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Addressing Special Needs for an Aging Population

Addressing Special Needs for an Aging American Population

By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

Special Needs Trust Rhode Island
Attorney RJ Connelly III

"It is difficult to predict the future of the United States," said RJ Connelly III, a professional fiduciary and certified elder law attorney. "The country has undergone financial, political, and vocational changes in the last decade. One certain thing is that everyone will get old. By 2040, there will be more people over sixty-five than under eighteen. This will have implications for many issues, but one important factor to consider is how we will address the special needs of older people."

As we age, we develop issues with vision, hearing, and mobility, as well as chronic illnesses such as arthritis, memory loss, diabetes, and hypertension. In some cases, these conditions may meet the ADA definition of disability when they make it harder to move around the home, go to work, or participate in the community.

"Civil rights law includes the American Disability Act (ADA), which guarantees equal access to education, work, and community living for people with disabilities," stated Attorney Connelly. "Some individuals experience special needs early in life and rely on government benefit programs throughout their lives, while others acquire special needs as they age and require assistance."

Accepting Age-Related Issues

"According to the ADA, individuals with special needs in older age often do not view themselves as having a disability or special needs, even when they are dealing with mental or physical impairments that severely limit their activities," said Attorney Connelly. "Neglecting these challenges can have a negative impact on their daily lives, as well as the well-being of their loved ones who care for them."

Age-Related Disability Categories

Many life activities that age-related disability/special needs affect include:

  • Health Care – Health care providers must offer reasonable modifications for patients with special needs, such as communication assistance when filling out forms or reading the fine print before signing documents.

  • Housing – The Fair Housing Act, enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, mandates that buildings with four or more units must be physically accessible to all tenants, including those with disabilities or special needs. Housing providers must also make reasonable modifications and accommodations to meet the needs of these tenants, such as providing designated parking spaces or allowing rent payments by mail.

  • Work – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, such as modifying work schedules, providing assistive technology, or making physical modifications to the workplace.

  • Travel and Transportation – Public transport, such as buses, subways, taxis, or light rail, must provide disability/special needs accessibility by law. This applies to aircraft, including the right to bring a service animal.

  • Hospitality and Entertainment – Restaurants, theaters, arenas, museums, and hotels are required to make reasonable modifications to their practices, procedures, and policies to accommodate individuals with disabilities upon request, as long as doing so does not place an undue burden.

  • Public Places – Local or state government-controlled public spaces and activities, such as government buildings, parks, streets, and sidewalks, must ensure reasonable access and requested modifications. For instance, during a town hall meeting hosted by a city, the entryway must be accessible to those with mobility devices.

Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) PACE program provides comprehensive social and medical services to frail elderly individuals combating age-related special needs services. Most of these individuals are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

PACE offers coordinated healthcare services for participants, enabling them to stay in their community instead of institutional care. Providers can offer all necessary services, not just those covered by Medicare/Medicaid.

To find a PACE Program in your area, please click on the logo below:

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How a Disability Attorney Can Help

Individuals with disabilities or age-related special needs can seek assistance from an elder law or special needs attorney to apply for government benefit programs that can alleviate the challenges and limitations of living with a disability. Below is a list of some programs available:

  • Medicare - This program provides health insurance for individuals aged 65 and above and those with disabilities. It offers coverage for medical services such as doctor's visits, prescription drugs, and hospital stays.

  • Medicaid - This program provides healthcare coverage to low-income or disabled individuals through joint federal and state government efforts. The benefits include a wide range of medical services, including long-term care.

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - This federal program provides financial assistance for individuals with disabilities who are unable to work. The amount of SSDI benefits is determined by the person's work history and earnings.

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - This federal program provides financial assistance to those with disabilities who are also low-income. An individual’s resources and income determine benefit amounts.

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services - This program offers job services, including training and informing seniors of the programs available. Some programs can provide accommodations for people with disabilities/special needs.

  • Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) -Community-based organizations called ADRCs provide information and referral services for people with disabilities and their families.

Get the Help You Need

"There are many programs available to help people with age-related disabilities," said Attorney Connelly. "Our office can assist with determining eligibility for government benefits. As a country, we don't do enough to inform seniors of the programs available. Some programs can help with healthcare, housing, work, and transportation. I urge seniors or those who care for seniors to subscribe to our blog to receive regular news and updates on programs and issues affecting this age group and links to webpages offering information and services for seniors."

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