Reading them, I am engulfed in a fury that exhausts me. Where do you start? Do you dismantle point-by-point? Do you indulge yourself venting spleen? Do you cry?
Usually I just shake it off, put a smile on my face, and get back to work … “good morning you loser piece of dung, good-for-nothing, fraudulent drain on society … how may I help you? Yes, yes, I’m the money-grubbing attorney you’ve been reading about in the news! Let’s get to work!”
Sometimes I can’t finish an article, even a short one, in one sitting because it’s so full of misinformation and mischaracterizations, and stereotypes – of disabled people, of the attorneys who help them, and of the Social Security workers and Administrative Law Judges who are tasked with trying to figure out if claimants meet Social Security’s legal definition of “disability.”
Reading these articles I just want to … I don’t know what … … blog? Throw Mason jars at a concrete wall in my basement? (These can be purchased for almost nothing at garage sales. But … wear goggles.)
It appears members of the press breeze in for a short bit, upchuck a thousand unconsidered words, and congratulate themselves for really getting the nuances of disabled peoples’ lives, the complicated Social Security disability programs, and the complexities of how society – including families – are affected by people who are too sick or injured to provide for themselves financially.
It is clear that journalists who write about Social Security’s disability programs do so without actually reading any of the statute, the regulations, not even the manageably-short decisions written by Social Security judges – most of which are under fifteen pages. They’re like savants … they just know … without doing any of the hard work.
Oh … was that a stereotypic description of the press as incompetent know-nothings who fail to do their jobs adequately and don’t bat an eyelash at leaving an enormous amount of hardship for vulnerable people in their wake? Yes. You’re right. I’m sorry. That must be rough. Here, let me fix it: I once read an article written by a decent journalist who did some actual work. There. Both sides of the story. Fair and balanced. Better? If not, console yourself with the fact that you have a place to sleep tonight – unlike a lot of the disabled people about whom you write.
I’ve been representing disabled people for fourteen years – and before that I was a sign language interpreter for eight – so my brain doesn’t even have the capacity to conjure up a stereotype of ‘disabled person.’ I have known literally hundreds of disabled people. When I read the stereotypes, it is made to seem so tidy and simple. But it’s not. There is not a simple mold … disabled people are just like … people. Complex and varied.
The problem with doing battle on the turf laid by the rampant shoddy journalism which so offhandedly calls down from central casting a stereotype of a deadbeat, loser, good-for-nothing, fraudulent drain on society, and calls him “disabled” or calls him “entitled” – their stereotype is largely an indefensible person – a straw man. And, that’s the battleground upon which we fight. That’s the frame.
There we are – trying to have a conversation where the folks who have little information other than what they read in the press have it all figured out. And the folks who do know a great deal about the complexities of the world of disabled people, and their families, and the Social Security Administration’s massively valuable programs, and how efficiently they are run … sputter in utter frustration … and get back to work.
Flimsy journalism runs the table. But the issues are too important to allow that.