What is ASPIE?
ASPIE is a nonprofit organization that empowers adults with cognitive disabilities to become more self-sufficient. We provide special-needs artists with a virtual gallery to display their work, which includes premium quality paintings, jewelry, woodwork, photography and other forms of art and craft. The donations to this site provide these artists with sustainable supplemental earnings that do not interfere with their government benefits.
ASPIE artists are disabled adults who have talent and skills and medium- to high-functioning capabilities, yet cannot operate well within a typical work environment. We create and arrange affordable, secure and appropriate housing for those who can be more independent and give them a means to participate in their own financial support. The ASPIE gallery is free to our artists and they receive at least 80 percent of every donation. The result is an increased level of independence in a society where social services are shrinking and mainstream job opportunities are very limited.
How it works
ASPIE artists create. They paint, make photos, work with wood and produce a variety of different art. Their pieces are then displayed on the ASPIE gallery, where supporters can make a donation and receive a piece of artwork in return.
This empowers our artists, gives them a sense of well being and helps them thrive. It also presents a scalable, market-driven solution for a population of disabled adults that is growing.
ASPIE offers unique art to the public, and a portion of every donation is tax deductible. More important, promotion of the art in the ASPIE gallery helps educate people about the capabilities of adults with cognitive disabilities, even if they do not choose to donate.
A gap exists in support services for adults with cognitive disabilities. Services for youth have increased in recent years, but basic services to enable income and housing for adults is lacking.
Our founder, Jerry Buckwalter and his wife Jean, saw the need through their son Jesse, an adult with Asperger Syndrome, a condition on the high functioning end of the Autistic spectrum. Jesse struggled to master the life and work skills necessary for traditional employment. But his parents realized he had skills in photography and composing photos to create just the look he wanted. Jesse would perseverate on a topic or idea as many autistic people do, with no concept of the passage of time. He would study a photographic subject and patiently take dozens—sometimes hundreds—of pictures until he achieved the right composition.
His parents thought he was a good photographer, as all parents would, but began to realize it might be more than that when he won several public art contests. Then one day, when Dad picked up his son’s photograph from the framer, he was told that several art collectors offered hundreds of dollars to buy the piece. That framed photograph now hangs proudly in their home.
The light bulb was turned on. Jerry and Jean embarked on a journey to find the best ways to supplement their son’s financial situation using his photographic talent. Their son was capable of living independently with some assistance, but his finances fell short. All traditional means to earn money were short lived, and only resulted in a reduction of government benefits. Just a little boost was all it would take. And that is how ASPIE was born.
Since then, ASPIE has been dedicated to creating a pathway to help adults with challenges achieve greater independence, providing a platform for supplemental earnings and help with housing options. ASPIE does the legwork for financial mechanisms, regulatory compliance, contractual arrangements and coordination of government services, creating a one-stop solution. Our goal is to address previously unmet needs, and be readily accessible, efficient and free of charge to those who need us.
Taking Advantage of Policy
One critical element needed to enable ASPIE’s work came in the form of a key legislative milestone. The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, more commonly called the ABLE Act. The legislation created a special type of savings account—called an ABLE account—that allowed adults with disabilities to receive supplemental income without losing government benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid.
ABLE accounts facilitate ASPIE’s model. A new tax-advantaged account under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, ABLE accounts meet the ongoing needs of adults with disabilities. They can be established on behalf of a disabled person, if the beneficiary’s disability began before age 26. Annual contributions are limited to the same amount as the gift tax exclusion for an individual ($14,000 in 2014) and the upper limit for lifetime contributions is the same as that for a 529 educational plan in the disabled person’s state of residence. Tax-free withdrawals can be made for “qualified disability expenses,” including education, housing, transportation, employment-related expenses, assistive technology and health care. The first $100,000 in an ABLE account is not counted as an asset for purposes of SSI eligibility. However, the beneficiary remains covered by Medicaid regardless of the account balance.
ASPIE is one of the first organizations to help artists with disabilities make better use of ABLE savings accounts, and we greatly appreciate those who made this policy a reality.
ASPIE follows an equal opportunity policy in its programs and services. ASPIE accepts clients without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, political affiliation, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status.