SNA President Janet Lowder Wins NAELA Powley Award

Three Decades of Special Needs Advocacy Recognized

Special Needs Alliance President Janet L. Lowder, a partner with Hickman & Lowder Co., L.P.A., Cleveland, Ohio, has been recognized with the 2012 NAELA Powley Award. Each year the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys honors a member for leadership in “promoting a greater understanding of the rights and needs of elders and persons with special needs.”

Lowder has been a special needs activist for nearly 30 years, battling to change restrictive laws and to reshape the developmental disability system so that individuals with special needs can lead self-directed lives within the community. “I am deeply moved by the honor that NAELA has bestowed upon me,” she says. “I’ve committed my professional life to serving vulnerable populations and having that work recognized is very fulfilling.”

In the early nineties, prior to passage of federal legislation (OBRA-93) providing the basis for asset-protecting special needs trusts, Lowder was instrumental in creating one of the nation’s first pooled third party trusts for individuals with disabilities.

“In my law practice, I was representing widowed women of limited means, who had adult children with disabilities. Many of them had no family members to whom they could entrust caregiving and financial decision-making when they passed away. Their assets were insufficient to attract the services of corporate trustees and they didn’t know where to turn. I wanted to find a solution for them.” The result was creation of the Community Fund Management Foundation, which currently manages a pooled special needs trust serving nearly 1800 individuals with disabilities.

Her work with the bioethics committee of Hattie Larlham, a nonprofit serving individuals with profound developmental disabilities, has been a “life changing” experience for her. “I’ve been called upon to assist in making major decisions for people with no family to advocate for them. It’s a huge and humbling responsibility. No one should assume that they understand another person’s perception of their own quality of life.”

Lowder, who is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation, also speaks passionately about elderly clients she’s gone to bat for. “One 90-year-old woman was about to be displaced from the long-term care facility she considered home. She’d been hospitalized and subsequently required dialysis. Since the facility didn’t like Medicaid’s reimbursement rate, they wanted to get rid of her. We fought them in federal court.” Friends greeted the woman with welcome home signs to celebrate successful conclusion of the case.

Another case involved about a dozen seniors about to be displaced when a long-term care facility tried to close its ventilator unit in response to Medicaid cuts. “They’d have had to move 60 miles away,” explains Lowder, “so we filed an injunction and they were able to stay.”

Having built an unusual law firm that serves elders, adults with disabilities and children with special needs, Lowder has published widely on such topics as trusts and financial planning, community-based living and workplace rights.

“The opportunities for individuals with disabilities have improved dramatically since I first became involved with the special needs community,” she observes. “We’ve seen de-institutionalization, establishment of the right to special education, and laws barring employment discrimination. Much remains to be done, but the world has changed in important ways.”

Since being established in 2000, the Powley Award has been bestowed on a number of SNA members:

  • 2003 – Mary Alice Jackson, Esq.
  • 2004 – Doris Hawks, Esq.
  • 2007 – Steve Dale, Esq.
  • 2008 – Martha Brown, CELA