‘BEST’ options now available for disabled


A household with someone disabled earns a median annual income that’s $22,600 less than one without disabled members, according to Cornell University’s 2007 Disability Status Report.

But a pilot program called Building Economic Strength Together hopes to change that  with a series of six two-hour financial literacy workshops at UNF and other networks providing disability assistance in the community such as the Arch of Jacksonville and the Wounded Warrior veterans’ program.

BEST came to UNF for the university’s On Campus Transition program, which was recommended by the Arch of Jacksonville. OCT helps students with disabilities make the transition from high school to college.

The BEST program began with the initiatives and people behind the Real Economic Impact Tour, which has helped 151,000 people with disabilities receive free tax preparation. It has also achieved more than $135 million in tax refunds for its participants during the last four years, said Johnette Hartnett, director of the REI Tour.

Twenty students with developmental disabilities and one volunteer student mentor attended the first session March 6.

Each session will feature a different expert of each corresponding financial field, excluding the first

The financial topics taught will include debt management, social security, taxes, home and car ownership, loans, renting, banking and the various provisions available for people with disabilities like the earned income tax credit, free tax preparation and matched savings accounts, said Hartnett, who is also the director of research at the National Disability Institute.

But the main topic that will interweave throughout all six sessions is economic self sufficiency, said Michael R. Roush, program associate at the National Disability Institute

“The curriculum itself looks mainly at ‘What is the American dream?’” he said. “At the end [of the program], they’ll have a plan and a better understanding of how they can achieve their own goals and dreams.”

The instruction and presentation of the information is based off the Everyday Democracy Study Circle Model, which is interactive and participatory, letting students work amongst themselves, lead discussions and study teams, Hartnett said.

This has proven effective in similar programs across the country. One North Carolinian program in particular stuck out in Roush’s mind, he said, as two disabled girls talked openly with each other about credit cards. One girl was explaining to the other how her credit card worked, and how she paid it off every month.

This type of learning facilitates the repetition needed for the disabled students to successfully retain the information they receive, said Stephanie Shaull, OCT program coordinator.

Other than the learning style and available provisions, the curriculum is universal, and Hartnett called it an “extraordinarily powerful opportunity” for all UNF students, not just those with disabilities.

In September, all who participated in the program will be honored with a certificate at a celebration. After this, the National Disability Institute will produce a report on the effectiveness of the pilot BEST program.

“I think [the BEST program] is a building block for other cities and other states,” Hartnett said. “And I do believe it will be a success.”


• There will be two sessions during March and April, a break during summer and two final sessions in August.

• Additional volunteer mentors are needed for the program to assist in the instructive activities, and they are encouraged to fine-tune their own financial literacy while helping out. A business management back ground is preferred, but not necessary, and those interested should contact the On Campus Transition office.

Source: Stephanie Shaull
E-mail Rebecca McKinnon at [email protected]