I’ve heard some say disability benefits are unnecessary hand-outs for people who should just die off, and why should hard-working people foot the bill for people who are lazy, whose lives mean nothing?
The disability process itself mirrors these same sentiments – the 3-5 years (average) process for applying, fighting for, and receiving disability (SSI or SSDI) in the USA is by its nature a grueling process, with analysts hired to deny applicants not once, but twice (standard procedure), forcing the applicant to appeal their case twice over several months before a hearing is granted, which then takes years to schedule due to a shortage of judges. It is a process intended to force people to give up.
I’m one of those passengers who shouldn’t be in the pre-board line.
You know the ones.
I’m dressed nicely and I have makeup on; I appear healthy and able-bodied. I don’t use a wheelchair. I’m young. I sometimes sit on the floor and stretch. Aside from my pillow and sometimes my cane and wrist braces, there is not much evidence pointing to a broken body. According to popular opinion, I don’t look disabled.
You want to do your job well, and part of that is accommodating people with disabilities. But often, when I request a pre-board pass, you look at me like maybe I’m cheating, like maybe I learned a trick somewhere just to get a better seat or not wait in line. Maybe you think I’m smug or even entitled. Sometimes you question if I need the pre-board pass on the basis of disability right after you sweetly, wordlessly hand one to the woman in front of me Continue reading Dear Gate Agents and Flight Attendants, From People Who Don’t Look Disabled→
…Of being a Democrat. Because we try to put in place policies that protect and assist the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the needy…people who are less-than by no fault of their own. I’m proud of being a Democrat because we don’t expect everyone has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but we do want everyone to flourish as best they can with the same or similar opportunities. I’m proud because we reach across the aisle even when our hands are slapped over and over, we accept defeat graciously and we continue our work even if we can’t have the title ‘President’ or ‘Senator’ on our lapel pins. Continue reading I’m Still Proud→
When I first wrote about applying for disability, I mentioned a standard practice of the Social Security Administration: default semi-automatic denials of disability claims. On average, it takes 3-5 years for someone who is disabled to be awarded benefits. This routine dragging out of claims affects me and many others financially and emotionally and also feels immoral and unjust. The disability process has been intentionally crafted to be as difficult as possible to navigate and even survive, yet this program was founded for the purpose of helping people live better lives.
The following letter is my formal response to a denial of my first claim. To be clear, many claims are denied twice before moving to a hearing with a judge. I am sharing this publicly because I want to expose the vulnerability so many go through as they seek disability – as they seek resources so they might live longer, healthier, fuller lives in the face of significant barriers to a substantial work-life.
Before I share my letter, here are some reasons I was told I am not disabled under the rules of the Social Security Administration:
I grew up privileged – white, yes – but also without ever considering what life would look like if my mother’s job did not provide her and her family with healthcare.
When I had walking pneumonia in fifth grade and was in bed for three weeks, I never considered what it would mean if my mother had to choose what to do or where to seek help if we didn’t have insurance.
When I was on birth control pills in high school, the drug co-pays were predictable. I didn’t fear my medication would suddenly become cost-prohibitive.
When I broke my nose, I never once considered that some people couldn’t go to the emergency room because they didn’t have insurance.
When I was in college I tore my ACL and later broke my hand playing college soccer. My bills were covered. I didn’t know other students didn’t have the healthcare I accessed.
I believed healthcare was something everyone had. If someone got sick or injured, s/he went to the doctor, paid the copay, then went to the pharmacy, paid the copay, etc etc.
Applying for disability is a demeaning, humiliating, invasive process.
I’ve heard it could take as little as three months to be awarded federal disability benefits, but I would probably have to be literally dying. I’ve heard it’s possible it could take six months to a year. “It’s possible” in the world of bureaucracy is nothing to lean on. Most people trudge through two to five years of endless forms, initial decisions, appeals, reconsiderations, and hearings before becoming card-carrying members of the unofficial federal disability club – if they’re successful. In kind terms, the Social Security Administration (SSA) drags its feet more for those who are younger, more educated, and healthier-looking. The SSA is less likely to award disability to those who have worked recently or, ironically, to those who have worked fewer years. Additionally, the lesser known or more abstract the disability as well as the more physical (as opposed to mental), the less willing the SSA is to acknowledge a disability. These are facts I have been told by staff at my attorney’s office, and all but one of them apply to my case.
As if I hadn’t already made the most difficult decision of my life to accept my inability to work, applying for disability takes it one step further, forcing me to accept every single other thing I can no longer do, even those I am not ready to accept. I still have dreams of being healthy, so please don’t take what’s left away from me too.
My reality has been muted by the towering, sound-proof piles of paperwork that sprout legs and chase me while I toss and turn at night. I have to prove to the Social Security Administration that I am unable to work, but also that I can no longer function independently. I have to prove I no longer have a life despite all I have done to maintain a semblance of living. I feel I am on the middle school debate team and I’ve been assigned the side I don’t agree with; in order to win I have to admit that I am incapable of the freedoms I embraced in yesteryears. I have to do more than just admit them – I have to fully believe my inabilities enough to prove them true to strangers. I have to believe I’m less than I ever imagined I would be so that others will believe me too.
Becoming disabled is indescribable, so of course here I am trying to write about it.
I did not simply become disabled and accept it with the snap of the fingers: “Aha, so that explains everything! I’m disabled!”
Let me make the clear distinction between becoming vs being disabled. Becoming disabled is a learning process. Being disabled is what happens after the shock has subsided and one has accepted disability as part of his or her identity. Plenty of people have never “become disabled” because they’ve always been disabled – they have never been any other way. The difference between becoming disabled and being disabled is as simple as broken versus whole. When we finally reach the acceptance stage, we are once again whole, having accepted that disability is part of us now.
There is no timeline to follow after a sudden and shocking diagnosis – other than scheduled doctor appointments, and perhaps the sudden tendency to plan for the unexpected worst so that if things improve there’s a reason to celebrate. Rather than having a reliable and predictable five-year plan, the sidewalk paves itself with each step you take.
It’s definitely not a walk in the park. Becoming disabled is more like walking through the apocalypse. Think broken pavement. Zombies. Car alarms. Birds, big black birds. And whatever else you can think of that you wouldn’t want to round the corner and run into. Clowns. Spiders. Snakes. Balloons. Door to door salespeople. Fear. That’s what I’m talking about. Fear. It’s what threatens to overtake each tentative step forward into the unknown, unpredictable new body you now inhabit. Fear is a powerful substance. Continue reading Becoming Disabled Is the Apocalypse→