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Bridges Blog Series: Financial February

Financial February: What Are the Income Requirements for SSI?

A key part of the transition process is knowing about financial benefits for which blind and low vision students are eligible. Join us for Financial February for a crash course on SSI benefits.

  • February 1: What is SSI, and Who is Eligible for It?
  • February 8: What Are the Income Requirements for SSI?
  • February 15: How Do Resources Affect SSI?
  • February 22: How Can I Apply for SSI?

In this second installment of our Financial February series, we discuss income, part of the second prong of SSI eligibility.

Review

In last week’s installment of our SSI series, What is SSI, and Who is Eligible for It?, we noted that SSI is a financial safety net for adults younger than 65 who have significant disabilities and who have limited income and limited financial resources.

In today’s post, we focus on what limited income means for SSI eligibility. Next week, we will cover limited resources in terms of SSI eligibility.

SSI for a Child

If the person with a qualifying SSI disability is younger than 18, a portion of the income and resources of parents and step-parents with whom the child lives are usually counted in determining the child’s eligibility. Some benefit payments are not included as income. For specific questions, please reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk for more information or to inquire about specifics.

SSI for an Adult

Often, a child under 18 will have a qualifying disability but will not qualify for SSI because their parent’s income and/or resources are too high for SSI eligibility. However, one month after the child turns 18, eligibility focuses only on the individual’s own income and resources. Thus, even if a young disabled adult lives with parents or family members, only the disabled adult’s income and resources are considered for SSI eligibility purposes.

For this reason, applying for SSI is often a large part of the transition process to adulthood for blind and low vision young adults.

Important notes:

These rules are different for the spouse of an SSI applicant/recipient, whose income and resources may be counted in SSI eligibility.

Also, if a parent claims an adult child as a dependent on their taxes, this can negatively impact the adult child’s SSI benefits.

It is important to get advice based on your personal situation.

Please contact the Free Maryland Bridges Helpdesk with questions about this or any other matter.

What Counts as Income?

SSI considers four types of income:

  • Earned income, including wages, self-employment income, cash paid for work (like babysitting or lawn mowing), etc.
  • Unearned income, including cash gifts, other Social Security benefits, interest and dividends from investments, etc.
  • In-kind income, such as food or shelter provided for free or at less than market value
    • Includes cases where you live with someone (even your parent) for free.
    • If you are not paying rent or for food where you live, your monthly SSI payment will be cut by one-third.
  • Deemed income, usually the income of a spouse, if you have one.

 

Income Exclusions

There are certain income exclusions that SSI does not count in your calculation of income. This list provides some examples of income exclusions for SSI purposes. Please always feel free to consult the Free Bridges Helpdesk to assist you along the way:

  • The first $20 in ANY KIND of income per month is excluded from income. This exclusion only counts once per month, even if you have two or more kinds of income.
  • Every dollar of unearned income over the general exclusion ($20) reduces your monthly SSI payment by $1
  • In addition to the general exclusion ($20), the first $65 in earned income each month is excluded from income. Every $2 of earned income over the total exclusion ($65 + $20) reduces your monthly SSI payment by $1.
  • Economic impact payments (EIP), also known as COVID stimulus payments
  • Impairment-related work expense (IRWE) deduction
  • Work-related expenses for blind individuals (in addition to the IRWE)
  • Student Earned Income Exclusion (available until you reach age 22)
  • Exclusions and benefits related to an approved PASS plan (plan to achieve self-support)
  • Other miscellaneous exclusions

Keep in Mind

This information can seem very technical at first glance, and the Bridges Helpdesk is always here to support you as you figure out your initial and continuing eligibility for benefits.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Categories
Bridges Blog Series: Financial February

Financial February: What is SSI, and Who is Eligible for It?

A key part of the transition process is knowing about financial benefits for which blind and low vision students are eligible. Join us for Financial February for a crash course on SSI benefits.

  • February 1: What is SSI, and Who is Eligible for It?
  • February 8: What Are the Income Requirements for SSI?
  • February 15: How Do Resources Affect SSI?
  • February 22: How Can I Apply for SSI?

In this first installment of our “Financial February” series, we define SSI and discuss the SSI disability requirement.

