People with mental, physical and developmental disabilities make up 18% of the American population. That is a larger group than many ethnic, religious and sexual minorities with far more influence and advocacy than the disabled have. Perhaps far worse than a lack of advocacy is the fact that only 16% of people with disabilities graduate from college in this country, and only 30% have jobs. The government spends millions and millions of dollars supporting people with disabilities, meaning that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are taxed to their limits. Why aren’t Americans with disabilities expected to get off of their couches and be productive members of society like the rest of the American populace? If any other group received so many benefits while doing so little, there would be an uproar. Instead, people are too afraid to realistically look at why so much money is wasted. As an American taxpayer who has worked a paying job and who has spent money paying for services for people with disabilities, and who feels that every person receiving society’s support ought to be contributing to it as much as they can, I am outraged.
At this point, you may think that I’m almost a fascist, attacking policies that help people with disabilities. It may interest you to learn that I have never stood up or walked a single step in my life. My wheelchair means that I have received (truly needed) money from the government so that I can do such basic things as live in a home, go to school, have a motor vehicle and hold a job.
What angers me is not that the government pays for necessary services for people with disabilities, or even that some people with disabilities can’t work. I know that.
I spent last week at the National Council on Disability’s State of Disability event, listening to speakers from the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies discuss ways to fix the government’s disability support services. What did we decide?
Tiny Tim must die.
The attitude that people with disabilities are unfortunate, marginalized people who need to be propped up by society is killing us. We are second-class citizens. Just as Tiny Tim went to church Christmas Eve to make people feel “grateful” for not having a disability, Americans with disabilities now get to go to work (rarely) to make companies feel good about “employing” those with impairments. As one of our speakers (most of whom have disabilities) bluntly put it, employment needs to be an expectation, not a nice idea. Also, there needs to be opportunity to work somewhere other than McDonald’s for the next twenty years.
Amazingly, the government is fostering institutions that are barriers to people with disabilities working. If you become employed and you have a disability, you have a good chance of losing medical and Social Security benefits. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that a millionaire should receive government funding for a wooden ramp, but it is entirely ridiculous that an office manager at Staples can’t get government money to buy a $28,000 (not exaggerated, by the way) wheelchair. It is even worse that someone who could be working, but chooses not to, can receive the money instead. Shouldn’t the government be working to make people employees and taxpayers, rather than wards of the state and non-workers?
We need a system that rewards work, and helps those who truly cannot work. Yes, there are people who genuinely cannot be employed in any circumstance due to the level of their disabilities, and when you show me someone who cannot even serve as a greeter or teleworker, then I will show you someone who deserves full government benefits. They are in a slim minority, though. Otherwise, let’s fix the system. Let’s put up money that helps people with disabilities to work, not hinders them from doing so. Let’s put up money so that no American is expected to live on the couch. Let’s make dignity a federal program.
Let us live in the communities. Let us work paying jobs that we choose. Give us a role in supporting society, just as society aids us when we need it. Stop government handouts that erode a sense of personal responsibility, prevent employment and hinder the chance to live comfortably. Support programs that help workers, including those with disabilities. We need to know that, if we do manage to become employed and start paying higher income taxes, we won’t be penalized.
Give us our chance at the American dream. We’ve had enough of sitting around and letting Scrooge pay for us to do nothing.