Get Off My Case: People with Disabilities and the “Charity Case” Mentality

Hello, readers,

I’m back on the blogosphere after about a week of nonstop traveling, first to a writer’s conference (my first; how fun!) and to visit an ill relative (pancreatic cancer; if my praying readers are so inclined, please add her to your list). But even when I’m traveling, I’m on the lookout for new post ideas, and today, I have one.

While I was at my conference, I stopped to eat at a restaurant that specialized in two things. One: strawberry snickerdoodles. No, I didn’t try one because I’m very judicious about when I eat sweets, and that wasn’t a dessert day. But they looked so cute–pink cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar–that I almost cheated.

Two: those strawberry snickerdoodles were connected to a charity (which I will not name due to the possibility of causing offense) that helps people with disabilities (they had a little advertisement on one of those flip-able “menus” you see on some restaurant tables). Now, usually, I’m very interested in, and a proponent of, charities in general, as long as I know they use their funds appropriately and don’t promise things they can’t or won’t deliver (i.e., those televangelist rackets on TV that promise your every problem will fly away on gossamer wings if you send them $22.95). So I stopped my waitress and asked what this particular charity did to help PWDs. She explained that the charity “places” PWDs in jobs.

Wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, I asked, “Oh, you mean the person tells the charity’s workers where they’d like to be employed and they help them find that sort of employment?” No, I was told. The PWD takes an assessment–singular–and then is placed in a job that that one assessment deems appropriate.

As with many things involving people with disabilities and the hoops they have to jump through in the “system,” I can understand this, to a point. There are many, many PWDs out there who need and want gainful employment. Career and aptitude tests can be and often are extremely useful to anyone seeking said employment, not just a PWD. And not every person with a disability can be, or wants to be, a professor, technical engineer, etc. Besides which, I’m sure the workers of this charity are kind, well-meaning people who want PWDs to have good employment experiences.

Having said that: there’s something fishy about this charity in my opinion (to which you can donate by buying a two-dollar bag of those cookies; one dollar of that goes directly to the charity). I am not for one minute suggesting that this charity dumps PWDs into horrible working conditions and menial work with an arbitrary attitude. But let’s look at what’s really going on here. A single assessment is being used to wholly determine where a person with a disability ought to work. When experts do that to people without disabilities–say, kids in school who are made to take a standardized, one-size-fits-all career test–the parents and teachers start shrieking, and well they should. As for adults: sure, you took an aptitude test at some point–maybe more than one. But was that the deciding factor in where you worked, doing what, and for how long? Probably not. So, again: if it’s not acceptable for “the rest of us,” why is it acceptable for PWDs? Maybe because it’s easy? Cost-effective? And because it looks kind and charitable?

And now we come to the other problem with this whole setup. If you look at this charity from face value, you might ask yourself: wait a minute. Whether or not a person with a disability gets a job has been left up to a charity? An organization whose job it is, basically, to help “the poor,” “the disadvantaged,” “the downtrodden?” Nobody likes those labels–so again, why are they “good enough” for PWDs? And yes–believe me, I understand that some people may need charitable help to find employment. Unfortunately, it happens every day, to people with and without disabilities, from all walks of life. But outside of that, why are we, again, leaving the employment, and effectively, the futures, of PWDs to organizations, experts, and in essence, anybody but THEM? Yes, maybe a person with Fragile X can’t go to Harvard. And maybe he or she would find fulfillment doing something the temporarily able-bodied population would consider menial. But if that person wants to work with animals, or learn cosmetology at some level, why stick them in food service? Would you like it if someone did that to you–and then made you feel like a charity case on top of that? I think not.

Again, charities are wonderful things, most of the time. And I’m glad we have them. But charitable work should not come at the expense of any person’s choices, or dignity (PWDs are the only minority group that I know of, that is consistently painted as needing constant charity and help from organizations and powers that be). I say, this should not be. If a person with a disability needs or wants charitable help? Fine–but think VERY carefully about the kind of help it is, and what it’s delivering. And otherwise? Please, get off their case–because they’re people, not cases.

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