Overview

As you may know, U.S. workers can receive monthly Social Security checks when they retire. There is another type of monthly check available to individuals with blindness or other disabilities who do not have a work history called Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

SSI is a financial safety net provided by the federal government. SSI helps disabled people ages birth through 64 who have little or no income by providing a monthly cash payment. In 2022, the maximum monthly amount for an SSI check is $841.

Disability Requirement

Individuals must meet two prongs of eligibility in order to qualify for SSI benefits. The first prong is a disability requirement. What types of disabilities qualify?

  • Legal blindness: Legal blindness must have lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months in order to qualify for SSI. Legal blindness is based on a clinical eye exam and can be met by either central visual acuity (“20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of correcting lens”) or visual field loss (“widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees”).
  • Other Disabilities: Disability eligibility for SSI for people who do not fall into the legal blindness category is different and requires more proof of disability. To find out more about SSI for children or adults who are not legally blind, please reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk.

Proof of Disability

When you initially apply for SSI, it is important to have on hand any medical documentation that certifies that you have a disability. You will also be asked during the application process to provide the contact information for all of your medical providers, including those who do not give you medical care that is directly related to your disability. Your state’s Disability Determination Services office will then make a decision about whether your disability qualifies you to receive SSI payments. Maryland Disability Determination Services (DDS), part of the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), serves as the DDS office in Maryland. DDS may ask you to come in for a medical exam. Even if you have other medical information confirming your legal blindness, you must go to that medical exam as part of your application process.

Limited Income and Financial Resources Requirements

The second prong for determining SSI eligibility is determining if an applicant has limited income and limited financial resources; an individual must meet both of these requirements in order to be eligible for SSI. Next week, we will cover different types of income that SSI considers when determining eligibility.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Bridges Blog Series: Resolutions for Resilience 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

January always ushers in a new year, and many take the opportunity to develop New Year’s Resolutions during this month. While Resolutions can take many forms (including diet, exercise, etc.), the Free Bridges Helpdesk offers some tips for helping you get the access you need with Resolutions for Resilience.

  • Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility
  • Controlling the Chat in Online Classes
  • Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible
  • Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

In this fourth installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips to help you access text on inaccessible PDFs.

Why It Matters

PDFs are everywhere; PDF accessibility is not. To complicate matters, the ability of PDFs to be accessible is widely misunderstood; some have the mistaken belief that PDFs cannot be made to be accessible for blind individuals and thus prevent blind students from having the opportunity to learn how to interact with accessible PDFs and how to remediate inaccessible PDFs.

Navigating PDFs

Even if a PDF is accessible, you need to know how to use your accessible assistive technology to access it efficiently. Here is a quick “cheat sheet” from Freedom Scientific, the creator of JAWS screen reading software, to get you started: Prevent Document Frustration: JAWS and PDFs Guide, and check out Elizabeth Whitaker’s APH Access Academy presentation Prevent Document Frustration JAWS and PDFs. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk with any questions.

Accessing Text on Inaccessible PDFs

Often, when a PDF is inaccessible, it has been saved as a graphic. Even though text might appear on the screen, the screen is actually showing a PICTURE of text. The computer only recognizes the picture; it cannot recognize the text.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can be the answer to this problem. As its name implies, OCR software scans the picture and attempts to recognize portions of the picture as alphabetical or numerical characters (letters or numbers). As discussed in last week’s Bridges Blog post, “Resolutions for Resilience: Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible,” the widely-used screen reading software JAWS has built-in OCR capabilities with its tool called Convenient OCR.

OCR Inaccessible PDFs

Sometimes people share PDFs that they have scanned into the computer as image files. Many times, they might not realize what they have done; they are just using the default settings of their scanners. Convenient OCR is a great tool to provide you immediate access to these PDFs! Here are the steps to perform this Inaccessible PDF Hack:

  • Open the PDF and use Convenient OCR:
    • JAWS key and spacebar at the same time (you’ll hear JAWS announce “space”)
    • Then the letter O (you’ll hear JAWS announce “O; OCR”)
    • Then the letter D (you’ll hear JAWS announce “Document OCR started”)
  • JAWS will open up another window that contains the text from the inaccessible PDF and will begin reading it.
    • In that new window, there is a link called “Open in Word…” You can quickly navigate to that link by:
      • Type “U” for unvisited link
      • Use JAWS key plus F7 to display Links list
      • Tab to the “Open in Word…” link
    • Open the link, and you have a new Word document with accessible text from the PDF.
  • Name and save the file, and you now have access to that text anytime you want!

