Chapter 6: Home Ownership

Home ownership is a great long-term financial investment, offering both the opportunity for stable housing costs over a 30-year period and the slow but steady capital appreciation as one’s mortgage is paid off. More information can be found in Chapter 6 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 6 Home Ownership (PDF)


Home Ownership llama video transcript here


For many people, buying a home is a big part of the “American dream.” It takes a lot of planning both for people with disabilities and for people without disabilities, but it is worth the effort and time.

Buying A Home

After some thought, you’ve finally decided to buy a home! Want to find out your up-front costs and monthly payments? Well, just play around with the calculators in this tool to get started.

Buying a Home tool (Excel)

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Chapter 5: Identity Theft

Identity theft can negatively impact your financial reputation, including your credit score. It’s important to be aware of identity theft tactics regarding both your digital security and your paper security; learn the proactive steps you can take to increase that security. More information can be found in Chapter 5 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 5 Identity Theft (PDF)



In the age of elaborate scams, all different types of people can be financially abused. Many people with disabilities are especially susceptible to this abuse.

Identifying Financial Abuse and Exploitation

Do you ever wonder if you or someone in your life might be the victim of financial abuse? Here is a great tool from CFPB to help identify some of the most important signs of financial abuse and exploitation.

Identifying Financial Abuse and Exploitation tool (PDF)

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Chapter 4: Credit

Having good credit is vital to everything from taking out a loan or renting an apartment to turning on utilities or even getting employed. Learn what credit is, why it matters, how to check your credit, and how to improve your credit score. More information can be found in Chapter 4 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 4 Credit (PDF)



It’s important to keep an eye on your credit. A good way to do this is by knowing and understanding your credit reports and scores. We have two very helpful tools, thanks to our work with CFPB, that teach you to keep a finger on your credit pulse.

Credit Report Checklist

It’s important to look for information that does not belong to you or is incorrect when you are reviewing your credit score. Highlight the information you think may or may not be correct on your report as you compare it with this checklist.

Credit Report Checklist tool (PDF)

Getting Your Credit Reports and Scores

You can get one free copy of your credit report from each of three nationwide credit reporting companies every twelve months. Use this tool to learn about how!

Getting Your Credit Reports and Scores tool (PDF)

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Chapter 3: Paying Down Debt

Debt. It’s rarely anyone’s favorite topic, but it is really important to getting one’s financial house in order. Learn the lucky seven ways to pay down debt, including paying more than the minimum payment and “snowballing.” More information can be found in Chapter 3 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 3 Paying Down Debt (PDF)


Student Loans llama video transcript here


We’ve built two great tools with CFPB and one additional tool to help organize your debt-crushing strategies.

Debt Collectors

Do you ever wonder about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to debt collectors? Here is a great tool to help navigate this important financial issue.

Debt Collectors tool (PDF)

Debt Worksheet

We know. We know. But it’s important to get all the information about all one’s debts in one place. This is a great tool to get a big-picture look at your over all debt so you can begin to take action!

Debt Worksheet tool (PDF)

Debt Payoff

Want to find out how long it’ll take to pay off a debt or loan? Just use this calculator! To start out, enter the amount of your debt and its annual interest rate. Then, put in how much money you plan to pay off each month, and the calculator will tell you how long it will take to pay off the debt!

Debt Payoff tool (Excel)

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Chapter 2: Budgeting

The most important thing to do with money is to provide it with direction. Learn how to track where your money goes by drafting a budget that considers your expenses and your income, along with your saving, investing, and debt. More information can be found in Chapter 2 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 2 Budgeting (PDF)



OK! Let’s check out some of the tools and worksheets to put what we have just learned into practice! When it comes to budgeting, we have five, yes five, great tools thanks to our project with CFPB.

Income and Benefit Tracker

The first tool is an income and benefit tracker. The main goal here is to be sure you capture every type of income and benefit you receive on a monthly basis.

If you get SSI, write it down. SSDI? Write it down. Even benefits without a cash value, be sure you write that down. For example, let’s say you have a housing voucher that pays $600 of your rent. That has a value of $600, even though it is just an offset to your rent.

Does rehab pay for your bus pass? Internet access? Write it down. Just make sure the income tracker captures the full picture of your income and benefits each month. The tracker also has some great instructions and ideas on how you can share it with others. Check out the income tracker here!

