Pssst … … …

bigstock-Beautiful-business-woman-point-21138083I got a secret I just gotta tell.    I got the lowdown on how it go down.

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 Doughnutsdime 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.

LOS ANGELES - APR 29:  Jack McBrayer arrives to the Anti-BullyinIn comic writing, if the lowly Page was the screw-up and he was not disciplined or fired, it would be a device used to show that the organization or the boss is idiotic.

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 bigstock-Nerd-crazy-scientist-man-portr-44215624examples 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.”

Huh?   That’s what Ms. Joffe Walt Surprised / shocked face expression of woman. Surprise and shockconcluded about the meaning of “disability?”  Really?

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.

Ms. Joffe-Walt went on to describe her editor who “has a herniated disc, and he works bigstock-Businessman-lying-on-sofa-with-47108581harder than anyone I know.”

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 You're Fired - Pink Slip In Envelopedown 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 bigstock-Muddy-Feet-In-The-Tideland-24009269“disabled” or whether they still are economically useful.

Squish on, your Honor.  Squish on.

11 thoughts on “Pssst … … …

  1. Anonymous

    Another way of making this point to the Joffe-Walts of the world is that disability is not a medical decision; it is a medical-vocational decision and we can never just look at the medical aspect of the claim alone (unless the medical aspect is so severe that disability is a given). When no-nothings like Joffe-Walt stick their noses in the disability process, they never seem to get this point. Another great post.

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Yes, absolutely right – medical AND vocational. Ms. Joffe-Walt did an enormous disservice to NPR listeners. I have been surprised that NPR hasn’t pulled back on it at all. Thank you so much for commmenting. Much, much, much appreciated!

  2. Lisa Wynne

    Great post! Being in an inherently dangerous job (horse trainer), I must admit to all of those letters behind my name as a back up plan….. LEED BD+C, EDAC, and soon, NCARB and AIA….. Thank you for the push to make those last two credentials more of a reality. The sad part is, with the right kind of fall off a horse, even those credentials won’t matter if I can’t use my arms and hands to draw on an computer. The passion I have for my work as a trainer won’t change though. Finding a balance between safe and accomplishing what a horse-in-training needs is a bit of an art form. I would imagine many other careers are similar. How can you sacrifice your passion for a desk job you don’t love unless you are forced into it?

  3. Anonymous

    This post…heck, this whole blog, is spot on. You capture the essence of the disability process; it’s no walk in the park. And, quite frankly, there are very few people that understand it, save for those who’ve been through it (claimants and representatives alike). I applaud your approach and your honesty, and hope you continue with this blog.

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Thank you so much for saying that. I am committed to doing whatever I can to tell the story as I have seen it for the past fourteen years of practice. I really, really, really appreciate your support.

  4. Anonymous

    Well written! It reminds me of the fight that just went down here in MI over the Medicaid expansion. One state rep in particular almost single handedly prevented the expansion, even though our Republican governor was for it. His paraphrased quote when asked why he was against expanding healthcare to MI residents who did not have or could not afford it was that he did not want the 70% of MI residents who had healthcare to have to pay for the 30% who would be covered under the expansion. [the gall of this statement coming from someone who has lifetime medical insurance for him and his family paid for by the taxpayers of MI was fortunately not lost on our local newspapers op eds]. The “I have mine – you would too if you only made better choices/worked harder like me” mentality is so persuasive.

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Yes. It is unbelieveably easy to think that hard work always gets you there. But, sometimes hard work just spins unproductive wheels … and dude, somebody needs to throw some kitty litter under those tires!

  5. Anonymous

    You hit it right on the head. It is simple: “be born with some wicked-awesome talent if you can, or develop mad skills, mad useful skills…”

    Who we are the minute we are born–the minute we are conceived–has so much to do with where we will end up. Being born with a sound mind, a supportive and present family, and a healthy body, is like winning the lottery! It is so easy to assume that a person struggling to “make it” has made bad decisions…lazy decisions. “Why didn’t they get an education like I did? I don’t like going to work everyday! Suck it up!” It is easy to forget how incredibly lucky we were to be born into a situation that allowed for growth into a successful human being. For some, it was never possible to develop mad skills…

    We all hear the stories of people born poor, to a single and substance addicted mother, who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it! They are heroes! Why can’t all the other people born into that situation do the same thing? I’ll tell you why: because those success stories are outliers–those people are freaking super heroes!

    The moment your genes make it clear that you are a person with schizophrenia, a person with an IQ of 52, a person with debilitating asthma, you are put at such an incredible disadvantage. The success stories are of those born into a seemingly terrible situation, who are somehow lucky enough to have ended up with a functioning mind and/or an incredibly strong body. No one born into that tough situation makes it unless they have a brain firing on all–or nearly all–cylinders.

    It’s simple. Be born with talent and mad useful skills. The recipe for this is unfortunately more difficult: you cannot pick your parents, your genes, your geography…

    I am a lucky one. Life is too short to complain about people that didn’t win the lottery like I did.

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Thank you so much for that eloquent comment. Yes, I have thought this many, many times – how lucky I was to have been born in a time and place where I am provided opportunities, and a bit of genetic luck as well. It’s important to really get it and to appreciate it.

  6. Anonymous

    Another brilliant edition of your blog. Reminds me of the big box retailer several years ago that changed the job description of essentially all their employees from specific jobs that they were hired or applied for to do-anything, literally. So what you have you have asthma and were a cashier, get in that deep freezer and starting slinging those boxes of meat. Who cares if you were in the cash office with your bad back, we need some carts pushed. Get busy pushing or get busy cleaning out your locker. Oh, you have a doctor’s note. Great, but it just so happens we only need you two hours per week now anyway. You can live on that, right?

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Thank you so much … you have made my day! Yes, I know what you mean … those big box retail jobs, telemarketer jobs, janitorial jobs … they are very, very difficult jobs. I have a LOT of respect for the people who do them.


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