Heather’s Story

Breaking through barriers

“The value of my career to my life is everything.”

Heather Tomko is inspired, motivated and determined. A 29-year-old research assistant in health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh, she is also working toward her master’s degree in public health.

Heather lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease that causes Heather’s muscles to be very weak. “I need help with basically all of my daily activities of living,” Heather explained. But she has never allowed her SMA become a barrier to her success.

She hopes to integrate her passion for disability advocacy with public health. However, as she continues her education, she knows she can only take her career so far due to restrictions of Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD), a program that working people with disabilities can pay into to receive assistance.

“I can’t go to my job without this supportive care. I can’t get ready in the morning without it. I can’t go to bed at night without it,” Heather said.

MAWD currently limits the earning potential for people with disabilities, capping them at a salary of no more than $62,000 annually. If Heather were faced with the decision of accepting a promotion or position over keeping her care, she would be forced to turn down the job.

“It makes me feel like society is not built for me. It’s one more hoop to go through,” Heather shared. “I can’t imagine not working.”

Working gives Heather independence and confidence. She is making important contributions. As she continues her education and career, Heather is working hard to eliminate the stigma of disabilities. “Small, little actions lead to larger mindset changes.”

You can join Heather in asking our legislators to #LifttheLimit of MAWD by signing United Way’s petition at www.liftthelimit.org.