Income and Benefit Tracker tool (PDF)

Bill Calendar

Here’s another great tool. Ever get a bit disorganized around which bills you’ve paid and which ones you haven’t? Because, we sure do.

Once we even sent the utility payment to the credit card company, and the credit card payment to the utility company. And, well, that didn’t work out so well.

Here is a great way to keep track of all your bills and due dates. Make sure you capture each monthly bill, and, depending on how you pay it, by mail or electronically, make sure you leave enough time for the payment to arrive.

Bill Calendar tool (PDF)

Spending Tracker

OK, we’ve seen how to use the income and benefit tracker and the bill tracker, so it is only natural that we now jump into the joys of the spending tracker!

Ah, spending, who doesn’t like tracking where their money goes? Well, anyway, if we don’t know where it is going, we can’t make better decisions about where we would like it to go.

That’s really what this entire section is about: just knowing what stuff gets money spent on. We remember the first time we looked closely at our spending–we were amazed. Small bills had crept up over time. We even had a subscription service we had forgotten about. The key here, just like the income and benefit tracker, is to make sure you are capturing everything you spend money on, and then to make sure you put that spending into categories that make sense.

This tool has some great tips from CFPB about how to track spending, keep receipts, photograph receipts, use a debit card, and whatever else works for you. Just do it for a few days, a week, a month.

Lastly, let’s not judge what people spend money on. One of the authors of EQUITY happens to have a large spending category for dog toys and exercise, while his sister likes expensive dinners out. As long as we’re making conscience decisions about spending, folks get to do whatever they want.

Spending Tracker tool (PDF)

Paying for Assistive Devices

Not sure where to start when you need to purchase an assistive device? This tool can help you organize and think outside the box to come up with a sensible plan!

Paying for Assistive Devices tool (PDF)

Monthly Budget

Well, now that we have tracked our income and benefits, as well as our general spending and our more specific paying for assistive devices, it’s time to put it all together in a monthly budget. Check out and please share with friends and colleagues this great budget tool from our work with CFPB that puts it all together.

Once you’ve entered all the information and data, it gives you a great overview of what your monthly money picture really looks like!

Once it is all in one place, you get to take action!

Maybe trim that monthly cable bill or find a cheaper phone plan. On the other hand, with those savings, maybe start an ABLE account or an emergency fund or start paying down debt by making larger payments! It’s all up to you, and this tool helps you do it!

Monthly Budget tool (PDF)

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Chapter 1: Benefits

It is possible for people with disabilities to work and save while retaining the benefits they need. Learn about ABLE accounts that allow saving for the future and Medicaid working-disabled programs that allow people with disabilities to earn money while keeping healthcare and personal attendant services. More information can be found in Chapter 1 of the EQUITY book.

Chapter 1 Benefits (PDF)


Student Earned Income Exclusions llama video transcript here

1619B llama video transcript here

ABLE Accounts llama video transcript here


Benefits can be a little tricky, especially for people who are new to the disability community. We worked with CFPB to design two tools to help people understand how to navigate their benefits and still work and save money.

SSI Estimator

Ah, the SSI estimator! We worked with CFPB to ensure this tool demonstrates a simple concept when it comes to benefits and work. And, that is: you are always financially better off working than not! Check this tool out. It shows in a general way how the SSI earned income calculation works. Remember, this is just an estimator; we’ve taken some shortcuts, but it gives a pretty good overview how you can earn money at a job and how your SSI benefits might be affected.

SSI Estimator tool (PDF)

For a more in-depth understanding of benefits and work and some super awesome calculators and tools, check out

Setting Up An ABLE Account

A lot of people think you can’t work and save money on benefits. This tool that we created with CFPB dispels that myth and shows how folks with disabilities can use work incentive programs to earn and save for the things that are important to them and their families!

Setting Up An Able Account tool (PDF)

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Foreword & Preface

Foreword by Bob Friedman

I will never forget meeting Ed Roberts, founder of the World Institute on Disability (WID) and the first Center for Independent Living (CIL), among many other firsts.  Then again, I suspect few people who met Ed ever forgot the experience.  He was a force of nature, and like FDR, all you really noted was his enormous vitality and determination to change the world to the way it ought to be; he might have been in a wheelchair or an iron lung, but his spirit and vision filled the room and flowed beyond.