OCR Saved Screen-shares

Screen-shares are a perfect example of an inaccessible PDF.

Last week’s blog discussed using Convenient OCR to access screen-shared text in real-time, but you might also want to save the screen-shared information for later reference. To do this, you can take screenshots during the presentation, save them, and use OCR on them after the presentation to create your own accessible document. Here are some steps that can make this process easier:

  • First, open a blank Word document and give it a name. This document will be the place you store all of your screenshots.
  • When you want to capture a screen during the presentation, take a screenshot. Most laptops have keys or key combinations to perform this function. When you take a screenshot, the image will automatically be saved to your clipboard.
  • Tab over to that blank Word document and paste your screenshot (Control plus V is the paste command). Save the document (F12 or Control plus S), and jump back to the shared screen.
  • Continue taking screenshots, pasting them into your new Word document, and saving the updated document.
  • At the end, save as a Word document AND save as a PDF (F12, then change document type to PDF).
  • Open the PDF and use Convenient OCR:
    • JAWS key and spacebar at the same time (you’ll hear JAWS announce “space”)
    • Then the letter O (you’ll hear JAWS announce “O; OCR”)
    • Then the letter D (you’ll hear JAWS announce “Document OCR started”)
  • JAWS will open up another window that contains the text from the inaccessible PDF and will begin reading it.
    • In that new window, there is a link called “Open in Word…” You can quickly navigate to that link by:
      • Type “U” for unvisited link
      • Use JAWS key plus F7 to display Links list
      • Tab to the “Open in Word…” link
    • Open the link, and you have a new Word document with accessible text from the PDF.
  • Name and save the file, and you now have access to that text anytime you want!

Note: Convenient OCR “is only available in JAWS and Zoomtext Fusion, it is not available in Zoomtext Screen Magnifier” and it “requires an active internet connection.” From New Features of JAWS and Zoomtext Fusion 2021.

Continue Advocating for Accessible Documents

Tools like Convenient OCR are great, but they are not perfect. Convenient OCR provides you text, but it cannot create headings or other text features (including tables). Also, poor-quality PDFs may keep Convenient OCR from providing you accurate text, and, while Convenient OCR is quick, it does take a bit of time to perform.

Know that there are federal laws that require most schools and businesses to provide “reasonable accommodations” that you request, and accessible files (whether PDFs, Word, or PowerPoint) are examples of reasonable accommodations.

The Free Bridges Helpdesk is here to help with you what you need, whether it’s technical help, advocacy, or anything else. Remember, all Bridges Helpdesk help is private and confidential, and we are here for you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Categories
Bridges Blog Series: Resolutions for Resilience 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible

January always ushers in a new year, and many take the opportunity to develop New Year’s Resolutions during this month. While Resolutions can take many forms (including diet, exercise, etc.), the Free Bridges Helpdesk offers some tips for helping you get the access you need with Resolutions for Resilience.

  • Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility
  • Controlling the Chat in Online Classes
  • Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screen-shares Accessible
  • Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

In this third installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips that can help you get access to text that is shared in online classes.

Why It Matters

People who are unfamiliar with blindness/low vision often assume that any text that is in electronic and/or digital form is automatically accessible. For instance, they may take a picture of a text-filled flyer and assume that a blind/low vision individual can read the text because “It’s digital!”

In reality, this is not the case. While digital documents CAN be accessible, many are just as inaccessible as are paper documents. Screenshots and screen-shares are perfect examples of taking accessible information and making it inaccessible.

Distance Learning is Here to Stay

Even though schools and other organizations are beginning to meet in person more, we have reached a point in society at which distance communication tools, like Zoom, have become fixtures as meeting spaces for school, employment, and community organizations, including seminars about special interests.

