“Hello, I’m calling to request proof of disability that I filed when I was on Social Security.”
“What do you mean when you WERE on Social Security?”
“I’m no longer receiving benefits because I’m working full time”
“Then why do you need proof of disability? If you’re working, you are no longer disabled”
“……. (( um….. what??? )) ……”
That’s how a recent call to the Social Security office ended leaving me wondering what to say next. I had called to request a copy of a letter that my health care provider had written explaining what my disability was.
As many of us with disabilities sadly know, navigating Social Security and other agencies to apply for and receive benefits can be a huge headache, but do agencies really have the power to “define” our disabilities? Why have we given them this power and does their opinion or classification of disability reflect upon our own definition of ourselves?
As the Social Security office made quite clear during that phone call, the government considers you “disabled” only if you have a disability that prevents you from working, thus qualifying you to receive financial benefits. This often turns into a dead-end cycle, trapping many people with disabilities in a loop wondering if they can really “afford” to go back to work in fear of losing their benefits.
As a woman with a lifelong disability, hearing the agent on the other end of the phone telling me what being disabled really meant I couldn’t disagree more. Many years ago I received Social Security benefits, however since then I graduated college and have supported myself since securing a steady income. Just because I got a job and wished to grow my career does not mean that my disability ended. Osteogenesis Imperfecta is a lifelong disability resulting in weak bones, reduced mobility, small stature and other associated issues that will be with me throughout my life.
Merriam-Webster defines “disability” as “a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person's physical or mental abilities.”
Medical professionals, educational institutions, federal agencies, private health care companies, insurance companies, corporations and more all have their OWN definition of disability and what qualifies someone as disabled.
With all these definitions of disability being thrown around, one must wonder how these labels and words affect those they are directed towards. Imagine the impact that would be made if the definition of disability was not made up of a string of negative connotations?
Empowered, Strong, Valued, Unique, Beautiful, Interesting, are just some of the ways I would describe the members of the disabled community. It is more important than ever to remember that the more we use positive labels, the greater the influence we can make on the definition of disability.
How do YOU define disability? Share in the comments!
*photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons