Edition 17 | Summer 2019
Over the last 5 years, 350 individuals have returned to work and generated over $73 million in salary
Story by Susan Webb
Bill Couch went to work today as a systems data manager. Martha Nieto checked in as a data programmer. Denise Conn clocked in as a security guard.
It’s no extraordinary feat–what these three are accomplishing. They are ordinary people, working regular jobs. They are among 347 Arizonans that earned $73 million in wages from 2013 to 2018.
The difference is that all three of these valued employees, and 344 others, have a physical or mental disability that took them out of the workforce for several years. However, now they are back at work, thanks in part to a program called the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work.
“A serious illness or injury keeps millions of experienced, hard-working people out of the workforce every year,” said Susan Webb, vice president of Ability360 Employment Services. “Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a safety net that helps replace lost income. But it is only a fraction of their previous earnings. Getting back to work is the only way to live a good life again and secure a better retirement.”
Ability360 is a Social Security Administration contractor providing Ticket to Work program services. It is open to anyone receiving SSDI benefits between 18 to 64 years old. Ability360 offers comprehensive services to help workers transition back to work, with up to 45 months of job-retention services.
However, the program has aimed even higher.
“This program is not about having a few extra bucks to spend,” Webb said. “It is about getting your economic life back and preparing yourself for a comfortable retirement. It takes work and commitment to achieve that.”
Sometimes that takes updated skills training or other activities to develop attributes that meet the needs of potential employers.
This kind of training was a feature Couch found valuable upon learning about the program.
“That just made it seem like it was made for people that have situations in life where they find they can’t work, but they want to,” Couch said. “And they [program coordinators] don’t want you to fail, obviously. And each employment network is a little bit different.”
The reality is that many people are unable to return to the job they had before getting onto benefits.
“I had a professional life at one point, I had a really good education, which helped me get my foot in the door,” Couch said. “I felt like I was missing out on a lot of things: having a career again, having a much better financial situation again.”
Conn and Nieto, like Couch, wanted to go back to work and take control of their financial situation.
“I’ve always been self-sufficient,” Conn said. “And I didn’t know how to resolve any part of my life without working. I wanted to be productive. And I didn’t want to give up.”
It takes internal motivation like Conn’s to get back in the workforce. “We are just a catalyst to put all the pieces together,” Webb said.
She suggested that anyone who gets onto SSDI should quickly think of what they can do to prepare for a better future while recovering or adjusting to life with a disability. She cites how people who have always done heavy labor wear out long before retirement age and do not have computer skills to change careers to something more sedentary. Taking online basic computer training from home can make a big difference down the road.
Although this program offers participants guidance and supports them while they succeed, their skills, attitude and hard work is why people see progress.
“It wasn’t easy to get a job,” Nieto said. After graduating, Nieto had no internship to allow her to grow the skills she wanted to. However, her worries did not prevent her from securing a job. The Ticket to Work program provided Nieto with the resume-building skills she needed.
Fear of losing benefits or healthcare coverage is a barrier people encounter often with the Ticket to Work program, but, “They want a better life,” Webb said. “We alleviate these fears by teaching them about work incentives they can use to ease into the workforce without risk of losing benefits.
“Don’t be afraid to get out there again,” Conn advised. “They will support you and encourage you to look past your disabilities.”
Calling Ability360 is confidential and might offer hope as the program might be the perfect ticket to get back into the workforce again. Visit TicketToWorkAZ.org and complete an online application or call 602-443-0712.
VP of Ability360 Employment Services
Susan Webb has worked for 19 years as the Vice President of Ability360 Employment Services and will be retiring this year. Previously, Webb served as Ability360’s Executive Director from 1991 – 2000. She has served more than 30 years as a local, state and national disability public policy advocate. In 1988, she was appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. Access Board, where she chaired the task force that developed the first ADA Accessibility Guidelines mandated and incorporated into the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Read more by Susan Webb.