional talents and contribute to the workforce. This January, United Spinal joined the Secure Work Coalition with other prominent disability organizations in an effort to protect and improve the effectiveness of available work incentives and benefits counseling programs that help individuals with disabilities return to work.

The Secure Work Coalition is committed to working with policymakers and the administration to increase Ticket to Work and employment program awareness and success. The coalition hopes to streamline and strengthen these programs in an effort to increase the number of beneficiaries who are able find gainful employment, an outcome that would reduce SSDI and SSI costs while improving the quality of life and self-sufficiency for millions of employable individuals with disabilities.

United Spinal is committed to helping our members access the employment they seek. Explore our Pathways to Employment Program and resources here: https://unitedspinal.org/pathways-to-employment/

Visit the Secure Work Coalition’s Facebook page for more information.