It would be easy to write about the overwelming statistics about poverty and people with disabilities from simply the point of view of the massive un (and under) employment of people with disabilities. Every time I go to see a new specialist or have to fill out another form for another service the question of 'work' is approached from the assumption that I don't. At first I was annoyed at the presumption of unemployment but as I began to inform myself, I discovered that the vast majority of people with disabilities are in a perpetual state of dependance due to lack or work, lack of employers willing to adapt, lack of vision from the captains of industry.
Poverty comes in many forms. People with disabilities become quickly familiar with the poverty of opportunities. This is something that struck me from the moment I sat down in a wheelchair. The world was not designed for me, things were out of reach, things were up a step, it's hard to climb the ladder of success in a wheelchair. Though I already had a career, already experienced success, it would be foolish to pretend that my new status as a disabled person did not affect my income. Of course it did. I lecture. Many people do not want lecturers that sit, lecturers that require a ramp to a podium ... and I work in the field of disability. I end up, angry at my self, for feeling grateful for those who still hire me, for the audiences that still come, for the income I still generate.
Poverty wears many faces. The poverty of creativity is astonishing in a society that can photoshop beauty. Disability seems to stop people from thinking, it seems to be an end in itself. "Oh, you're disabled, poor thing, must be dreary sitting home alone pining for a real life." A stereotype of wan creatures wasting away fills the minds of many when they hear of disability. That stereotype leaves little room for thinking about adaptions and options, flexibility and creativity aren't considered in a search for solutions. We can see someone in a spacesuit floating outside a ship and imagine the view - yet we cannot imagine the view from a wheelchair. It took twenty minutes and willing to adapt my office to suit my needs as a wheelchair user. Most places have the twenty minutes, it's the willing that really matters.
Poverty has many guises. The poverty of empathy is crushing. People say, 'I understand' but they don't. People say, 'I get it' but they don't. People say, 'I'm with you' but they aren't. Outside a store, unable to get in because the aisles are crammed full, a clerk says, 'I understand this must be frustrating.' Really? REALLY? If there were understanding, a bit of empathy, then instead of wringing hands, there'd be a clear aisle. I think, perhaps the poverty of empathy comes from the constant expectations of gratitude. I'm supposed to be grateful for what little we've been given, don't ask for more, just stay calm and smiling - that's the way we are best seen. Tiny Tim succeeded by pulling pity from a hard heart - that's a road that many of us refuse to travel ever, ever, ever again.
Today bloggers all over the world are writing about poverty in a massive social action. When Susan Ludwig wrote me and sent me the link, I wasn't going to participate. I'd been struggling all week because of a mishap with my wheelchair, with the swift onset of inability because of that mishap. But then I realized that I'd become impoverished - not because of my disability - but because of the callous action of others. I realized that I'd been made poorer, not because of my disability, but because of the heartlessness of others. I realized that I had something to say about poverty.
Said simply, 'Poverty sucks ... do something about it.'