Tag Archives: Social Security Disability

Prof. Pierce’s rendition of Over the Rainbow once again disappoints

Rainbow over a horse farmIn 1940 the 12th Academy Awards was hosted for the first time by Bob Hope.   He would go on to host 18 more times.   Gone With the Wind won Outstanding Production.   Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Academy Award.   And, composer, Harold Arlen, and lyricist E.Y. Harburg won Best Song for Over the Rainbow from the film, The Wizard of Oz.

Though Over the Rainbow was lauded by “the Academy” in 1940, and continues to hold its place as the number one song on the Songs of the Century list, and is ranked by the American Film Institute as the “greatest movie song of all time,” it was originally cut from the film because mature business man on a desk at the officeMGM execs thought it “slowed down the picture” and was ‘not for a little girl singing in a barnyard.’

Musicians, Arthur Freed (an uncredited associate producer of The Wizard of Oz) and Roger Edens (Judy Garland’s vocal coach and mentor) argued vehemently, and successfully to the know-nothing MGM execs that the song should stay.

Over the Rainbow is situated at the beginning of the film.   Dorothy, after being scolded by Auntie Em to “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble” walks off … wondering aloud …

… some place where there isn’t any trouble ….  Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?   There must be.   It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train.   It’s far, far away.   Behind the moon, beyond the rain…”

… and off she sings into American musical history.

imagesK8YRAGSIOver the Rainbow has been covered by a variety of singers most notably by the painfully shy, and little-known Eva Cassidy whose sensitive rendition of the masterpiece is itself a masterpiece.   There is the much-acclaimed Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole’s version in which he takes great artistic liberties with the piece to great effect.images[2]

But, no one takes more liberties with Over the Rainbow than Prof. Richard J. Pierce, Jr., a critic of the Social Security disability process, who argues that Social Security should just do away with administrative law judges en route to turning more disabled people away.   His version … …

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that he’s heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams no disabled people exist really do come true

Someday he’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind him
Where judges melt like lemon drops
Away above the state house tops
That’s where you’ll find him

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly high over the rainbow.
Why can’t disabled folk just go bye bye?

Prof. Pierce testified before the House Ways and Means Committee asserting as a credential that he’s written more than 20 books, but his published bibliography mentions just eleven.  Let’s not quibble … eleven books is sufficiently impressive.   And perhaps his published bibliography is incomplete.

There are two reviews of Prof. Pierce’s books on Amazon.   The first review was of Administrative Law (Insights and Concepts) giving Prof. Pierce’s work 2 stars.  The review is titled, “Disappointing,” and said:

First let me say that I’m a big fan of the Concepts and Insights Series. I’m currently a 1L and have used them for both Contracts and Torts with excellent results. This book, however, simply doesn’t measure up.

This book sets out with the same aim as the other books in the series. It isn’t meant to be a comprehensive summary of all the important cases and theories, but rather gives a broad outline of the major themes and discusses some of the important cases in order to illustrate those themes. This can’t replace the casebook, but can be a useful addition to it, especially if your professor isn’t good at fitting the various cases into a larger framework.

I’m rating this book so poorly for several reasons. In the first place there are tons of typos. Getting A Bad GradeNormally a typo here and there wouldn’t bother me, but they’re everywhere. If I turned something like this in to a professor I would fail. All the typos make the book less readable and cast doubt on the accuracy of the more substantive parts. This book was only published in 2008, so hopefully if they make another edition they can fix some of these issues.

Secondly, it is actually quite repetitive and poorly written/structured. This is not a criticism that should apply to a book meant to succinctly summarize a vast body of law. Most points seem to be repeated at least once and several seem to pop up in almost every chapter. Either this book should be shorter or some of that wasted space should be used to include points that were left out.

As far as the substance of this book, it does seem to give a decent overview of administrative law in a relatively clear (if poorly-written) way. With some serious editing this book could be as good as the others in the series.

The second review on Amazon was for the second edition of the same book.   The reviewer gave Prof. Pierce’s work 3 stars, and was titled “Lacking detail.”   It said,

While this is a useful introduction, it feels too concise to be useful as a study guide. The equivalent book from the Law in a Nutshell series feels much more substantial. This is one of the first Concepts and Insights books I have been really disappointed with.

