Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the ways of poverty (Blog Action Day)

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.'


Anonymous said...

The "constant expectations of gratitude". I work for a Community Living agency and one of my co-workers once said to me, "I love working with these people because they are always so grateful for every little thing". I couldn't believe that was something she liked about the job! I said to her, do you think they should be? Aren't they paying us to do these things, should they be grateful to us for doing what we are being paid to do? What they should be minimally expecting us to do?
Needless to say, we never did get along, her and I.
Oh well.


gracie1956 said...

I am one of those people who is unable to work because of my disability. I did however work for thirty years as a nurse and during that time I paid taxes and was a single mom taking care of a handicapped daughter. Someone told me the other day that I was sure lucky to have social security and medicare. I live well below the poverty line, I am unable to even pay for things like dental care for my daughter and I am LUCKY??? You are right...they don't get it, and furthermore I don't think they want to get it. I'm tired of being grateful for things that should be rights.

Glee said...

Often people say "I paid taxes" (before they became disabled) as tho that gives them more right to support than those who thru no fault of their own have never paid taxes. One should be entitled to support regardless of one's ability to "contribute".

I, CAM like you get really annoyed when people expect me to be grateful. I think they can get stuffed. If they are being paid then grateful shouldn't enter into it. Are abloids expected to be "grateful" to their car mechanic or their supermarket checkout person. No.

And if they expect me to be grateful beyond an appreciative "thank you" if they are giving me (unpaid) help then they can just rack off and stick their help where the sun don't shine!!!

cheers from sunny Adelaide at 6.07 pm.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,
Thank you for writing so eloquently about poverty and disability. I particularly appreciated your comment about poverty of opportunity. I believe that true poverty has to do with the diminishing of choices - and the way we care about people whose choices are limited says a lot about who we are as individuals and as a society.
I'm surprised that so few of your loyal and enthusiastic readers have responded in kind to your poignant words!
Best Regards for the trip home from your journey - and here's to the return of your "wheelchair liberated" life! (that is - with new foot rests!)
Susan Ludwig

gracie1956 said...

I did not mean to put anyone down or discount anyones right to support whether they have paid taxes or not. My daughter has been disabled since birth and she certainly deserves support in all the areas of her life where support is needed.
I am pretty good at putting my foot in my mouth (although I could never really get my foot that high LOL) so please accept my apology for my blunder.

Ettina said...

I can literally put my foot in my mouth.