I remember also when he returned from visiting the USSR, which had more than 20,000 people with disabilities running their own businesses, and made me promise to work with him to ensure that Americans with disabilities had the same option.  I agreed with alacrity, figuring that Ed with his incredible energy would make it happen.

I remember too, five years later, turning on NPR and learning that he had died.  I remembered the promise I made, and have to thank the authors of this book – and particularly, Thomas Foley, Anita Aarons and Neil Jacobson for helping me keep my promise to Ed, and to people with abilities everywhere.

There are really two meanings to that funny word, “assets,” and the attached strategy of asset-building.  John McKnight and his colleagues in the Asset Building Community Development field following philosopher Ivan Illich and Paolo Freiri, emphasize treating economically excluded people as assets, possessing strengths, skills, energy, and dreams to be built upon.  Then there is the definition Michael Sherraden and our colleagues in the US asset-building field use, that revolve around the ownership and growth of savings, businesses, education, homes and other financial assets.  In fact, the two definitions are joined at the hip: development is something people do, not something done to them; and the way to mark their progress is to follow the increase in business, physical, social, psychological and financial assets on their journey – the product of their own efforts and the supportiveness of the institutions and structures in the larger world. There are not many paths to greater economic well-being – education, entrepreneurship, home ownership, saving and investing are the usual suspects – but I think we would now add assistive technology and citizenship.

EQUITY: Asset Building for People with Disabilities is a long time coming, the product of at least two or three decades of work by scores of people. This is an essential, clear and practical guide for people with disabilities who want to move forward economically and bring the system along with them.  It reflects the larger theory and academic work, financial planning and budgeting, the practice of debt and credit repair, work on asset limits, retirement savings, home ownership and entrepreneurship and so much more.

I love the double meaning of the word “equity”:  fairness and ownership. We must work to include people with disabilities in the mainstream economy, not just because it is fundamentally wasteful and inhumane to exclude people from the economy, but because it is stupid: it shrinks the economy rather than expanding and growing it.  This book is an important step toward building the Opportunity Economy – an economy where everyone can play.

Preface: Getting Started

For people with disabilities, money is a tricky subject. We tend to have lower incomes than the general population, we’re more concerned with short-term survival than long-term investment, and those of us on benefits have to deal with ridiculous income and savings limits. All of this can be overwhelming, but it’s not the problem we make it out to be. See, it’s actually plenty possible to be financially successful if you have a disability. All you have to do is lock down the basics of smart budgeting and investment, then learn how to navigate the various programs to help with things like homeownership and keeping benefits.

This book was written to show you all of those skills, and more! And, after reading it, you’ll be able to build a plan that lets you manage a job, pay the bills, invest for retirement, own a home, and build a solid financial future. When you lock those things down, your life becomes more stable and secure, and so does your peace of mind.

OK, so I’m sensing that you might be skeptical. But here’s the first thing you should know going into this book: We get it. We know what it’s like to have a disability, because the EQUITY team has experienced it firsthand. We know what it’s like to try and live on SSI or SSDI. We know about and have lived and navigated the myriad labyrinth of work incentive rules. We know about asking a seemingly simple benefits question and receiving three different answers from so-called experts. We get that disabilities are expensive in significant countable and uncountable ways. We get the frustration of trying to improve our lives, seemingly two steps forward and often one step back. We get the institutional disincentives, continuing social bigotry and fear of trying to do anything too different.

Every person, every single person who’s touched this book, who helped edit, write, create, illustrate, spell check, and designed or commented on it, has a disability and gets it. But we’ve learned how to use financial tools and smart planning to build a successful life. We even wrote a book about it… That counts for something, right?

So hear this now: It doesn’t matter if you have a disability. You — the person reading this right now — have the power, opportunity, and ability to significantly improve your personal financial future. If you want to build a personal budget, you can. If you want to pay off credit card debt, you can do that! Buy a home? You can do that! Fund a retirement account, save for your kid’s college education? Anything you want to do, you can; and this book is here to help you.

Remember, personal finance isn’t bad; it’s not about greed or materialism. In fact, it kind of preaches the opposite. Personal finance is about responsibility, planning, and determination. It’s about security for you and your family’s future, control, and the freedom to make your own choices. You can tell yourself money isn’t important, but let’s face it: We all use it at some point. You might as well make it work for you, rather than just the other way around. So, here are a few things to consider.  Society has managed to convince many of us that if we just buy that next thing — the fashionable clothing, new sports car, stylish bag, exciting vacation, or particular beverage — we will be happier and more content. But here’s a little secret: Buying stuff does not make us happier.

