2001 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents


Michael J. Kluk, Senior Attorney
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 235N
Sacramento, CA 95825
ph. (916)488-9950


Social Security provides cash benefits to eligible people with disabilities

Social Security does not directly buy or provide assistive technology devices or services. However, Social Security has three work incentive programs that allow you to work and limit the impact your salary will have on your SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) benefits by purchasing necessary technology. These include: Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS), Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE), and Blind Work Expense (BWE)

Social Security work incentive programs are designed to encourage people with disabilities to seek employment without fear of losing their SSI or SSDI benefits. The goals of the work incentive programs are for you to:

1. Become employed
2. Increase your independence and autonomy; and
3. Become self-supporting.

These programs provide a work incentive because they allow you to work and earn money, but your income will not affect your benefits as much as it would otherwise.

A PASS allows you to set aside income and resources for an occupational objective. You can save a small amount each month towards a particular goal. The amount you save will not be counted as income or resources for SSI purposes. A PASS can be for education, vocational training, starting a business, or buying support services that enable you to work. For Social Security to approve a PASS, there must be:

1. A reasonable chance that you can achieve your occupational goal; and
2. A clear connection between your goal and your ability to earn more money.

The PASS program allows you to deduct from your income the costs of assistive technology such as:

-equipment and supplies you need to establish and carry on a trade or business;
-equipment or tools you need because of your condition or for your job;
-modifications to buildings and vehicles to accommodate your disability; and
-the purchase and maintenance of a private vehicle.

In order to set up a PASS, you need to complete a PASS application form. You can get a form from a Social Security office, in person, or by mail. You should write your PASS with the help of a rehabilitation specialist or an advocate.

An IRWE is an expense for an item or service that:

-is directly related to enabling you to work; and
-that is related to a physical or mental impairment.

Through an IRWE, you can deduct from your earnings the cost of certain items and services needed for work. Unlike a PASS, IRWE's and BWE's (discussed below) don't allow you to shelter a small amount each month towards a big goal, such as a lift-equipped van. They must be used for regular monthly expenses or purchases you can make now. But, they may be easier to establish.

Allowable expenses that you may deduct as IRWE include payments for:

-The maintenance and repair of an impairment-related item; and
-An impairment-related service that is necessary for work.
-Work-Related Equipment
-Essential nonmedical appliances and equipment.

Necessary drugs and medical services and supplies.
If you are blind, Social Security does not count any work expenses you incur in order to work in determining your SSI eligibility and payment amount if you are:

1. Under age 65, or
2. Over 65 and received SSI due to blindness for the month before you turned 65.

These expenses are considered deductible as a BWE.

Some examples of assistive technology that may be BWE's are Braille printers, visual or sensory aids, scanners, "talking" computers, and "talking" Braille materials.

If you are blind, BWE deductions allow you to shelter income to meet work expenses similar to IRWE deductions. There are some differences, however. BWE deductions apply only to SSI benefits, not SSDI benefits. Expenses deductible under a BWE need not relate directly to your impairment; it can be any work expense if you are blind. IRWE must be directly related to your impairment. Because of the way budgets are calculated, if you can deduct an item as either BWE or IRWE, it is better to use the BWE deduction.

You can appeal if Social Security denies PASS, IRWE or BWE deductions. The time for appealing is generally 60 days from when you receive a notice with which you disagree. If you file the appeal within 10 days, you may continue to receive current benefits pending the outcome of the appeal. If you lose the appeal, you may have to pay for the benefits you received during your appeal. See Chapter 8 of Accessing Assistive Technology or PAI's Social Security Manual for more information on social security appeals.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.