ciaraMy name is Ciara and I graduated from California State University of Long Beach in 2008 with a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology. I was not born with my disability. I have an auto-immune disease called Lupus which I was diagnosed when I was 18. On the summer of 2006, I had an inflammation on my spine onset from my condition which caused me to be paraplegic. With paraplegia I was introduced to a new way of living. I now had to think of accessibility and deal with social security. Life was foreign to me and I had to learn how to do things differently.

I started working right after college. I was offered a position to work with the individual that I interned for during my last semester in college. I remember having my benefits reduced every month but never understanding why. I was naive, never questioning and thought that it was the way things were. In the spring and summer of 2010, I set out looking for a new position and was lucky enough to be introduced to the “Grads” project. After applying and going through the interview process, I was offered a position with the project. I didn’t know then that I was being introduced to my calling.

I soon learned about Social Security’s work incentives and the best part of my position was that I was able to empower my peers with information on Social Security’s work incentives. I had the opportunity to share my experiences and help navigate my peers away from pitfalls that I went through before I knew Social Security’s work incentives. Social Security’s work incentives are not perfect but it gives an opportunity for individuals who receive SSI/SSDI benefits who are interested in pursuing employment to do so while keeping some or all of their benefits. It also, allows the opportunity for an individual to earn an income that will increase financial independence and self-sufficiency that will eventually eliminate one’s reliance on disability benefits. I love my job, it is a rewarding experience that blossoms everyday.

~ Ciara, Placement Specialist
PolicyWorks, Inc.

Advice From a Young Professional
Your pathway to success

The Basics


If you receive Social Security benefits based on your disability, it is important for you to understand how work will affect your benefits. There are many myths about this topic and sometimes your parents or even professionals you work with may be concerned that you are “taking a risk” of losing your benefits if you work.

If you understand the work incentive system and the need to keep SSA informed about your work and the pay you are receiving, this does not have to be an issue. You can plan your “escape” from benefits and your road to independence and self-support.

If your situation will not allow you to work at a level that will allow total independence from benefits, the work incentives can help you use the benefits to supplement your earnings.

Work always pays.


Social Security defines Work Incentives this way – “Special rules make it possible for people with disabilities receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments and Medicare or Medicaid.” Social Security calls these rules “work incentives”. Social Security has a great tool online that lays out all of the work incentives, identified which program, SSDI or SSI, they apply to and then explains the benefit.



Work Incentives are not easy, it takes time to understand and it is important to find someone who understands them and can help answer questions and help you plan.

Social Security has several tools in addition to the link mentioned above. The most comprehensive resource you have available is “The Red Book”. You can access this tool online or ask for it at your local Social Security office.