Sunday, February 26, 2012

There's an agency that takes care of that.

In sheer disbelief at what was happening, I drafted this post a couple of years ago, in another county than the one where I now live. I held off on publishing this, because I was afraid of compromising my benefits. I'm less afraid now, not because there's less to fear, but because there's nothing more scary than being silenced.

I want to share this now, as it's all too typical of the current atmosphere toward disability, assistance and work, everywhere. In fact, assumptions that disabled people could do more, and that there are already plenty of services available, provide a foundation for killer cuts to essential services. Here's how I ran into those assumptions a couple years back:

I drove over two hours round trip, to go to the closest office of social services in the county I'd just moved to. I'm disabled by ME and Fibromyalgia, so travel and sitting in an office were really huge challenges, but there wasn't any way anybody could come to me, or for the appointment to be held in a more accessible location.

I brought all the requested papers, including the ones that say I'm disabled.

The worker asked when I had last worked, and what was my last job title.

I replied that I worked as a grant writer most recently, and had been gradually slowing down due to my disability which began in May of 2007, until, in June 2009, I was unable to work any longer, at all.

So she was clear that I couldn't write grants now.

Yet she asked me, incidentally, could I write grants for a local nonprofit I'll call "Krips on Skis."

I told her I could not, as I was now disabled, but I would gladly refer them to the consulting firm for which I formerly wrote grants.

She told me they wouldn't pay anybody to write grants. She actually bridled, saying firmly and with pride that Krips on Skis is a 100% volunteer organization.

So she was asking me, although I am too ill to work as a grant writer to support myself and my children, and am barely getting by on public assistance and disability, would I donate my time and work as a grant writer, a thing I'm unable to do anyhow, plus do it for free?

I seem to have that right so far. Yes, that seems to be what she was asking me.

Our appointment wound down. The paperwork I'd received in advance had stated that we'd take an hour but we took closer to three. Finally when I was nearly too exhausted to think at all, she asked me, did I have any questions.

I asked if there were any services in this county or the adjacent one, to help disabled people with basic necessities. I cited as an example the Center for Independent Living in my former county, where advocates helped disabled people find housing, food banks, in-home assistance and other such services.

No, she told me, there were not any such agencies in these counties.

Okay, so, there's Krips on Skis which would be glad to help me go skiing if I had the energy to do so and was perhaps an amputee, but there is no agency to help disabled people with, say, tax preparation, or referrals to utility assistance, or, like I said, food banks. The cupboard was near bare.

She did tell me there were no food banks but that I could ask churches. No specific denomination, just "churches."

Ever since the tanking of the global economy, programs have been cut back and eliminated, and the bar has been raised to qualify for assistance. There have been less funds everywhere to help the poor, elderly, ill and disabled, yet people---even social workers---go on believing that "there is help out there."

Furthermore, doctors and chronic pain specialists can confirm that a patient has a disability, and even the Social Security's government specialists, a very tough bunch to convince, can confirm that, and yet many people---even social workers---go on thinking that people with disabilities can somehow do more: complete paperwork, attend appointments, do volunteer work.

The county where I now reside has a larger tax base and thus better services than the county where I experienced that astonishing failure to connect, on the part of the social worker, but the same attitudes are typical everywhere. I know that friends all over the world have to struggle to explain to social workers, the meaning of "need," and of "disability."

And everywhere, we encounter people who assume that there's an agency that takes care of that, despite the evidence before their eyes of homeless people with no shelter and sick people with no medical services.

In the UK the assumptions have gotten so far out of control, the private contract agency Atos have judged someone "fit to work" who was dead of their disabling disease within a week of that determination, and under Workfare, people with disabilities and others in need have been made to work for free or lose their benefits, so corporations that show huge profits can get their shelves stocked for free which means they can cut back on their hiring, or they simply divert the government funds for this program into training for existing employees.

Maybe more austerity measures should be aimed at the wealthiest citizens and corporations, but there isn't an agency for that.

Updates on the UK's Workfare can be found here. Boycotts are helping. You can start with McDonald's (and here's why), worldwide. That is, unless you're down with eating burgers that are flipped for free by contagious krips like me.

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