If you’ve been with us for any length of time, you know we talk a lot about phenomena and people who are harmful to people with disabilities. You know the usual lineup:
-“Experts” with criminally low expectations
-Media representatives who use PWDs for their own gain
-“Disabled only” phenomena that segregate rather than creating realistic opportunities for life experiences
-The general unwillingness to think beyond the usual and to admit “conventional wisdom” regarding disabilities often does not work
But did you know there is another harmful group of people out there? It’s the people who fake or claim disabilities and reap benefits that they don’t need, thus taking benefits and modifications away from people who have legit disabilities.
Now, before we go any further, I want to clear up who I am not talking about. I am not talking about:
-Obese individuals. Their weight is often disabling, if not a classical disability, and gastric bypass will not “fix” it. I’ve seen some of the complications of gastric bypass and they are nothing to sneeze at.
-Individuals with temporary disabilities from work-related and other injuries
-People with psychiatric conditions who do not have visible “classical” disabilities but do struggle to function in the typical world and should be able to access help to improve that–even if the improvements are incremental or slow in coming.
-People with mild disabilities/invisible ones. Been there, people. Done that. Felt like a government leech. Don’t even go there with me.
So who am I talking about? I am talking about the people who take unfair advantage of disability-related benefits, monetary and otherwise, after they actually need them. This is the person who injured his back at work 6 months ago and got a clean bill of health from the doctor, but continues to claim disability because he decided hey, I hate my job. He now siphons disability benefits while down the street, neighbors struggle to provide for a grown child with severe cognitive disabilities.
I’m talking about the person who prefers to live on welfare when he or she can work and who claims “there are no jobs,” or acts like he or she is too good for a menial position or entry-level work. He or she makes up a disability and draws benefits that are twice as much as what his or her neighbor with multiple sclerosis receives.
Or how about the person who goes to work or school, claims he or she needs modifications, never does the proper paperwork, and files a false EEOC claim or other lawsuit? Meanwhile, someone who has been discriminated against due to a real disability gets his or her claim thrown out, inspiring news outlets to report that “claims of disability discrimination are down.” I wonder how true that is–as in, is it true only because PWDs cannot or will not speak up for themselves?
How about the student whose parents insist on modifications when a disability has not been diagnosed or proven, or the young adult who insists on inappropriate modifications (i.e., a student with CP who reads and writes on an average-to-gifted level, but insists on having tests prompts read to her and scribed for her just so she won’t have to put forth the effort)?
Yes, this does happen. And yes, because every person and every disability is different, it can be difficult to figure out who needs what and when or where. But most people who are trying to take advantage of the system will eventually give themselves away, and I’m sending out a message to them now: stop it. I mean it: STOP NOW. Because of your behavior, people with legit disabilities must fight even harder to get the help to which they are entitled. For example, in my hometown, PWDs will soon be required to use “regular buses with wheelchair lifts” rather than paratransit. Now, you guys know I’m not a huge fan of paratransit, but some people do need it and should not have it taken from them. Yet, because “paratransit costs money” (and by the way, I’m also sick of that excuse), and because it’s not always easy to tell who needs it, that is what will happen. PWDs will also be required to fill out paperwork to “prove” they are disabled.
To quote Willis Jackson: Say what?
Okay, I get it. Our world isn’t perfect. Paperwork is part of that fallout. But seriously, don’t PWDs have enough to deal with, without constantly proving their disabilities to the rest of us? Let me get a little personal: I say yes, because I have to do it all the time. I went through long evaluations to “prove” I needed modifications in college. I let SSI quiz me every year about things that are none of their business, just so I can get paid pocket change. It reminds me I am different. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and it makes me feel like the one thing I spend the rest of my life telling myself I am not. It makes me feel like less.
So, to those who are tempted to fake disabilities: rethink that. We are real. We have needs and wants and one of those is to be seen as equal to you. But that won’t happen if we don’t have the modifications that level the playing field. And THAT won’t happen if modifications are scrutinized or taken away from us because you abuse the system.
To those who have real disabilities: Persevere. Just because a few people abuse the system, it doesn’t mean you should be lumped into their group. Keep pushing for what you need, with help where necessary. Let those around you know, you are real, you are worthy, and you’re not going anywhere.
*Note: High-functioning post still in the works; coming soon.