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Issue: September 2023, Living, Inspired with IDD
Sep 01, 2023
Carol Pearson

Michael Roush, Director, Center for Disability-Inclusive Community Development, National Disability Institute, believes that the journey to financial wellness is worth taking for everyone. His organization offers many free resources on financial resiliency and empowerment to those with IDD.

Meet Caroline. Born in China and adopted by her U.S. mom as an infant, Caroline engages with the world with enthusiasm and a genuine interest in getting to know people. She endured several facial surgeries as a baby to correct a cleft palate and has been diagnosed with autism and other health issues. Her favorite movie is “Beauty and the Beast” (the Emma Watson version), and she takes part in Special Olympics, where her favorite sport is rhythmic gymnastics.  

Oh, and she’s an entrepreneur, as the creator of Caroline’s Birdie Tweets, a business that sells handmade birdseed goodies in a variety of shapes and themes.  

Her motivation isn’t that much different from many other young people eager to make money on their own. 

“When I make money, I get to buy things I really, really want,” Caroline explains in this video from the National Disability Institute. “I’m working on my math skills, tracking payments and ordering supplies.” Her mom, who is a partner in the business, also gets Caroline’s help to track inventory and other business details.  

Caroline is taking classes in financial wellness from the National Disability Institute as part of a Financial Wellness for People with Disabilities initiative funded by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Caroline says she is “very, very good” at managing her money and understanding where it goes. The classes are part of the nonprofit's work to help people with disabilities build better financial futures, for themselves and their families. 

Caroline was a featured speaker at a recent NDI event, where she shared the story of Caroline’s Birdie Tweets. Photo courtesy of National Disabilities Institute.

“Financial wellness is a must in conversations about inclusion, self-determination, community participation, and employment,” said Michael Roush, Director of Center for Disability-Inclusive Community Development, National Disability Institute. “The financial wellness initiative has provided over 11,000 individuals, family members, and supporters a minimum of one hour of financial wellness training.”  At the National Disability Institute, many of their free resources center on financial resiliency and empowerment. Their website includes easy-to-understand information on topics like managing money, applying for student loans, paying taxes, and managing credit.  

Added Roush, “We believe knowledge is power and it is important to have timely, relevant and accessible information on financial wellness available. The resources available on our website include tools that individuals can access that help build one’s financial wellness, but also a host of webinars that individuals can access on topics ranging from housing, financial wellness 101, managing credit and other financial wellness topics.” 

William, a 2016 graduate of Lincoln College who’s featured in another Financial Wellness video, understands the importance of what he’s learned about money. “Financial wellness? It’s about how to handle your bills and, sometimes, how to handle your debts.”  

William’s mom, who took the training with her son, has a different definition. “Financial wellness for me means the opportunity to make choices ... and not having people making choices for you.” 

For many parents, like William’s mom, the idea of their adult Loved One getting their own credit was out of reach.  

“I just thought William would always be on my credit,” she explains. By taking the Credit Matters class together, they were able to get a secure credit card for William, who has a new respect for how he handles not just his cash, but his credit, too. 

Credit is an asset, and not having a positive credit history or score affects so many areas of life. It has an impact on where we work, where we live, and where we bank, among other things.  

The journey to financial wellness is worth taking for everyone, and these resources help ease the path for people with disabilities and their families. As for Caroline, she has some advice for anyone who thinks finances are too complicated and intimidating. “Manage your money well, people. Don’t be afraid to learn about money!” 

It’s solid advice, no matter where your financial skills and challenges lie. These resources from the National Disability Institute will help you get there. 

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