From my observations of folks with disabilities, attitude determines more than aptitude.
The one-armed man played sports in high school, carried a baritone in marching band, finished college and landed a job in a bank cashing disability checks for men who asked, “Why are you working? You could get an SSI disability check and stay home.”
“I don’t consider myself disabled, and I can earn more here to support my family,” he always answers with his gracious smile.
In Mexico, a woman in a wheel chair at the information desk directed harried passengers to their next flight or the baggage claim. At the boarding gate another disabled person accepted and scanned tickets. On the streets, the disabled sold papers or souvenirs. They did not stay home and collect a check.
At the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, buses carry visitors to drop off points leading down to look-out points along the rim of the Canyon. As I reached the last stop of the bus trail, I spied a one-legged man seated at the only shaded picnic table. I desperately needed shade after the heat of the canyon so I joined him.
“Did you do the whole thing?” I asked.
I looked at this man with his slight frame and arm crutches. He had no companion. The trail had some rough patches that took time and energy for anyone.
“You work somewhere?”
He named a community college at the other end of the state.
“Did you have a hard time getting a job?” I thought of the rejections the one-armed man had received before landing a job.
His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “Yeah. They would look at me and decide I could not work.”
“So how did you get the job?”
“I asked to volunteer in the IT lab as much as I could. I know the stuff. I showed up on time, every day and stayed as long as I could. They noticed and offered me a part-time job. It’s where I work now.” he said with well-earned pride.
Contrast that with conversations from healthy young adults wishing they qualified for disability funds. “You know, if I had an accident that hurt a limb, I would get …” the young man named a few thousand dollars. “I would qualify for a disability check and wouldn’t have to work.” No mention of the pain that would precede the qualification or the limited lifestyle that accompanies living on a government check.
The petite young woman said, “If I was three inches shorter, I would qualify for a disability check.” All she had to do was lose a couple inches in height. She knows people do sometimes lose. inches. She knows nothing about the pain from the bone crunching experiences preceding that lost in height or the accompanying backaches. She simply knows if she were shorter, she could get a check and not have to work.
I never considered height challenged individuals as anything other than inconvenienced. They are easily accommodated. Like the truly height-challenged woman who climbed a specially built platform to the cash register in a shop, chatted happily with customers and reported shop lifters she spied carrying items under their shirts She enjoys the satisfaction of each day’s work and pride in earning her own money.
Certainly some truly need financial assistance. Still others, who could qualify, consider themselves merely inconvenienced and choose to defy the limitations that so many thoughtlessly assume fit them. These live by the motto of my daughter’s friend, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat!”