Zoom, in particular, is a very accessible platform for blind/low vision individuals. However, when an accessible document is screen-shared, that document becomes completely inaccessible because it is “rendered to meeting participants as an HD video stream.” From Zoom’s Accessibility Frequently Asked Questions web page. This same technology is used in other online meeting platforms.

Thus, for the foreseeable future, individuals who cannot easily access video sharing must find alternative solutions to achieve accessibility.

Potential Solution: Get Accessible Documents Ahead of Time

As noted above, many people, including educators, do not understand how blind/low vision people interact with digital documents. This is a great time for you, and teach your teachers!

Let them know that screen-shared documents are not accessible. Tell them that you aren’t getting access to the video portion of Zoom – it’s like you are only on the phone. Even if you can see the video a bit, you cannot access it with the ease or the speed of typically-sighted peers.

Next, offer solutions! Explain to them what kind of document works best for you. Examples may include Word documents and PowerPoints instead of printouts that are then scanned in as PDFs. Ask for the documents before the presentation so that you can preview them to help you follow along during the presentation. Share these Word and PowerPoint Accessibility Resources with them, too!

Potential Solution: Make the Inaccessible Accessible

While it is best to get accessible versions of documents being shared, you might not get them. What to do then?

Screen-sharing isn’t accessible, and neither are screenshots – until YOU make them accessible! When you do not receive accessible versions of screen-shared documents ahead of the presentation, there are tools you can use to TAKE CONTROL and get ACCESS to the text on the screen-share!

Freedom Scientific software provides a great tool for this purpose: Convenient Optical Character Recognition (Convenient OCR). You can use Convenient OCR with files (such as PDFs and images), but you can also use it “on the fly” to capture screen-shared information DURING a distance video presentation.

Take Control of the Screen in Real-time

Here’s how to use Convenient OCR to access text on an inaccessible screen:

  • For best results, use the “Full Screen” option to display the screen-share you wish to access.
  • Run Convenient OCR by using the following layered commands:
    • JAWS key and spacebar at the same time (you’ll hear JAWS announce “space”)
    • Then the letter O (you’ll hear JAWS announce “O; OCR”)
    • Then the letter S (to OCR the screen – you’ll hear JAWS announce “OCR started using Omnipage; Finished; JAWS cursor”)
  • Now that JAWS has performed OCR on the screen, you can access the information by using typical JAWS reading commands (such as JAWS key plus down arrow)
  • ** Note that Convenient OCR leaves you with the JAWS cursor. JAWS will begin reading wherever your JAWS cursor is, even if it is not at the top of the page. For this reason, you may need to arrow up to get to the top of the page.
  • ** Note: If you tab away from the screen where you have performed Convenient OCR, the OCR is lost. When you go back, you’ll need to use Convenient OCR again (JAWS key plus spacebar; O; S).

Distance Presentations are only the Beginning!

Optical Character Recognition tools like Convenient OCR offer you the power to use your computer to access inaccessible text both independently and efficiently. Even more: you can save that now-accessible text to access (and edit) later.

Of course, the availability of OCR does not diminish the value of accessible documents. OCR is good, but it’s not perfect, and OCR doesn’t necessarily give you information about headings and text structure. Moreover, with OCR, you are having to capture and convert the documents during the presentation – which interferes with your ability to pay attention to the presentation itself. Nevertheless, Convenient OCR can be a valuable tool in your toolbox, and you could use it in other ways, such as on inaccessible websites and text on YouTube videos.

Practice Early, and Let Us Help

Using Convenient OCR and other OCR software can be quite empowering, but it’s no fun to have to practice new skills in real-time. Please call on us here at the Free Bridges Helpdesk to help!

Contact us, and we’ll set up a time that’s convenient for you to talk about OCR and other tools and to practice using them. We can set up a Zoom session where you can practice capturing screen-shared text with us supporting you every step of the way. Remember, all Bridges Helpdesk help is private and confidential, and we are here for you.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Categories
Bridges Blog Series: Resolutions for Resilience 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Controlling the Chat in Online Classes

January always ushers in a new year, and many take the opportunity to develop New Year’s Resolutions during this month. While Resolutions can take many forms (including diet, exercise, etc.), the Free Bridges Helpdesk offers some tips for helping you get the access you need with Resolutions for Resilience.

  • Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility
  • Controlling the Chat in Online Classes
  • Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screenshares Accessible
  • Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible

In this second installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips that can help you manage the information your screen reading software (screen reader) provides from the chat while in online classes.

Why It Matters

Even if your school is holding in-person classes, we have reached a point at which Zoom is a fixture as a meeting space for school, social engagements, and work. It can be so difficult to listen to your screen reader read Zoom chat messages to you out loud while you are also trying to pay attention to the teacher or presentation. It is even worse when you need to reference documents or slide presentations at the same time or take notes on the same device.

The chat can be full of valuable presentation-related information that might not be spoken aloud, or classmates could be socializing and greeting one another. Either way, you need the information. Even if the chat is purely social, who wants to miss out on talking to friends (or future friends)?

Below, we have outlined some helpful strategies for managing chat content while also balancing the need for listening to the content being presented at the class or meeting. A combination of these tips and tricks depending on the type of meeting is likely the best approach to getting everything you need.

Screen Reader Commands and Chat Hacks

These keyboard commands will help you to navigate the chat in Zoom using JAWS:

  • To disable alerts of any kind, including chat alerts and announcements of individuals entering and leaving meetings, press Windows + ALT + S.
  • Control + 1 through Control + 0 reads out the ten most recent chat messages
  • ALT + H lets you enter or exit the chat panel. Even if you disable alerts, you can feel free to check the chat panel anytime.
    • Focus automatically lands on the edit field when you enter the chat panel, so to send a message all you have to do is type the message and press Enter.
    • You can use Shift + Tab to navigate to the list of chat messages, and use your up and down arrow keys to look through the list of messages.
    • If you press Shift + Tab again, you will find a box where you can hear JAWS speak to whom your next chat message will be going; you can also change the recipient of your message in this area.
  • JAWS has a new feature that allows users to have JAWS speech come in one ear of your headphones and other computer audio come through the opposite headphone. This feature is very useful in Zoom meetings by simplifying hearing both audio inputs simultaneously. To enable this feature, press Space + Insert + V, then V, then B. You can then press the left arrow key for JAWS to speak from the left headphone and the right arrow for it to speak from the right headphone. The up arrow will restore speech to both headphones once you have finished.
  • In addition to using these keyboard commands, we also recommend using a Braille device paired with your computer to engage with the chat.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

Even with these commands and strategies, you may still feel as though you are not getting the same access to both the chat and the meeting itself that other participants will experience. You can always request reasonable accommodations whether you are in high school or college to ease the complications of managing audio content from multiple sources. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations you could request:

  • Request the teacher to read aloud content written in the chat that is particularly important to the subject. This will ensure you have access to all of the notetaking opportunities as your classmates.
  • Request that all links posted in the chat be emailed out to the class. This will make things easier for not just you, but everyone else, too.
  • Ask the teacher or Zoom host to allow users to save the chat. That way, you can have a written record of the chat and can refer back to anything you may have missed. Again, this particular accommodation request will make things easier for other students as well.
  • Utilize a second device that could allow you to participate in the meeting from two devices. While not specifically a reasonable accommodation, you may want to let your teacher know that your name may be appearing twice in the participants’ list. This method could allow you to mute chat activity on one device and mute incoming audio on the other device; you could then have a device for the lecture and one for chat engagement.

Other Support

JOIN US TONIGHT! Free Student Roundtable: The Game of Life: Hacks for Financial Independence with the Bridges Helpdesk

We invite students to join us for an interactive session where we will learn about saving, spending, and benefits 101!

Managing your benefits can be confusing, and how do you sort through these enormous letters that SSA sends anyway? It is possible to save more than $2,000 while on SSI, and to have working experiences while still enjoying your SSI benefit. Want to learn how? Join the Bridges Helpdesk today, Tuesday, January 11 at 7:30 PM to learn about financial hacks to help you best manage your SSI benefits and beyond!

Tonight, Tuesday, January 11, 2022 07:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Contact us for the Zoom link!

Contact us

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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