What makes people happier and more content are options and the freedom to make decisions based on interest, rather than just economic necessity. So rather than that new car, designer jacket, or latest smart phone, what if we’d concentrate on improving our financial lives? Because you know who’s happy? It’s folks with enough in savings, who live beneath their means, and who have a financial plan.

Here’s another little secret: Small steps count, so just starting makes a huge difference! It also sets up a base and some momentum, so you can really get rolling. Because, let’s face it, it is always easier to add a dollar to an existing savings account than it is to open one up. By getting started, and slowly adding to your savings, you will also be forming a habit — a habit of saving and investing that can grow over time.

Maybe you can start by only saving $10 per month, and that’s actually a great start! Hey, it’s better than some of my friends, who have read numerous books on saving and investing, but never seem to get started. Just that $10 per month is the beginning, and then you never again have to take that first step. So now you have a base, and it can only grow from there!

So, let’s do this! Here are the basics for navigating and managing your personal finances and for taking steps to lock yours down and build a healthy financial future.

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery” — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

  1. You can work and save, even if you’re on benefits! A lot of people with disabilities are scared to get a job because they think they might lose their benefits; and they won’t save money away because of silly asset limits. But there are plenty of programs that will let you work and build up savings and still keep things like Medicaid. So don’t avoid working and saving. Instead, learn the rules and go build a financial future!
  2. Budgeting is the key! There is one simple rule to building a financially successful life, and that is to simply spend less than you make! Aim to go above break-even, and above all, avoid debt at all cost! So, let’s give your money some direction and check out our chapter on budgeting and budgeting alternatives. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as boring as it sounds!
  3. Pay down that debt! If you’re like the rest of us, you might not have gotten the memo on rule number one at first. Maybe you racked up some credit card or student debt that’s now holding you back? It might take some focus, but paying down debt is totally possible, and there are several super cool ways to do it in far less time than you think.
  4. Credit and your credit score are important! Now, we hear you, worrying about your credit score sounds like slightly more fun than watching grass grow (and sometimes more stressful). But it really is important and much easier to address than you may think and, most importantly, can save you a ton of money through future loans and other opportunities!
  5. Keep your financial life safe! Identity theft can happen to anyone, and people with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable. When it happens, people can steal money online or really harm your ability to get credit, housing, and more. We’ve included some easy strategies and tools to keep you and your financial reputation safe!
  6. Home ownership is for people with disabilities! Did you know that even if you’re on benefits, you can own a house? And homeownership can actually be one of your best long-term financial investments, building up a valuable asset that also improves your quality-of-life!
  7. Self-employment and part-time gigs can lead to real money! When you’re balancing a budget, cutting expenses is always a good idea. But let’s face it, sometimes you’ll need to bring in some more cash to pay the bills. Earning more money from part-time gigs or a side hustle to your nine-to-five is potentially unlimited, and there are plenty of ways to make it happen!
  8. Build savings and plan for retirement! Once you master spending less than you make, it is up to you to save the difference for the future and invest it wisely so that it can keep growing in value. Our savings and retirement chapter can help you save and even navigate things like silly asset limits!

These are eight super important points, and each has its own chapter in this book. What’s also extra-super important is that they all tie together. So you first need to balance your budget before you can save money away for retirement, and you need to build up a good credit score before you can take out an affordable mortgage. For those of you on benefits, navigating the ways to earn and save will be step one in the move to financial success. So as you flip through the chapters, think about how they all fit together, and how you can use them to build a strong financial future for yourself.

So here goes, it’s time to learn about EQUITY!


Though your mother or father probably taught you to avoid talking about money in front of polite company, talking about money is an important taboo to break in order to get yourself and your loved ones on the path to financial independence and smart financial decisions.

Starting the Money Conversation

Let’s face it: talking about money isn’t always the easiest conversation to start. This tool, thanks to our work with CFPB, gives very practical suggestions to having those discussions in an easy and straightforward manner.

Starting the Money Conversation tool (PDF)

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WID Releases First of Its Kind Findings: Students with Disabilities & Internships

For Immediate Release

Berkeley, CA, USA–The World Institute on Disability, the lead partner in the California Consortium’s Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy’s ADD US IN grant, releases a five-year body of field research from the Consortium’s model “Disability Inclusive – Diversity smALL Business Initiative.”

