Katie: Our goal is to help people with disabilities and others build their financial resiliency so they can be prepared for any type of life event.
Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time.
Liz: I’M Liz Bottner.
Chris: And I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: We are blind people learning from each other how to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Chris: Today we’ll be talking with Katie Mets. She’s the director of the Financial Resilience Center at the National Disability Institute. We’ll be learning about how the Financial Resilience Center got started, what it currently offers, and what might be coming in the near future.
Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at
Chris: We’d also like to thank Kane Brolin of Brolin Wealth Management for sponsoring the podcast. Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to take action. But depending on how far away your goals are, the decisions you need to make will be very different. Kane Brolin is a blind certified financial planner, and chartered special needs consultant, who may be able to help you, no matter how much you have, or what stage of life you are in. Learn more by visiting
or by calling 574-254-7180.
Chris: Katie, thanks for being here.
Katie: Thank you for having me.
Chris: Tell us about National Disability Institute and what it is for those who haven’t heard about it before.
Katie: Yeah. My pleasure. So, as many may know, the uh, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, which really spurred more conversation around the rights of persons with disabilities, and … and the need for accessibility. But at that time, no disability organization or government agency was really talking about, or addressing the challenges of poverty that was confronting so many millions of Americans with disabilities every single day. It just wasn’t something people talked about. Of course, except the people it was affecting. So, over 15 years ago, a small group of individuals with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, and legal advocates came together and started National Disability Institute. NDI. We were the first national organization truly committed exclusively to championing economic empowerment, financial education, asset development, and financial stability for all persons with disabilities. In 2005, we were incorporated as a 501 C 3, and we’ve pretty much stayed true to our vision, which is simply financial inclusion for all. We really want to have a society in which people with disabilities have the same equitable opportunities to achieve financial stability and independence as persons without disabilities. We know there’s really no one solution or strategy to that, but through our public research, our public education, our training, our technical assistance, pilot testing we do, public policy reform, we really try to leverage the power of collaboration with all types of diverse partners so we can be creative, innovative problem solvers. And we really focus on that through poverty reduction, financial health, and financial capability for all persons. Something we’ve really talked about for years is the diversity of inclusion within this group of individuals. And within the disability community. Because it really does cut across age, gender, race, ethnicity, type of disability, um, throughout our urban, our rural landscapes, and so that’s why we’re really committed to being intentionally inclusive of race, ethnicity and disability in our research, in our programs, in our partnerships. We really try to collaborate, again, with, with diverse partners in the disability community, public, private sectors, to build a better financial future. Our board of directors are thought leaders in the disability and financial communities. We have staff located in at least ten states, across all regions of the country, um, with a core team located in Washington DC, where our headquarters are. We have public, private funders, um, with activities that touch target audiences in all fifty states. We collaborate with hundreds of organizations throughout the country, from financial institutions and employers to government community organizations. Our staff, and our subject matter expertise is framed really by lived, personal experience across all spectrums of disabilities. Across racial, ethnic diversity, educational backgrounds, we come from education, finance, law, public policy, economics, city government, health, rehabilitation counseling, positive psychology, and it really helps us to inform a lot of our programs and the work that we do in the communities, um, in the field. Some of our signature programs and partnerships include, um, I believe you’ve heard of our Able National Resource Center, our Financial Resource Center, we do financial empowerment training, technical assistance, uh, our center for disability inclusive community development, small business hub, our American Dream Network, so we really look at, um, you know, different ways that we can, can serve the community the best, and our partners, and collaborate. One of the things we do is, we do research. Um, it’s really become … our research is pioneering. It’s become the standard for what is most often sighted data, by media, governments, and the financial sector, on the financial behavior and status of people across the spectrums of disabilities. We’ve produced ground breaking research that identifies financial status, banking behaviors, and financial capability of persons with disabilities. We kind of mine data from large national surveys, and then develop statistics establishing that people with disabilities really do face barriers to full and equal participation in the financial system. And we use that research to inform our public policy efforts, and to provide evidence that programs and policies must address the needs of persons with disabilities. All of our reports can be found online, on our website, at
and we like to say, you know, we feel like our work shows, and it truly improves economic outcomes for persons with disabilities every day. Some of that is exemplified through the over one billion dollars in savings in Able accounts that represents over a hundred thousand new savers with disabilities, two percent reduction in the unbank rate for persons with disabilities nation wide, over twenty million dollars in income that’s been earned by participants in our American Dream Employment network, but I would say one of our greatest strengths and impact is solidly based on our strong partnerships. We value the power of collaboration across the public and private sectors, including people with disabilities, government, financial institutions, health, and disability service providers, um, institutions of higher education, we’re really focused on sustainable change to transform the financial health and lives of people with disabilities. Our reach touches over two million people with disabilities and related stakeholders annually, and we really are working towards that vision of seeing equitable and fair access to all Americans with disabilities so that they can have a strong financial future.