There is a reputed disconnect between academia and the “real world.”   So that law The Professor White Boardprofessors who have never worked with a client or literally never seen the inside of a courtroom, might have some pretty pie-in-the-sky notions of people’s circumstances and … reality.   But there appears to be a particularly sizable disconnect between Prof. Pierce and the “real world” – even when the real world is itself academia.

An article appearing in a November 1985 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Richard J. Pierce, Jr., then Dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s Law School, was “quitting in a budget hassle.”

Dean Pierce had been the dean for all of 19 months when he quit suddenly because the University wouldn’t, according to him, ‘give the school enough money.’  A top university official described the dean’s demands as “ridiculous.”  Dean Pierce revealed to the paper that he ‘has no job to which he can go when his resignation takes effect ….’   And university officials ‘haven’t decided who will head the law department until they select a permanent replacement.’

Apparently Dean Pierce’s 1985 rendition of Over the Rainbow in which he revealed his inability to appreciate the financial realities of others, did not fly at the University of Pittsburgh.   Like the first Amazon reviewer of Pierce’s book, the university described Pierce’s performance as “disappointing.”

Prof. Pierce remains disconnected and unable to appreciate the financial realities of the “real world” and of others, in this case the disabled people who the Social Security disability program is designed to assist.   Prof. Pierce believes that if you eliminate judges, eliminate any opportunity for a face-to-face encounter in which claimants can be questioned, and deny people without recourse, the problem is, as he has stated, “solved.”

This belief is the confused belief of an academician who does not work with disabled people, and who does not appear before administrative law judges ever – does not see the important work they do.

Ruby ShoesThis belief is the confused belief of a lackluster thinker who believes we can simply click our heels together to make the “problem” of disabled people and America’s aging demographic go away.

This belief is the confused belief of a man who might be befuddled at increased homelessness resulting from his proposals – a probable outcome he appears not to consider.

This belief is akin to MGM executives scrapping Over the Rainbow for whatever confused, misguided, out-of-touch beliefs they had too.

When The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy wonders “some place where there isn’t any trouble ….  Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?,” Prof. Pierce might do the same … do you suppose there is such a place, Toto for disabled people … where there isn’t any trouble?  

Well, yes, Prof. Pierce, I hope too that there is, but I can guarantee you it is not typically in the American workplace.

For the myths to persist …

Fairy With Staff, 3D Computer GraphicsThe myths of Social Security disability are that … it is easy to obtain, rife with mildly-impaired scammers, and a good life once received.

For the myths to persist, the public cannot know …

– the many, many years it takes to obtain Social Security disability benefits,
– the invasive nature of the personal information disabled people must divulge to Social Security,
– the shame and fear of going before a court to disclose personal incapacity,
– how arduous life is with no money for the years of waiting,
– the penetrating shame most disabled people bear….Treasure

And, for the myths to persist, the public cannot know how little is the financial gain … with the average disabled person eligible for Social Security Disability living on just $ 1,232.00 per month, or a disabled person on Supplemental Security Income receiving, at the most, $ 721.00 per month.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Actuary Man!

SuperheroDamian Paletta and Josh Zumbrun, journalists covering economic policy for The Wall Street Journal, published Has Social Security Disability Enrollment Hit Plateau?

The title is a question.

A graph in the article answers the question.

Yes.  Disability enrollment has plateaued.

Smiling senior man holding a big black arrow pointing down isola

Mr. Paletta and Zumbrun wonder aloud if “the program has actually peaked and [if it] will ever recede.” 

But … Mr. Paletta and Mr. Zumbrun are mere mortals, they are not … Actuary Man!   Superhero

Actuary Man, the mild-mannered Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary for the Social Security Administration whose superpower is a mathematically based Nostradamus-like ability to foretell the future, has predicted, based on demographic and stochastic modeling, exactly this plateau of the numbers of people enrolled in the disability programs.

On March 13, 2014, Mr. Goss testified before Congress.  His testimony was replete with charts and graphs explaining the demographic swell that is and was the baby boom and how it Two young people under an umbrella bringing a teddy bear and floaffects claims on Social Security’s disability and retirement programs and Medicare costs.

Mr. Goss also explained how the drop in the birth rate following the baby boom created higher costs for these programs relative to taxable income, but that the circumstance will stabilize as the baby boomers … um … no longer need these supports.

How-to make the sun rise in the morning

businessman on computer and cyber bullyingWhen you administer a blog, you see the search terms people use to get to your site.

