Q: Over the years, I've gotten most of my information about disability benefits from the website SocialSecurity.gov. But recently, I've noticed there's a lot more on the subject on another site, Disability.gov. What's the difference between the two?
A: They're both official sites run by government agencies. That's what the ".gov" at the end of the address means.
But the Social Security Administration's SocialSecurity.gov is pretty specialized concerning disability, devoting much of its content to explaining how to qualify for the agency's two main disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Disability.gov, meanwhile, takes on basically the full universe of disability-related subjects, services, policies, laws and regulations. Whatever you're looking for, it's likely to be there or on a linked site — information on benefits, civil rights, education, employment, health, housing, technology and transportation.
Disability.gov is managed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy in collaboration with 21 federal agency partners. It also includes links to hundreds of state, local and nonprofit organizations around the country.
Like all big websites, it can be tricky to navigate. Sometimes you'll need to bear down if you're looking for specific information. The "search" function won't always bring up what you want the first time. But keep going, and you're likely to find what you're looking for — as well as information on programs that you never knew about.
Q: I'm disabled and looking for a job. What kind of things does the site have that can help the search?
A: Lots. Start by clicking on the "employment" link on the top of the screen. Root around, and you'll find such things as the site of the National Organization on Disability, which has its own information for job seekers with disabilities and can also take you to a series of other organizations that offer more tips and guidance.
For instance, there's a link to America's Service Locator, which connects people with employment and training opportunities at the American Job Centers, sponsored by the Department of Labor.
Q: What about health facilities?
A: Click on the "health" link. You'll be able to find your way to such sites as healthfinder.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It lists a large variety of doctors, specialists, community health centers and hospitals, along with their phone numbers and addresses.
Q: And I see there's a housing section.
A: Yes. By going to the disability site of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), you can find information on such things as your rights in housing as a person with a disability. Need to know the rules on whether you can have a guide dog in your rental apartment? It's all there.
Q: I'm disabled and want to modify my home to make it safer and more accessible. Is there help for that kind of job?
A: In the Housing section of Disability.gov, you'll find a four-page AARP fact sheet (PDF) that discusses various types of home modifications, sources of funding and repairs offered by nonprofit organizations such as Rebuilding Together. Their volunteers provide free home repairs for low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners.
Q: And there's an education page?
A: Yes. For instance, the website has quite a few documents that prospective disabled college students can use. A good example is the booklet "College Planning for Students With Disabilities," (PDF) published by the EducationQuest Foundation.
The 20-page handbook covers many of the steps and questions that can help students with disabilities get admitted to college. For instance, it encourages them to understand their disabilities and potential effects on ability to learn. And it preps them on college testing, school selection and the application process.
Q: People with disabilities often need help getting to work, school or health care facilities. Does the site offer help on that?
A: It does. Communities often set up paratransit systems. These are specialized door-to-door transport services for people with disabilities who are not able to ride fixed-route public transportation. Riders must qualify to use the services and then must make a phone call to arrange the pickup.
The problem is you've got to know who provides this service and how to contact them. Under the "transportation" link at Disability.gov, you'll find ways to get in touch with providers in your area. Here are two toll-free hotlines that I found on the site: the National Transit Hotline at 800-527-8279 and the U.S. Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.
Q: I've looked around on the site and see that not all the information is just for people with disabilities. So why are these programs on the site?
A: The point to remember is that people with disabilities may be able to take part in these programs just like anyone else. Disability.gov can wake you up to opportunities you didn't know existed. For instance, you'll find a lot on federal programs for dislocated or laid-off workers — disabled or not. They include training for workers who lost jobs due to increased foreign imports or shifts in production away from the United States. Other Department of Labor operations include the Senior Community Service Employment Program, the National Farmworker Jobs Program and the Indian and Native American Programs.
Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the AARP Social Security Question and Answer Tool.