If you want to avoid becoming “disabled” … legally disabled – be born with some wicked-awesome talent if you can, or develop mad skills, mad useful skills – singing is good, funny is good, be able consistently to throw a 100-mph fastball …. Last ditch option, get an education. The more letters you get behind your name, the better. Or be a successful entrepreneur.
You can have an awe …ful lot wrong with your body, and even your mind … make mistakes here and there … … give folks extraordinarily bad attitude … but if you’re skilled, you’re unlikely to be shown the door. Especially if you own the door. Even with your migraines, your flatulence, your bad attitude, and your gimpy-ole self, you’ll still be sitting at the grown ups table economically speaking if you had the foresight to get talented, skilled or educated.
That’s how it works.
If you didn’t manage to accomplish any of the above … the rules for you are different. You’re a dime a dozen, and if you step out of line – show up late, miss work for doctors’ appointments, can’t manage pieces of your job, have a bad attitude – you’re quickly and unceremoniously – replaced. Buh bye.
There is a relationship between skills and what employers will tolerate. So, highly talented, skilled or credentialed folks have a lot of leeway. Unskilled folks? Uh … no.
That’s why 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon has to put up with the insufferable Jenna Maroney, and the unprofessional Tracy Jordan – they’re the talent. That’s why Jack Donaghy can always have a drink in his hand – he’s the boss. And, it’s why the lowly Page, Kenneth Parcell‘s quirks are all about the ridiculously high service he provides – otherwise, buh bye sweet Kenneth.
In real life, bosses are not idiots. Okay fine your boss is an idiot … but most bosses are not, and most businesses are not. And they don’t readily accommodate unskilled or low-skilled workers who don’t just keep their heads down and produce … consistently – keeping pace, and not causing problems.
If, for some inexplicable reason, you do not regularly partake of the genius of Tina Fey and 30 Rock, and need examples from real life … this is how we get the absent-minded professor, the mad scientist, Dr. Gregory House, or … Robert Downey, Jr.
Chana Joffe-Walt, of Planet Money said in her poorly considered piece Trends With Benefits that aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and This American Life that the definition of “disability” is “squishy.”
“Squishy enough that you can end up with one person with high blood pressure who’s labeled disabled and another who’s labeled judge.” Ms. Joffe-Walt concluded that “[w]hen it comes down to it, all disability is is the label we as a society give to people who, when we hear their story, we decide they’ve suffered enough, and it’s not fair to make them work anymore.”
Joffe-Walt’s conclusion reminds me of the Miss Teen USA Pageant contestant who said, in response to the question, “[r]ecent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?” The contestant responded with,
“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh … some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and uh … I believe that our education like … such as in South Africa and, uh … the Iraq … everywhere like … such as, and, I believe that they should … our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh … should help South Africa and should help Iraq … and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future … for the children.”
But, in Miss South Carolina’s defense, she was just 18 years old, was asked the question cold, under enormous pressure … cameras and white-hot lights on her – and since has redeemed herself to great comic effect. Also, given a few days to reconsider her answer said,
“well, personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on a map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe that there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better.”
But, Ms. Joffe-Walt claims to have researched Trends With Benefits for what was billed as a “six-month-long obsession with our nation’s disability programs.” And … has not corrected any of the misinformation in the piece. Wow.
Yes, Ms. Joffe-Walt, but he can take unscheduled breaks, and no one freaks out if he has a steroid injection in L4-L5 and either takes a day off or works while lying down on a couch … a couch he has in his office. In fact, people would applaud him, for being at work at all – “he works harder than anyone I know!” the Planet Money team would gush! But he would not have to lift, he would not have to stand, he would not be maneuvering a transmission into a Chevrolet …. He has skills that utilize his brain … not his brawn, and he has skills that afford him unquestioned accommodations.
Whereas, a stocker in a big box store with a herniated disc and sciatica, would not be able to lie down for half her shift, refuse to lift anything over 5 lbs, and be short-fused with the customers. She would be replaced – immediately. No accommodated soft landing.
‘Ms. Dimadozen, where would you like us to send your last check?’
While the editor and the stocker have the same physical impairment, and maybe even similar physical limitations, judges have to squish on through the muck of assessing what residual capacities – talents, skills, and credentials – a claimant has to determine whether the person is defined as “disabled” or whether they still are economically useful.
Squish on, your Honor. Squish on.