Common search terms bringing folks to Disability Dunk Tank are:

– “how to shame losers”
– “how to shame losers on disability”
– “losers on disability”
– “how to shame disabled people”

The folks who come to me using such search terms gravitate to these posts:

I suppose such visitors are disappointed in the content they find in those posts.   MSummer metaphoraybe they’re heartened to learn that most disabled people who apply for and receive Social Security disability benefits feel plenty of shame just from the circumstance itself.

Learning ‘how-to shame losers on disability’ is as unnecessary as learning ‘how-to make the sun rise in the morning.’

Go ahead, check those off your to-do list already.

German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, wrote, “[m]ostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”  

To encounter adults who have lost the ability to work provides opportunity to assess human worth apart from earning power.  

Depressed Female Acne SuffererPeople have the ability to work for a finite period of their lives.   People do not usually have the ability to work when they are very young or very old.   Yet, people are valuable when they are children, and when they are elderly.

Disabled people who cannot work have the finite period of their work life, shortened.   Yet, they remain valuable.

Human value is not properly measured merely in economic terms.

And, for those who want to know ‘how-to shame disabled people,’ please know that you too may find yourself sick or injured or afflicted and learn first-hand that shame will come to you just from the circumstance itself.

Please … go now in peace and in good health.



The 2% Club

Close Up Of A Young Smiling Beautiful Woman Wearing EyeglassesA friend’s theory as to why she – an intelligent, beautiful, amazing, and awesome woman – is perpetually single is that … … she is too awesome.

Her theory is that when the panoply of an individual’s characteristics fall in the tiny 2% parts of the bell curve – on either end of it – that person will have more difficulty finding a suitable partner than someone who Gaussian, bell or normal distribution curve on digital tablet cofalls smack dab in the middle.

It makes a kind of sense.   She is an outlier, a card-carrying member of the 2% Club.

An online dating service, Intelligent Dating Net has sprung up to address the problem.

Even if being an outlier is not an advantage in the world of dating, being an outlier in the world of neoutlier, outsider or nonconformist concept - statistical graph ows is an advantage – and a big one.   Outliers are interesting almost by definition.

Almost daily there is news of individuals who have fraudulently sought, and received Social Security disability benefits.   These stories are interesting, but statistically, they are outliers.   As such, they do a poor job of telling the full story of the Social Security disability program.

Yesterday’s story concerned a private detective who applied for disability benefits eleven years ago, and was found disabled.   Then, five years ago, apparently having medically improved, he returned to work without notifying Social Security of his improvement.   He continued, fraudulently, to collect benefits.   Social Security’s Office of Inspector General investigated, the man was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison, plus two more years of supervised release, ordered to pay $ 5,000.00 in fines, and $ 144,000.00 in restitution to Social Security.Breaking News

Crime and punishment.   Interesting.   Newsworthy.

The story prompted me to contact my friend whose sister was receiving disability benefits, but who I’d heard had improved and gone back to work.   I had not represented my friend’s sister, and I had only met her a handful of times.  But, I could not contain myself.  I had to find out of she was still receiving benefits, had to inform her of the rules if she did not know them, encourage compliance if warranted, and help her follow the rules in the likelihood she did not understand them.

My friend put me in touch with her sister and we had the following email exchange:

(In case you don’t remember me, I’m [your sister’s] lawyer friend.)

I just sent [your sister] an email telling her every time I read a story in the news of someone who is prosecuted for receiving Social Security disability benefits after going back to work, I think about you and worry.   

It’s my understanding that you’re back to work.   I don’t know if you are still receiving disability benefits or not.   But, if you are, I’d really like to make sure that you know the rules about that.

I really, really don’t want you to run afoul of the law and wind up with a criminal prosecution on your hands.

Please contact me!

Her reply:

I don’t receive disability any more.  While I did do contract work and some full time work this year, I submitted every pay stub to SSA in person.  (Emphasis added.)

I also told them I had taken on full time work with health insurance and they told me I would now enter my 9 month review period.   So that was done awhile ago and I received my statement [ceasing my benefits] from them and all is kosher.

Thank you for asking.   I was hyper aware of how they work so I made sure to submit EVERYTHING to them and keep a paper trail.  (Emphasis added.)

Do you think that is enough?

Yes.  I think that is enough.

While I find that exchange utterly fascinating, most would not.   Imagine the headline:Casual man lying on couch with newspaper covering head in bright

Formerly Disabled Woman Follows Social Security’s Rules to the Letter Asking for Cessation of Benefits When Health Improves.

When it comes to news stories, the interesting ones get the press.   Salacious ones get even more.   The mundane, ordinary stories in which systems and people function as they should, go unmentioned.   But those stories, numerically, exist smack dab in the significant middle of the Gaussian bell curve of normal distribution.

When the relative volume of salacious stories is far greater than the relative number of occurrences, a skewed perception of reality results.    The mythos does not reflect the truthos. Old School Myths

Here, the myth is that most people applying for and receiving disability benefits are criminals.   The truth is that criminals are in the 2% Club.   They are rare.   They are outliers.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported that improper payments of Social Security benefits occurs at a rate of just 0.6%, however, the American public’s sense is that there is a huge problem.   Fox News’ Megyn Kelly said, “just because [the Government Accountability Office] didn’t unearth the fraud, doesn’t mean it’s not being committed….”   Ms. Kelly just knows it’s there.

The American public is served up a steady diet of interesting and unseemly stories about “rampant fraud and abuse” in the Social Security disability program.   The American public is mired, not so much in misinformation, but in too much information of a kind.

Joseph Pulitzer StampWhen the press focuses on occurrences of fraud and abuse in far greater proportion to its relative number of occurrences in the scheme of the entire Social Security disability program, a distortion of reality results.

Two major problems arise from this distortion of reality:

1)   The American public has a distorted sense of reality, but it collectively believes itself to be well-informed and knowledgeable, and

2)  The American public and policy-makers demand reforms to the parts of the Social Security disability program that are essentially functional, failing to focus on areas that do require reformative attention.

Pressure builds for Social Security aggressively to go after frauds, to go after the people who receive disability benefits, but who attempt to go back to work.   And Social Security goes after them with prosecutory zeal.

And they should, right?

Consider this story published today in The Des Moines Register titled, des.m0331watchdog6137[1]Dying advocate needs some help.   This is the story of Kris Gerhard,  a disabled woman who continued to work answering “crisis calls” from her home while receiving Social Security disability benefits.

She is described as having …

been a champion all her adult life for people who really need one – children with autism, foster kids, those with mental disabilities and others with mental illness.   But now that she’s facing a fatal illness and down to her last $ 600, she is hard-pressed to find anyone who will advocate for her.

Social Security discovered Ms. Gerhard’s work activity, opened an investigation, and determined her benefits should have ceased in July 2012, given her earnings.   Social Security determined there was an overpayment of benefits of more than $ 10,000, and stopped her checks in February 2013.

Ms. Gerhard appealed the cessation of benefits immediately, but Social Security has yet to get back to her.   The Des Moines Register writer finds this appalling.

The story goes on:

What’s really disturbing about the Iowa woman’s story, however, is that because others needed her services, she tried to keep working in spite of her deteriorating health – and that decision is now hurting her….

She’s so good at her work, one state official tells me, that Gerhard got appointed to serve five counties:  Dallas, Greene, Webster, Guthrie and Carroll. (Emphasis added.)

“She’s an excellent advocate. Lots of other people contact her with questions – magistrates, attorneys, social workers and other advocates,” said Beth Baldwin, a 5th Judicial District court administrator who has worked closely with Gerhard over the years.   “She’s very well-respected, and I’d say rightfully so.”  (Emphasis added.)

Although Lee Rood, the writer of the story, meant well, she published a good deal of information indicating Ms. Gerhard was able to work, and therefore should not have been receiving disability benefits.   Furthermore, Ms. Rood made it clear that Ms. Gerhard should have understood Social Security’s rules – she is after all a person magistrates, attorneys, social workers and other advocates contact with questions. 

This is pretty damning information.

IGroup of multi ethnic business people sitting at court housesn’t this the rampant fraud and abuse about which we are all up in arms?

Megyn Kelly, what do you think?

The scandal of the Social Security disability program is not that it is rife with fraud and abuse.   The scandal does not live in the pinched ends of the bell curve.   Those stories are too … awesome.   Rather, the scandal of Social Security disability is much more mundane and subtle.

The scandal of Social Security disability fraud is that the rules are complicated, poorly understood, and people, even when they mean to follow the rules, run afoul of them unwittingly.   As has done Ms. Gerhard.