Several different groups joined forces to recruit small businesses, in addition to veterans and college and university students with disabilities for summer internships. These groups were the Consortium’s business partner National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; the Consortium’s youth resource partners California Department of Rehabilitation and California Foundation for Independent Living Centers’s Youth Organizing! (YO!) Disabled & Proud; along with the Consortium’s communication partner EIN SOF Communications, Inc.

The field-based evidence is discussed in the Consortium’s Disability Inclusive – Diversity smALL Business Initiative Reflections with Case Illustrations of Successes and Challenges, which can be found under “Project Findings” on the Add Us In page. The employment internship model designed, implemented, and evaluated by the Consortium produced the first of its kind findings that will significantly add to the existing body of knowledge for employing people with disabilities.

A few of the most revealing findings are as follows:

  • In-person internships were generally more mutually beneficial than remote positions. In-person internships offer an opportunity to creatively and collaboratively engender real-world “workplace accommodations” and “productivity tools.” Remote jobs don’t provide a “disability awareness” impact for the employer community; this impact benefits potential interns, as well as their co-workers who learn from real-world interaction with a colleague who has a disability. Employers that hosted in-person interns also required less technical assistance and expressed greater satisfaction with the work product and experience in general—as did the students involved in these in-person internships.
  • Disabled students generally expressed wanting jobs more closely aligned with their career goals, rather than simply seeking general employment to build their resumes. Students tend to spend no more than two or three seconds per email they receive, which limits their willingness to thoughtfully weigh the value of a $12 to $15 per hour internship versus the benefits they receive. As a result of this, they may miss the opportunity to learn soft skills in jobs not aligned with their career trajectories.
  • Word choice matters for business. Any initiative or program that intends to connect business owners to employable candidates with disabilities must be prepared to speak the language of business. Business owners generally have well-defined fears that can be triggered unintentionally by using unfamiliar, non-business oriented language. Fears and concerns must be addressed upfront in order to establish trust. Safe space conversations are critical in the process of developing a business relationship.

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Add Us In (AUI)

About the Project

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Add Us In (AUI) is a Disability-Inclusive, Diversity smALL Business Initiative. It is designed to identify and develop strategies to increase employment opportunities within the small business community for individuals with disabilities, especially from historically-excluded communities. Included within the small business community are targeted businesses that are owned and operated by people of color; economically disadvantaged; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals; women, veterans, and people with disabilities.

One of the high-priority goals of AUI is to create business engagement models that can be replicated on a national scale. Related to this goal is the companion goal of building national and local networks of experts skilled in connecting small employers with the underutilized talent pool that is people with disabilities.

Project Findings

The employment internship model designed, implemented, and evaluated by the California Consortium (more about the Consortium below) produced the first of its kind findings that will significantly add to the existing body of knowledge for employing people with disabilities. Read about these revealing findings in the “California Consortium Disability Inclusive-Diversity smALL Business Initiative Reflections with Case Illustrations of Success and Challenges” and “Effective Engagement with the Business Community,” which are both in PDF format below.

About the California Consortium

Add Us In logo, a cross with different colored armsWID serves as Consortium program director, research analyst, fiscal agent, and disability-serving organization. Members of the consortium include: National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), business outreach ambassador and gateway to diverse chambers of commerce and minority-owned businesses, representing interests of more than 1.4 million LGBT-owned U.S. businesses; California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), workforce partner assisting eligible Californians with disabilities to obtain and retain employment; and the California Foundation for Independent Living Center’s Youth Organizing Disabled and Proud Program, the youth serving organization.

About the Model

Our model develops, implements, and evaluates a program that engages national, minority-focused small business associations with peer-to-peer presentations, discussions, and education to better understand rationale and process for hiring youth and veterans with disabilities; links employers, recent graduates, and college students with disabilities to create employment opportunities; adapts and expands the initiative to a model embraced and sponsored by the small and minority-owned business community. The California Consortium’s focus is on companies based in California with employees from 2 to 100 made up of diverse owners who are interested in sponsoring an intern with a disability.

Internship Success Stories Video

Funding and Disclaimer

Preparation of this item was funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U. S. Department of Labor, Grant Number: OD-22554-11-75-4-6.

This document does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U. S. Department of Labor; furthermore, the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

For more information about AUI, contact Loretta Herrington, the Project Director, at

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