Saturday, April 16, 2016

Disability, Death and Candy

Image description: A candy jar full of candies, including one gummy bear, drawn by Ruby and Sadie
November 22, 2011
published on

Reprinted here by special request:

In my hotel room in London, I turn on the evening news. Another story about the financial crisis that overshadows Europe. A news anchor furrows his brow and asks another hard-hitting question regarding disability benefits, the Britons who abuse them, and the austerity measures.

An expert talks about abuse within the system, about how the government needs to ensure that benefits are paid out as necessary but that those who habitually abuse the system need to be strongly encouraged to become “productive.”

They speak with gravity, as if the whole financial crisis has been caused by those who fake disability, by those who “use” their disability to reach into taxpayers’ pockets and, of course, those with legitimate disabilities who have never contributed and who never will.

Everyone nods.

Focus is taken from the rich and powerful who grew rich and powerful through mismanagement and corruption. It’s easier to be angry at those “below” you than at those “above.”

This is true “trickle-down” economics. Hate trickles down. Prejudice trickles down. But worst of all, violence trickles down. And I feel it. I hear it. Especially, when it trickles on me.

I was pushing down a hallway, wheels fighting against thick carpet. A fellow in a suit came by, asked me, kindly, if I’d like some help, if could he push me. I said, “No, carpet is tough to push on, but it gives me a good workout.” He smiled back and said, “Well, it’s nice to meet one of you people that’s not simply lazy.”

I stopped and stared at him and he smiled back, thinking that he’d complimented me. That his remark had risen me up from the “lazy scum” who don’t work. I took offense at his compliment. He walked off, not having been challenged in his belief, but simply determining that I was the exception that proved the rule. It was my first hint that I’d somehow become one of “those people” … those people they talk about on television.

I am shopping in Tesco, looking for some candies to take back to the kids. Ruby, who’s five, love’s the idea that she’s eating candy that is from far away. Sadie, who’s two, doesn’t care where it’s from, if it’s sweet she likes it. So, I had just picked up some “sticky toffee pudding cookies” and put them in the bag at the back of my wheelchair, when I noticed that a young couple was watching me. With disgust on their faces.

At first I thought it was because people don’t like seeing fat people buy cookies or candies, but then, I got the feeling that they had classified me as a “useless” cripple using benefit money to buy something frivolous. I suddenly wanted to explain about the kids, about the fact that I’m a working man, about the fact that I “contribute.” But, didn’t. It would have played into the idea, once again, that I’m somehow a special kind of cripple.

Bar conversations are iffy at best. But, I’d fallen into conversation with a couple and we were talking about a variety of issues. I illustrated a point I was making by referring to a television commercial that’s playing here in England about child abuse. In it a diversity of children are presented — of course, as usual, diversity did not mean disability.

Even though children with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than other children, none were represented in the commercial.

“Well, of course, not,” said the young man, “because you can understand why a parent would want to hit a disabled child.”

I was stunned.

He continued, “You raise normal kids, you feed disabled ones.”

I said, “Seriously, you are seriously saying this to me?”

I thought maybe he was just trying to wind me up, but a couple seconds more of chat, and it was clear, they’d received the message that disabled people are simply “useless eaters” – echoes of a different time are still chilling.

I know that people with disabilities have been consistently devalued by society, but for the first time I feel like we are also being “costed.” Suddenly I remember those old math and morals questions – the ones that went like this: if there are three people in a boat, a young woman, a small child and a disabled man, and there is only enough food for two, who would you throw out? Suddenly I realize how close I am to the side of the boat, and how rough the sea.

It’s six o’clock.

I can’t watch the news anymore. I’m afraid that, again, I will learn that the whole of Europe’s banking system is about to collapse because people with disabilities eat candy.


Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

With the pittance they 'grant' people with disabilities, and the pittance they pay people who take care of people with disabilities? And old people? And children?

What are we going to do? Get more oxygen if they give us more money?

I PAID for disability insurance, into a system that ended up with me as one of the recipients. My husband works. My children work. I worked as long as I could.

And now I'm writing novels, still hoping to sell enough to pay into the tax system. Using my extremely limited energy NOT to sit around, but to WORK as much as I can.

And I know disabled people who would love to be able to work - at anything. And disabled people who try to be cheerful so they don't upset able-bodied people unnecessarily.

What more do they want from me?

They've already got a full-time working person in you, Dave, when you could be sitting at home, enjoying your 'free money.'

I'm really tired of this lately; this post did not come on a good day: I've just had to fight the insurance company because the generic for the drub that keeps pain at a dull roar DOESN'T work.

Unfortunately, the people who need to read your column every day don't know you exist - and are scared to death to read about disability. Because, you know, if they never read about it, it can't touch them. If they have enough disgust, it won't ever touch them. Or anyone they love.

Those people are emotionally damaged - and they don't even know it.

Moose said...

There's this perpetual myth, in the US, that to get "on government disability," all you need to do is have your doctor send in a letter that says "Yes, this person is disabled." If your doctor does this, you are suddenly covered in that piles magical government money.

I try to correct this myth. I try to explain how complicated it is just to apply. I explain how less than 30% of applicants get accepted without appeals. How people who have clear and obvious disabilities have been turned down on their first try. How a single letter is useless without additional information. How if the applicant has a doctor who is faking tests and other documentation needed, the problem is far, far bigger than any fraud in the disability system. I explain how little money you get; how, if you're on SSDI, you may get Medicare, but that Medicare is simply awful (every time a politician says "We need a country-wide health program like Medicare," I scream NOOOooooo!), and that all the tales of old people having to decide between medicine or food is just as true for the disabled.

They smile, they nod, they say things like, "But I'm not talking about YOU, moose. I'm talking about all those others. The fakers."

And off they go again, telling the world how the federal disability programs are a waste of tax dollars (even though I paid into the system like every other tax payer) and full of cheaters who are making piles of money off of the system.

Thing is, you just KNOW that if any of these people became disabled, SSDI/SSI would suddenly go from "an entitlement program for cheaters" to something necessary.

Frank_V said...

I'm so "lazy" I decided it was too much effort to continue growing. And that's why I'm only 4 feet 6 inches tall. Yeah, right!