The scandal is that Social Security, being led by the persistently bad press about “rampant fraud and abuse” responds by amping up its ability to prosecute, when it should be amping up its efforts at educating recipients of disability benefits about the rules and how properly to comply with them.   So that when disabled people try to do what is right, try to go back to work, try to follow the rules – the rules are made clear.

The scandal of Social Security disability is that disabled people are pre-judged nearly universally as frauds, and criminals … and are treated as such.   They are surveilled, indicted and convicted.   The process of obtaining disability benefits and getting off of them is made more difficult from start to finish.

The scandal of Social Security disability is that the emphasis on criminalizing work activity that is inaccurately reported – even when there is no criminal intent to do so – discourages work activity.

What I find really disturbing about Ms. Gerhard’s story is that she tried good luck, best wishes wish you the best of luck and fortuneto comply with Social Security’s rules, and still could not.   She called Social Security but was given incomplete, scattershot information regarding compliance with Social Security’s complicated and nuanced rules for working while receiving disability benefits.   This put Ms. Gerhard in a dangerous spot:   she was poorly informed, but believed herself to be well-informed and knowledgeable.   And then, Social Security sent her on her way with no reasonable supports.   Good luck, Ms. Gerhard!

Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, recently announced Social Security will open seven new Cooperative Disability Investigation units.   Cooperative Disability Investigators are Social Security’s fraud police.

I wish instead Social Security had Tutor advising his studentannounced it would train and deploy teams of people in every state to educate disabled people on how properly to report earnings and impairment-related work expenses.   So that when they want to – 98% of the time – they have a fighting chance to do so.

I wish instead Social Security had announced it had developed user-friendly paper worksheets and effective online tools onto which working disabled people could enter and submit earnings, and impairment-related work expenses to report – honestly and accurately – that relevant information to Social Security – monthly, in writing.  

These educational supports and tools are necessary so that when the Ms. Gerhards of the disability world call to report they are working, Social Security has in place proper supports and tools that assist them in complying.

These educational supports and tools are necessary so that people like my friend’s sister do not have to “submit every pay stub to SSA in person” or “be hyper aware of how [SSA works] … making sure to submit EVERYTHING to them and keep a paper trail.”   It is as if my friend’s sister understood she would easily be deemed a criminal and so went above and beyond.   This should not be necessary.

I wish instead Social Security did not itself fall for the media hype, did not pre-judge claimants and recipients of disability benefits as criminals, and understood them to be like the rest of us – 98% Club Members – who are just trying to get it right, and need some help doing so.

A Master Sommelier of … disabilities

Man tasting a glass of red wineTo become a Master Sommelier through the famed Court of Master Sommeliers one must pass four levels of course work and examinations on theories of wine and spirits composition and production, must be able to perform hair-splitting analyses of complex wines and spirits by vision, smell and taste; must be able to identify wines in blind tastings, and be able properly to pair food, wine and spirits … all while maintaining proper “demeanor of the professional sommelier.”

The pass rate for the Master Sommelier examination is approximately 10%.  Smiling winemaker in cellar looking satisfied at a glass of whitOnly 211 people have been conferred with the title since 1977 when the Court was established.

To become a Master Sommelier of … disabilities I spent five years becoming fluent in American Sign Language and its variants.  This involved both course work and immersion into deaf communities and culture – attending deaf storytelling slams, and studying mime and deaf theater.

I learned that Alexander Graham Bell, the son of a deaf mother and husband to a deaf woman, was proficient in sign language and taught deaf children.   Bell’s work was shaped by his desire to penetrate and dispel the isolation caused by deafness, and it is theorized that the telephone was Bell’s failed attempt at developing a hearing aid.

I learned the rich history of the disability rights movement in the United States that paved the way for the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

ProtestDisabled people fought for inclusion and access and for the elimination of arbitrary barriers.    They fought for the eradication of architectural and physical barriers, and the elimination of communication barriers.   They fought for curb cuts, ramps, accessible bathrooms.  Disabled people asked that information be printed in Braille, that spoken information be interpreted into sign language, and rendered in closed captioning.   Disabled people fought not to be institutionalized but instead to be able to maintain themselves in their own homes.   Disabled people fought hard for equal opportunities in education, public accommodations, housing, and the workplace.

