I can empathize with your situation. Although I was born with a disability, and did not acquire one as you did, I can relate to the feelings of uncertainty and concern related to going back to work: about what potential employers will think, about how a job might affect your disability benefits and about what you will be able to accomplish on the job. My employment journey definitely had some twists and turns. I can tell you one of my biggest fears was about whether I would have the accommodations I needed.
Since I am not familiar with your specific work history, education, talents, abilities and aspirations, I can’t provide you with specific career assistance or advice — but I can offer some practical advice and resources. First, I encourage you to seek out a mentor — someone who can provide support and advice on your particular career path. Planning a targeted career move under the guidance of someone who has already been there, and who knows and understands what makes you tick, is a key strategy to jump-starting your success.
It is evident from your letter that you’ve been wondering, “Can you keep Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits while giving work a try?”
Yes! Over the last few years, the Social Security Administration has worked hard to help people know about the wide range of employment resources and work incentives (including a trial work period and the “Ticket to Work” program) available to those who receive Social Security Disability benefits and want to start or return to work. You can continue to receive your benefits until you begin earning wages or self-employment income above the applicable earnings limit for the Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance program. How much you can earn before it will affect your monthly benefit amount varies for each individual due in part to the fact that you can subtract certain amounts from your gross earnings by taking advantage of Social Security Work Incentives.
If you currently receive Medicaid, you might be eligible to continue to receive Medicaid even after you stop receiving SSI benefits due to work if you are eligible through a work incentive created by Section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act, or if your state has a Medicaid Buy-In Program.
Each local Social Security office has a work incentive liaison who can provide advice and information and assist you in understanding the work incentives available to you. For more information on Social Security work incentives, check out the Social Security Red Book.
Perhaps you’re also wondering, “Are there free resources for people with disabilities who want to update their job skills?”
Start by taking stock. What are your current work history, talents and abilities? What do you have to offer an employer? Will you need accommodations on the job? How much money would you like to earn? What are your hopes for career advancement? Write these down succinctly and review them, then come up with goals. Review the goals with a mentor, a friend or professional you trust who can let you know if you are being ambitious enough in what you are attempting to achieve. I mention this because, far too often as people with disabilities, we underestimate our talents and live down to the lower expectations of a society that hasn’t had the experience of being the co-worker of a person with a disability who is qualified and innovative, and who contributes to the bottom line of the business.