Additional education can benefit everyone. It doesn't matter if you are able to attend class or are confined to bed. Education is even possible for people having difficulty concentrating.
You cannot be denied an education because of your health history.
Financial assistance is available. You may even be entitled to a tax break.
THE BENEFITS OF EDUCATION
There are many reasons to consider additional learning, whether as part of a formal degree program or a two-hour cooking seminar. : Regardless of your current career status, going to school or taking classes might be a way to:
- Obtain Health Insurance: By enrolling in some educational institutions, you may be able to obtain health insurance by virtue of your student status. This generally only applies to full time students, but is worth checking if you are a part time student. See Obtaining Health Insurance.
- Fulfill a lifelong goal: Many people have always wanted to attain educational goals that get derailed by the pressures of a family, career, or illness. However, it's never too late to fulfill your dream, whether your dream is to get your high school diploma, a degree in anthropology, or a PhD. in physics.
- Personal enjoyment: Some people find the process of learning something new very enjoyable, much as they might watch a film or read a book. Perhaps you have always wanted to know more about the stars or to learn Mandarin. Whatever it is, the options are unlimited. You don't even have to leave your house between the courses available by mail or over the internet.
- Learn more about living with your condition: Most support organizations and many local hospitals offer seminars to help you learn more about living with your condition.
If you are working: If you are currently working, education can also be a way to further your career goals -- whether that means furthering your current career or embarking on a new one. Even if you are living with a serious illness, you should be prepared for an improvement in your condition and have some sense of where you want your working life to take you. Your health condition is not a barrier to advancing in your current job, or changing jobs thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws..
If you are not working: If you are not currently working but plan on returning to work, education can help you learn new skills or sharpen skills that might have gotten out of date. The time while you are learning can also be used to fill-in a gap on a resume.
If you don't plan on returning to work, taking courses or working toward a degree can be a fulfilling way to spend some of your time. But, if you are currently disabled, be careful not to over do it.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN THINKING ABOUT EDUCATION
If you do decide that you want to spend some of your time gaining new knowledge or skills, be sure to match the type of program to your available time and abilities.
- At-Home: If you unable to leave your home, or prefer not to, consider taking courses or working toward a degree by mail or on the Internet. Many colleges and universities offer correspondence or online programs.
- Time: Be sure not to overload your schedule, especially if you are currently working, taking care of a family, require lengthy treatments or have other time-consuming personal needs or obligations. You don't want to stress yourself to the degree that education becomes more chore than enjoyment, or that it has a detrimental impact on your health.
- Mental and Physical Capacity: Some people with health conditions may have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time, either due to the illness itself or to the medications that are used to treat it. If this applies to you, you might consider a less formal endeavor, such as learning a new art or craft or taking a creative writing workshop where you can work at home at your own pace and where class attendance is optional. On the other hand, you may find that the challenge and focus required to benefit from a more demanding type of program could actually improve both how you feel and how you think, despite your illness.
- Finances: For many people, the cost of additional education is a huge limitation. If cost is an issue for you, look around for free learning opportunities. For example, your social worker or disease specific nonprofit organization might be able to identify local colleges that permit people on disability to audit courses for free.
If you are working, consider asking your employer for assistance, even if your employer doesn't have a formal education expense reimbursement program. You may be able to persuade your employer to help you out by pointing out the improvement in your job performance that will result from the additional knowledge or skills that you gain.
For information on financial assistance for education, see the next section.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR EDUCATION
In addition to the standard federal grant and loan programs that your school's financial aid office can assist you with, there are some forms of financial aid, including scholarships, available to people with disabilities. Visit the following links for more information:
- www.ed.gov/finaid.html US Dept of Education website; information on federal programs
- www.finaid.org/otheraid/disabled.phtml Financial aid for disabled students
- www.umaine.edu/disability/ On-line Disability Information Systems; can search for educational opportunities.
- http://www.scholarshipworkshop.com/disabled.html Free-scholarship search page: can search for scholarships for people with disabilities.
- http://www.fastweb.com/ib/finaid-23f Free-scholarship search engine.
LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR EDUCATION
People with a serious health condition are protected by laws meant to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities or special needs in the education system.
Students without special learning needs but who have missed school due to a severe illness also are entitled to certain accommodations and help.
Two sets of laws apply.
- Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
- Civil Rights laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
If you need help because you think you are being discriminated against, contact a lawyer. You may also get helpful information from the following: (Cat hy: please create the appropriate links)
- The Parent Training and Information Center (PTIC).
- PACER Center in Minnesota runs the national Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights.
- Wrightslaw covers a wide range of special education, legal, and policy topics
TAX BREAKS FOR EDUCATION
Uncle Sam offers tax breaks to ease the financial hardship of paying for an education. To learn about the available breaks, see IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits For Education: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf
- If your education is required to maintain or improve the skills needed for your current job or to meet a state or federal imposed requirement, many of the expenses will be deductible to the extent that all of your miscellaneous deductions exceed a threshhold amount. See: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf
- Student Loan Interest Adjustment: Interest that you initially pay on student loans reduces your gross income, which in turn reduces the amount of your income that is taxed by an equal amount. This adjustment is phased out as your income increases.