In 1977, disabled people held a twenty-five day sit-in, occupying U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare buildings in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco successfully achieving their goal of the passage of  regulations that strengthened the Rehab Act.images[3]

There are Disability Pride Parades where disabled people show the world they are loud and proud!  The next to be held in Chicago, July 19th, 2014.

In 1990, when the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, my practice as a sign language interpreter flourished.  I was a “reasonable accommodation” and interpreted in educational, medical, government, business, and cultural settings.

NEWARK - NOVEMBER 9: Singer Gladys Knight performs for the 9th AI interpreted for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Colin Powell, Elie Wiesel, Barbara Jordan, Jonathan Kozol, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Newt Gingrich, music festivals … for blues diva, Kim Massie …  for comedians, among them, Kate Clinton ….  I interpreted for deaf-blind clients and knew a deaf couple who knew Helen Keller.

As an interpreter, my deaf clients were mostly achieving in school, andimages[6] professionally.   These deaf students were in undergraduate and graduate programs – they majored in biology, pre-med, law enforcement, graphic design, architecture, law – just to name a few.  I traveled in Spain and France interpreting courses for a deaf student studying abroad.   (That assignment showed me that deaf folks often feel no less at home in a foreign country where they can’t understand the language than they do in their native land where they also have difficulties with spoken language.)

imagesX401D8Y4I interpreted at Ralston-Purina, AT&T, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Personnel Records Center … job interviews, employee evaluations, business meetings, trainings of every variety.   Deaf workers were dedicated, valued workers.

I interpreted a speech at a conference on disabled people’s interests in which the speaker made the most interesting and cogent Young successful businessman jumping over gap. Risk and challengargument that ALL people are accommodated.   She estimated the cost of the roomful of chairs that cost the hotel many thousands of dollars.   But she, and the others in wheel-chairs, had brought their own.   They did not need the provision of chairs.   She went on to point out that the expensive, state-of-the-art sound system was an accommodation for hearing people … the lighting … an accommodation for the sighted.

And this is what I knew of disabilities and of people with disabilities.

Disabled people were accomplished, successful, connected, and proud.   They did not walk around in a state of shame, hat in hand.

One deaf friend of mine Deaf Persons Hand Demonstratingexclaimed he was thrilled to be born deaf when he was (1964) because there had been a German Measles epidemic during that time causing many babies to be born deaf.   He appreciated having so many deaf friends … and courting so many pretty deaf girls!

Disabled people needed an accommodation here and there, but then so did we all … it was all part of a continuum of abilities and disabilities that required accommodation in one way or another.

Being disabled wasn’t a big deal.

That is what I thought.

I have since learned that being disabled enough to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits is a big deal.

I have never known a disabled person applying for, or receiving, Social Security Unfortunate man portraitdisability benefits to describe themselves as proud, or to say they are happy to be in their spot.  They are mostly ashamed … desperate … and isolated.

When disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity …” – the legal definition in Social Security’s statute – that is quite a harsher, and more desperate definition of “disability” than would fit the loud and proud – and working – disabled, in other words, the disabled people contemplated in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Although there is one word, “disabled” there are a variety of meanings and levels of severity it describes.

The Social Security definition of “disability” requires an inability to do any job at all on a sustained, full-time basis.   This version of “disability” describes a person who has little or no economic value in the market place, and who cannot support him or herself.

But the definition of “disability” in the Americans With Disabilities Act describes a person who possesses merely a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities …” but not necessarily a person who is unable to sustain a job on a full-time basis.   Indeed, the Americans With Disabilities Act contemplates that people meeting its definition can assert “reasonable accommodations” so their chances of success and achievement in the workplace are optimized.

Achievement and success of disabled people is largely the goal of the Americans With Disabilities Act.   But Social Security disability is meant to provide financial subsistence for people who cannot economically be in the game.

One word, two completely different circumstances.

As an interpreter, I had drunk plenty of the wine of disability, and alcohol drinks set isolated on a blackthought I knew what disability was … until I took a taste of the hard liquor of disability that defines the people for whom the Social Security disability statute is intended.

These different categories of “disability” are as different as a crisp chardonnay with pear-apple overtones is to an oak-y bourbon with a caramel afterglow.

Even disabled people have difficulty understanding the gradations of disabilities.  

I have seen deaf people say, “get a job!” in exasperation at disabled people who need the financial supports of Social Security disability.

