COLUMBUS — For parents of disabled children, there's no bigger worry than making sure your child will be cared for after you are gone.

Carol Akers, whose 34-year-old son Dusty is developmentally delayed after suffering a traumatic brain injury when he was shaken as a baby, thinks about it often.

Who will care for him? Where will he live? How will his expenses be paid?

"It's a huge worry," said Akers, who lives with her son on the North Side.

But planning for his future was problematic. People like Dusty, who receive government assistance such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income, cannot have more than $2,000 in assets or they lose benefits. That limit creates a disincentive for the individual, who may be working, and their families to save money.

 “We’ve always been told we can’t save any money even though I wanted to save for his future, I couldn’t do that,” Akers said.

A state-run program for people with disabilities allows them to get around that limit and save money without risking their benefits.

Ohio's STABLE account program is a tax-free investment fund that allows qualified individuals to save and invest up to $15,000 a year, with those who are employed allowed to contribute another $12,000, up to a total of $468,000.

Earnings grow tax-free and are exempt from federal taxes as long as funds are used for qualified expenses such as education, housing, transportation, health care and other living expenses.

State Treasurer Robert Sprague, whose office administers the program launched in 2016 by his predecessor Josh Mandel, said nearly 11,000 individuals from Ohio and elsewhere have opened accounts, making it the largest such program in the nation.

About 40 states offer similar programs, but Ohio's has a third of accounts nationwide.

Sprague is pushing to get more people enrolled. State officials estimate 200,000 Ohioans or more qualify. To make it more convenient to contribute, state employees are now able to set up automatic direct deposit from their paycheck into a STABLE account for themselves or a loved one.

"These kind of accounts empower people," said Matthew Damschroder, director of the Department of Administrative Services, which set up the direct deposit for state workers.

"Instead of living in fear that I can’t work in the community or my family can’t plan for my future, this empowers people to fully participate in the community without fear.”

Travis Dresbach, 39, of Circleville, was among the first to open an account.

"I’m getting my nest egg for the future," said Dresbach, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.

The part-time receptionist for the Pickaway County Board of Developmental Disabilities contributes part of his paycheck to a STABLE account and uses the money mostly for medical bills and prescriptions.

"I’m also in the process of paying for funeral expenses," Dresbach said. "That’s one less thing my parents will have to worry about in the future. I hate being a burden on other people.”

Akers opened an account for her son last year.

"His dad left a small insurance policy but it was just enough that it was over the Medicaid limit and it would have jeopardized his waiver, jeopardized his services," Akers said.

"He will always need someone to help him. I'm just trying to put the pieces in place so his sister doesn't have to worry about it."

Kevin Miller, director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, said his 20-year-old son, a Columbus State student with autism, started a STABLE account to which they both contribute.

“There is a somber kind of burden that parents of an individual with a disability have. When my son was diagnosed I was in my late 20s. You start to have conversations you never thought you’d have to have at 28 years old. The first is ‘Oh my God, what is he going to do when we’re gone?’” Miller said.

“I had to do a will and say who he should go to. You start thinking should I travel on the same airplane with my wife? You think about all kinds of weird stuff like that, like maybe we should all be on the airplane together. We all worry about our children but with us there is that extra burden and how do I pay for that. … STABLE helps give peace of mind and empowers people to have more options.”