still from what is ablecommunity video on website showing a community member in front of their home in chicago

One in four Americans has a serious cognitive or physical disability that affects their daily lives: 13.7 percent report mobility issues, 10.8 percent report cognitive impairment, 6.8 percent report difficulty living alone and 3.7 percent report difficulty in self-care, dressing, or bathing.

For these people, an affordable place to live that accommodates their disability is essential — and often, difficult to come by. “Living options for these people with disabilities are limited to being institutionalized or semi-independent living with [their] biological family, who are often overworked and too burnt out to provide such care,” says Esther Lee, an attorney at the Disability Law Collective.

Lee is a co-founder of Able Community,  a non-profit co-housing cooperative designed for folks with disabilities. Able Community operates a house in a suburb of Chicago that balances interdependence with independence — an opportunity that, for folks with disabilities, is rare.

Alongside advisory board members, the house’s residents, including Lee herself, control and coordinate resources and care services, like food purchases, health care and maintenance. Through fundraising and pooling resources, they have been able to maintain the property and renovate the house to be more accommodating to their particular needs.

Beyond physical accommodation, the co-op has also brought members a sense of community, belonging and joy. “Community means having friends you can count on, who encourage one another, and problem-solve issues faced together,” says Lee. This is what differentiates the Able Community from typical housing for folks with disabilities, which is typically controlled by government agencies, companies, or families.

Money is a major barrier to independent housing for folks with disabilities. The structure of benefit programs like SSI, SNAP and Medicaid create paradoxes for recipients. SSI recipients, for instance, can earn only up to $65 per month before SSI benefits begin to phase out. “People with disabilities often need to choose between benefits (e.g., health insurance that covers meds, equipment, care services, etc.) and earning more than poverty level wages, which would disqualify them from any benefits and make them pay for everything themselves at exorbitant costs,” says Lee.

Read more in Reasons to be Cheerful.

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