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Liz: What is your specific roll within NDI, if you’re comfortable sharing, what is your connection to the disability community, and what is your actual background? You mentioned backgrounds before, what is yours?
Katie: Yeah. So, it’s kind of a funny story, to me. (Chuckle.) I grew up in a military family, though I was mostly in the Virginia area, so I’ll start there, um, but in my early twenties, I landed in Jacksonville Florida. That is where I live now. I always knew I wanted to work with people in some manner. I thought I wanted to be a teacher until I worked as a kindergarten aid while I was in college, and I realized quickly that career path was not for me. Um, (Chuckle.) Now don’t get me wrong. I love children. My husband and I have three boys, and we have one grandson, and they are our whole world, but I just knew that that day to day wasn’t for me. Um, my degree’s in sociology, and I’ve always been fascinated with people, and communities, and I knew working with people, making an impact on communities, was what I was meant to do. Um, my mother was a nurse growing up, my father a police officer, first in the air force and then as a civilian, so I think public service was kind of always in my blood. So right after moving to Jacksonville, I was working as an admin temp, until, actually searching online, on our city website for a recycling bin. And came across job openings. And I saw one with the Disabled Service Division, and thought, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” So I applied. And I beat out over a hundred applicants for the position, and that’s where I met my mentor, Jack Gilrup. He had cerebral palsy, and he taught me so much. He taught me about strategic partnerships, and collaborations, and how do you navigate city government? And the politics of it? And of course, about the Americans with Disabilities act, which, at the time, had only passed less than ten years prior, and was just beginning to be implemented in cities, and communities, and no one really knew what it was. I remember I would talk to businesses or individuals about the ADA, and they would say, “American Dental Association?” (Chuckle.) “No.” Um, and we would go out, we’d educate, and then when Jack retired and went on to take on the roll of managing the Disabled Service Division, and serving as the ADA coordinator for the mayor’s office, I remember a couple of years into my work with the city thinking, “This is where I was meant to be.” And over twenty years later, it has become my passion to educate and advocate for persons with disabilities. I think what Jack saw in me was both my enthusiasm and my willingness to learn, but also that I saw persons with disabilities as just people. I really never labeled them in any way. Um, you see, my best friend growing up had to have her leg amputated after a terrible bus accident in grade school. So she has a prosthetic leg, and burns on over seventy percent of her body. One of my mom’s good friends had a daughter with Downs Syndrome, and I used to love quote unquote “babysitting” with her, and would volunteer with special Olympics. I just enjoyed that work so much. My little sister was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of twelve, and had her first joint replacement at the age of sixteen, with her hip. She was in and out of her chair frequently, and I recall many encounters in which I was pushing her wheelchair, and, before she had a power chair, and people would ask me questions rather than directing them to her. And we would both correct them, and try to educate, and, and now I also have a child who at times struggles with anxiety. So I grew up surrounded by people I’ve loved most in the world who, by society, would be labeled as persons with disabilities, and I just thought of … of any of them that way. They were just my circle. My sister. My friends. And growing up, I also saw ways that they were, unfortunately, treated differently. Or had barriers when it came to being in the right classroom in college for education. And doing those type of things. And how often we had to advocate! There are so many stories there, but, so even though I didn’t go searching for a career in disability, I’m incredibly proud that I have built that career, on working to help people for them, and millions of Americans across a spectrum of disabilities. Whether it’s visible or hidden. My first introduction to NDI was actually while I was serving in that roll as ADA coordinator at the city, and two of my now colleagues from NDI came to Jacksonville asking to collaborate with my office on what was then the Real Economic Impact tour. It was interesting because I had spent, at that point, over a decade advocating for the ADA. Working to ensure all the titles of the ADA were enforced. But I never really thought about something that they pointed out to me. The ADA states that one of our nation’s goals are to assure quality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and specifically, economic self sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. Quite honestly, I was so focused on ensuring we had curb cuts, and facility access, braille and ASL upon request at city council meetings, that local businesses were accessible, that people could find resources that they desperately needed while trying to navigate these layers of bureaucracy, and that persons with disabilities were welcome and included on all our aspects of city and community, that I’d never really taken the time to stop and think about the key component. That equal access to economic self sufficiency. Because as we all know, finances affect every aspect of our lives. So while in my roll with the city, my office and I worked collaboratively with NDI for a couple years in a variety of projects, and I learned so much along the way. Especially the need for the work that we do at NDI. I was asked to join NDI’S team of innovators and educators and change makers in January of 2011, so almost 12 years later, here I am, and I’m glad I did. In that time, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn and work on a variety of projects with a number of federal, state, partners, national, local nonprofits, financial institutions, community based organizations, and we’ve touched on so many things. Taxes, employment, financial wellness training, I’ve been able to work with the VA and Veterans. I’ve really watched our organization grow and expand to the needs of individuals with disabilities and their families. In my recent work, I was director of the Financial Resilience Center, which we’ll talk a little bit more about, but I’m just excited to see where we’re gonna go in the future, and, and now, with a career spanning over twenty years in the disability field looking back, I’m so thankful for all the people I’ve met along the way. All that I’ve learned, and all the work we’ve done, and, and the work that we’ll continue to do.
