Scroll through more than 25 years of change that matters.
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Our Story


HDA Founded

The organization that became Health & Disability Advocates grew out of the “Chicagoland SSI Coalition,” one of 17 created as a part of the national “SSI Appeal to Conscience” campaign.


Congressional attacks on SSI and SSDI

Congressional attacks begin on SSI and SSDI for people with substance use disorders. This would become one of the first populations for whom HDA would advocate.


Attacks on Illinois Medicaid

HDA advocated to preserve access to Illinois’ Medicaid General Assistance population.



The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, portrayed as a major welfare reform, eliminated eligibility for SSI for millions of noncitizens, including legal permanent residents and refugees. The PRWOA also eliminated substance abuse as a category of eligibility for Social Security income programs. HDA trained hundreds of providers about the new rules and worked with immigrant advocates locally and nationally to change noncitizen provisions.

Regional Work Incentives Work Group

The group worked to educate policymakers and employment providers in five Midwestern states on the need to increase opportunities of persons with disabilities.

Shvartsman v. Apfel

HDA partnered with the Shriver Center on a class action law suit to reinstate eligibility for food stamps and income supports for noncitizens that were eliminated under the PRWOA. HDA’s client, Sarra Shvartsman, a 78 year old Russian refugee, was the named plaintiff.


45,000 disabled children win review

Social Security Administration announced it would review the cases of thousands of disabled children across the country who had lost SSI.


Work Incentives Support Center

HDA receives funding to provide technical support and training for community-based providers on Social Security Work Incentives programs.

Medicaid Leadership Group

HDA led this Illinois advocacy organization, which brought together health care providers, consumers, and advocacy on state budget and federal issues.

The 100% Campaign

Coordinated by HDA, the campaign increase Medicaid income eligibility in Illinois from 42% of the federal poverty level to 100%, giving access to 200,000 low-income individuals.

Without a Net

The first published study attempting to track the impact of the cuts in SSI and SSDI on the people whose primary disability was substance addiction, this research created a basis for HDA’s advocacy.


Pre-Pay Spend-Down

HDA worked with the Department of Public Aid and Illinois legislators to create a “pre-pay” spend down which would allow IL residents to spend their income on medical costs down to Medicaid income eligibility level.

Ticket to Work

HDA played a role in development, passage and implementation of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, the most significant disability employment law since the ADA, designed to help people receiving disability benefits from Social Security to find good jobs and achieve self-supporting futures.


Technical Assistance on TWWIIA

As a contractor to the Social Security Administration, HDA held regional meetings in all 10 federal regions to provide share its expertise on the Ticket to Work legislation.



The National Consortium for Health Systems Development was a state-tailored partnership providing technical assistance for Medicaid Infrastructure Grant projects to develop comprehensive health and employment service systems for people with disabilities who want to work. It served people with disabilities, providers, state agencies, research institutes, advocates, and businesses through 2013.


Technical Consulting Agency

HDA team members served as technical trainers for Cornell University and Virginia Commonwealth University on Social Security Work Incentives programs for community-based organizations across the country.


Medical Assistance Action Plan

HDA researched and developed “the MAP,” an outline of Illinois medical programs with a blueprint for action.


Make Medicare Work Coalition

HDA co-founded, with AgeOptions and Progress Center for Independent Living. The MMW collaboration continues to promote access to affordable health care options in Illinois.

Memisovski v. Maram

In this federal class action lawsuit on behalf of some 600,000 Cook County children receiving Medicaid, HDA used the state’s own data to show the low level of care and demonstrated via analysis of reimbursement rates how the state discouraged doctors from serving this class. The case led to improved ways of delivering health care services.


All Kids

A state-run program in Illinois that grew out of Memisovski, it provides comprehensive healthcare benefits for children in lower-income households - the first state plan to hold forth the promise of universal health care coverage for children.

Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children

One of the first such partnerships, and now a national model, it works with Chicago’s leading children’s hospitals and clinics to provide free legal assistance to vulnerable families and children so they can access public benefits and education. The team trains and supports doctors, medical residents, nurses, and social workers to identify and resolve issues.


Save Our Security

A coalition of 110 national, state, and local organizations, the “SOS” cautioned that changes would have significant costs and would weaken the financial foundation of the Social Security system. The issue had to do with people who reached age 62 in 1979 or later, known as the “notch group.”

Think Beyond The Label

HDA spearheaded this $11 million national media campaign on disability and employment involving more than 30 states, which challenged the traditional understanding of professional capability.

Affordable Care Act

HDA helped states interpret, adapt, and apply opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities presented by health care reform in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.


HDA led advocacy against the “Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together” bill, demonstrating how the cuts to Medicaid would negative impact beneficiaries, especially due to elimination of the Illinois Cares Rx program. Despite opposition, the bill passed in 2012.

Connections for Families of the Fallen

HDA created ICFF, an innovative outreach effort that connects families through events, workshops, and peer support to help them begin to find a new normal after a catastrophic loss.


Institute on Rehabilitation Issues

HDA worked with the partnership of the U.S. Department of Education, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, and George Washington University to develop publications for use in training and technical assistance for vocational rehabilitation.

Our Family Security

HDA created this hub of information and stories from the perspectives of real people who have a family member that receives benefits, to show that Social Security is not a costly program for “other people” but rather a vital resource in maintaining economic well-being of ordinary American families.

Illinois Health Matters

IHM provides detailed information on what health reform and health access mean for the people of Illinois. A forerunner to the state’s Get Covered Illinois marketplace, IHM serves as a thought leader to advocate for improvements to health care system in Illinois.

Visualizing Health Care Reform

This data-mapping project illustrated the potential impact of the ACA on uninsured Illinoisans, and inaugurated the practice of posting data presentations related to heath insurance and health reform in Illinois, now available at Data Matters.


Illinois Joining Forces

HDA provides training, consultation, and technical assistance to this public-private network of military and Veteran-serving organizations working improve services for Service Members, Veterans and their families.

Illinois Warrior to Warrior

This HDA program trains volunteer veterans in communication skills and community resources to help peers bridge the gaps between military service and civilian life.

Military Sexual Trauma

HDA started training and outreach effort to bring the issue of “MST” - or the rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment of military Service Members - to the forefront and to improve the supports available to survivors.


ACA Training

HDA created a curriculum of training and technical assistance for navigators and assisters in Illinois, so that when the Obamacare marketplace opened in 2013, resources were there to help people get covered.


Small Business Health Collaborative

HDA partnered with the Campaign for Better Healthcare and the Small Business Majority to disseminate information on the ACA’s Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, to Illinois small businesses, and to survey their health insurance needs and concerns.


Healthy Chicago Hospital Collaborative

Co-convened with the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Collaborative strives to promote collective impact on population health and related social determinants of health.

Toolkit for VR Counselors

HDA helped revise the Institute on Rehabilitation Issues’ to help counselors better understand how the ACA may affect their clients and how the changes in our health care system can provide additional opportunities to eliminate barriers to employment for people and businesses.


Advisor to NCSL and CSG

HDA served as technical experts on disability employment for National Conference of State Legislatures and Council of State Governments.


Patient Empowerment

This first-of-its-kind stakeholder training project for people with traumatic spinal cord injuries aims to prepare them to play active roles in SCI research. »

Under the guidance of an expert panel of researchers, clinicians, caregivers, and advocates, we will develop and implement a curriculum to train a cohort of patients with traumatic SCI to become “research ready. During 2016, we recruited the cohort of stakeholders to take part in the project. During 2017, we will teach them how to use their own experiences to improve future studies. We want them to gain the skills and confidence needed to work together with researchers to explore information about disability. Visit project mini-site