Even disabled people have difficulty understanding that when a disability such as deafness is coupled with a cognitive impairment or a mental disorder or another physical impairment … the coupling is devastating.   The aggregating of disabilities one on top of the other is a state from which a person cannot often rise to productivity and self-support – no matter the accommodations.

From my vantage point, I see the disabled people I represent before the Social Security Administration as being the most disabled people I have ever encountered.

They are largely isolated from the disability rights movement, estranged from other disabled people, and what’s more … attacked from an endless barrage of criticism from an uninformed public that says, essentially, “why can’t you be like those good disabled people?!?”

Conference RoomAs a non-disabled person, I do not feel guilty that a hotel conference center provides me the accommodation of a chair, or a sound system, or light.   It has never occurred to me even really to appreciate it particularly.   I take it for granted.

Disabled people who require the financial supports of Social Security disability benefits, should similarly not feel shame … nor should they be shamed.   The fact that severely disabled people cannot make it in the work place speaks in part to the severity of their disability, but also to the harsh, Celebration. Hands holding the glasses of champagne and wine makcompetitiveness of the American work place.

Not being able to work in the competitive work force might be the measure of economic value, but it is not the measure of human value.

Let us raise our glass to that!


An ever e-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g universe of fear


WormholeMy fears listed in 2-point type would stretch from planet Earth into the Hubble deep field … sucked by dark energy ever farther away … an endless and accelerating supply of mostly banal personal concerns.   I awaken with them sometimes in the middle of the night … a subconscious working them over in my sleep.

I attempt to cultivate courage … to affect a gravitational pull … over my shameful, ever-expanding universe of fears.

And so … … I think of the unknown man standing alone in protest before the tanks in Tiananmen Square, 8.-Rebel-by-Marco-Crupi-Visual-Artist[1]humbly holding his white plastic shopping bag.   I think of Nelson Mandela jailed on Robben Island … of Galileo Galilei persecuted for declaring his discovery that Earth revolves around Sun.   I think of Thich Quang Duc‘s self-immolation … of Maximilian Kolbe, sheltering Jews despite arrests a stamp printed in USA shows Frederick Douglass leader of the abby the Nazi regime – and eventually being sent to Auschwitz.  Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Emmeline Pankhurst, Edith Cavell, Odette Sansom, Abraham Lincoln, Sophie Scholl, Frederick Douglass, Malala Yousafzai.

I am not those people.

I am not even like those people.

The House of Representatives Budget Committee report, The War On Poverty:  50 Years Later frightens me.

The relentless, disproportionate reports of fraud perpetrated by claimants and recipients of Social Security disability benefits sends shivers up my spine.

The cultivation of an angry mob of well-meaning, but unknowing, people who hold a negative opinion of disabled people and who will demand policy changes based on misinformation, strikes fear into my heart.

Hearing an Administrative Law Judge say he is afraid to approve legitimately disabled claimants for fear of being called “outlier,” makes me break into a cold sweat for knowing what disabled people will continue to endure upon repeated, unfounded denials of support.

I think of brave people not to insinuate myself into their ranks.   I am not Abstract Businessman jets off with Rocket Pack.those people.   I quiver and ride my rocket ship of fear into ether.

I think of brave people to provide for myself a reference point.   And from it, I see the smallness of the courage required of me, and of judges, to do what is right by the disabled people who come to us.

We must endure criticism, be thought of as scoundrels, be misunderstood … fight for our clients, fight a political fight.

Malala_Yousafzai_at_Oval_Office_2013_cropped[1]Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who, at the age of 12, began blogging about her life in Pakistan under Taliban rule.   She was fearlessly outspoken, documenting human rights violations under the Taliban, and working to advance the cause of education for girls in her country.   She granted interviews to the BBC, the New York Times, eventually a documentary was made about her.   She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Price … and then, the  Nobel Peace Prize.

On October 9, 2012, a gunman boarded a school bus on which Malala was riding, asked for her by name, and shot her three times.  Malala survived the attack.   The Taliban has reiterated its intent to kill her.   Malala continues to speak and to write.

I am not Malala.

Disabled people, attorneys representing disabled people, Social Security’s workers and judges must endure criticism in a rancorous political climate.   We must endure being misunderstood.   But we also must stand in this swirl and together fight this good and worthy fight … Pin-up Sailor Girls Showing Physical Strengthunderstanding that this fight – though important – is not asking very much of us in the way of courage – really.

We can rise to this occasion.

All hands on deck.