Chris: That’s a great Segway, ’cause we’re here to talk about the Financial Resilience Center. Tell us what it is and how it got started.
Katie: Yes. So, the NDI’S Financial Resilience Center, which from here I’m gonna call FRC, can be a tongue twister at times, but we launched the FRC in April of 2020, and we launched it in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and their families. See, at that point, NDI had worked for years towards empowering individuals with disabilities and their families to become more financially resilient, and to build a better economic future for themselves. And we made some progress. We increased employment rates for persons with disabilities, as I mentioned before, the unbanked and underbanked rate had gone down, but then Covid-19 hit, and we knew what a devastating impact and setback this was gonna create for persons with disabilities and their families. But we also wanted to hear directly from the field, and what that impact might be, so we held two listening sessions, with more than seventeen national disability organizations, and a nation wide audience, so we could learn about the current and the potential challenges people with disabilities were facing. Following the listening sessions, over six hundred individuals responded to an online survey, and they provided some insights and some concerns that we thought we’d be facing during the crisis. So, some of the take-aways, some of the concerns that we heard, they felt people with disabilities would be hardest hit by the health, social and economic impact of the virus, um, there was a concern for loss of jobs, which of course put people at risk financially. Households containing an adult with a work disability require really, on average, twenty-eight percent more income to obtain the same standard of living as a comparable household without a member with a disability. And so, we were worried about, you know, how would people deal with that loss of income potentially? There was concern over access to health care, for long term and ongoing care for supports for persons with disabilities, and across the board, you know, worried about how would individuals be effected? So, we knew we had to do something to provide individuals with disabilities and their families, and so we wanted to give them a go to, trusted resource so they could find their answers to their questions related to the pandemic. Because we all know back then, there was a lot of policy coming out, and there was the Cares Act, and how did you decipher all of that? And so, we wanted to do something that would provide:, uh, the answers to questions that people might have in a format and language that was clear, easy to understand, but we wanted to answer people’s questions, also while still staying true to our mission and continuing to provide financial education and using this as an opportunity to inform directly to individuals what the answers to their questions were, while promoting affective financial decision making, and hoping for stability in these really adverse times that people were going through. So, we also know, um, accessing and navigating the systems of bureaucracy, and social services, and available resources, can be very challenging. And, at that time, everything was going to virtual world, and had that extra layer of barrier. So, over the course of about 2 to 3 weeks, our team conceptualized, developed, and built the Financial Resilience Center. We launched the FRC and made our website live the middle to end of April 2020. I can tell you, that was a … There were some long hours and some long weeks, but we knew it was important to get the word out so we could help individuals and their families find a more succinct way to access the many resources and assistance that were being offered at the beginning of the pandemic. We were the first and only organization to help individuals with disabilities and chronic health conditions specifically navigate the financial aspects of the crisis. So with the structure of the FRC established, we worked to continuously evolve over the past two and a half years. So, as we see, what we hope is the slow ramp down of the pandemic, of course, we have surges here and there, we’ve also seen a consistent exponential growth of users that visit and access information on the FRC. So we recognize it really is a valuable resource that the site is providing to individuals directly. cause you see early on, like we talked about, we knew the long term affects that the pandemic would have on individuals with disabilities and their families. A community that already had a long time history with establishing financial stability. Over time, NDI has recognized the continued need for these resources, and we continue to try to position the FRC as a go to, trusted resource, kind of filling that gap for guidance and information and resources so we can try to really help navigate this community to continue what may be an evolving financial crisis. We work to expand the FRC by developing new content. We add additional resources and information. We try to focus on the most pressing financial topics facing the disability community. So in this way, we can continue to provide reliable, accurate, and authentic information to those who need it most. Our goal, as I said, is to serve as the go to trusted resource on financial health and resiliency, answer questions regarding financial matters related to life events in a format that’s really easy, and language that’s easy to understand. We try to provide financial education, and information so that individuals can build their financial resilience. We try to promote affective financial decision making, and our bottom line, really, our goal is to help people with disabilities, and others, build their financial resiliency so they can be prepared for any type of life event.
Liz: If you are able to share with us, what sorts of programs and projects are down the road for either the FRC, or NDI in general?
Katie: Sure. So, one of the things I will tell you we do at FRC is we continue to do analysis of federal policy and impact, so we hope and plan to continue to do that. We make concentrated efforts to really dive into any of the policies to pull out items and issues directly related to persons with disabilities, and then provide the questions and answers from the perspective of a person with disabilities and their families, so the information is easily accessible and comprehendible. We continue to add multiple sections, and questions and answers. We really want to look at what is impacting individuals the most, and where do they need information and resources. For example, we … the possibility of credit having an impact in applying for a job, or being able to manage our finances, or for childcare or transportation, understanding, if applicable, our benefits, and the impact that that might have, filing taxes, all of the topics of interest we break’ down into resource areas, covering information on stimulus packages at the time, employment, unemployment, public benefits, student loans, managing money, a variety. We have a section for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, and try to link resources in ASL, so that that information is available. We talk about identity theft, and most recently, like I mentioned, credit. We offer, also, access to no cost assistance through partners. We knew at the beginning we wouldn’t have the capacity to necessarily answer questions directly. So what we do is, we partnered with Life Sense, which is a self paced online financial wellness training, it’s free of cost, to really help empower knowledge acquisition, build habits, gain confidence, to make smart every-day financial decisions. That’s available on our site. Um, we also partnered with AFCPE, who, the accredited financial counselors, and they are financial fitness coaches and counselors that can help with virtual financial counseling. They are certified, they can help with managing immediate expenses, and preparing for future emergencies, determining which bills to pay first, building a plan to help people pay off their debt, create strategies to avoid debt, navigate non-employment benefits and other financial assistance programs, allocating government money, if you’re receiving benefits or other types of opportunities, to make the most of those dollars, and then we also offer an E-mail sign up to receive our newsletter, so you get those right to your inbox, any updates and alerts that might be coming out. We center on specific topics, such as, maybe free tax preparation, building your credit, we try to be short and to the point, and just direct users to the additional resources if they’re interested. We’re gonna continue to expand the FRC in all these areas, and most recently, we embarked on a new partnership with Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, ’cause we really want to help individuals better understand the basics of credit, the importance of good credit, and ways to protect and build their credit. We added a new page, Credit Specifically, earlier this year, and we are constantly adding new content to really expand the scope of the topic. We’re also planning to launch this same page in Spanish during the second half of National Hispanic Heritage month in early October, and we’ll also work to help them recruit focus group participants to give them feedback on their new Experian Go app, and a tool, Experian Boost. They’re really interested in ensuring their products and services are accessible and available to all, and inclusive of persons with disabilities. NDI in general is always working towards financial inclusion for all people, recognizing that the disability community is truly diverse. We continue to be committed to being intentionally inclusive of race, ethnicity and (ability. In one project, we’re working with local partners in several cities to identify ways to address the systemic challenges people with disabilities face as a result of their intersecting identities. We have a new small business hub that’s implementing a new community navigator pilot program. It’s really exciting, a new group of over twenty-five government agencies, financial institutions, community nonprofits, in the greater Washington DC area including Virginia and Maryland, and they’re expanding all the time. They’ve made a commitment to work together to provide resources and improve responsive customer sensitive services for entrepreneurs and small business owners with disabilities, so they’re really working to support individuals who are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, opening their own small business, or already have their own small business, um, so that they can really be successful and reduce the barriers that many of these entrepreneurs face. They’re planning a virtual small business convening October twenty-fifth and October twenty-sixth. So anyone who’s interested in small business can register for those, and that will be available on their web page,
in the coming weeks. There’s so many things going on, quite honestly, we could probably be here all day, so I encourage people to visit the
to sign up for our newsletter, or The Financial Resilience Center to sign up for our newsletter, and keep up with all the innovative and vital work we really have going on in our future.
Chris: So you got it snuck in there at the end, a little bit how to access NDI, but can you tell us how to access the Financial Resilience Center?
Katie: My pleasure. You can find us by going to
and find us there, and, if you’re interested in sharing the FRC with your family, or individuals you work with, or your network, we actually provide an outreach tool kit, which can be found on the FRC site, and we include logos and links, there’s short newsletter clips, we even have a short video and a power point presentation that you can slip into any outreach efforts you’re doing, which includes a lot of good information. So we really encourage you to visit us, look at the resources, contact us, there’s a contact us page, if there’s something we’re missing and we should add, and share the word with your friends, family and networks.
Chris: Great. Very informative, and very useful to a lot of people. Katie, thanks for being here. Really appreciate it.
Katie: Thank you. My pleasure.
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Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is made possible by a sponsorship from Dennis and Nicole Malinis. They sponsor the Penny Forward podcast because they believe in Penny Forward’s mission; to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. Thank you, Dennis and Nicole, for your generous contribution to sponsor the podcast.
Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee at
and transcription services are provided by Anne Verduin.
Liz: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Visit
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Chris: For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: Have a great week.