Thursday, December 3, 2009

Attendance Policies discriminate against the disabled, as well as other policies

Pictures: Dannis in her first wheelchair, a manual one. She couldn't push it. Pink outfit.
Dannis in her 1st power chair, and freedom. It is a lot more comfortable than her manual chair, and more importantly, her daughter doesn't have to push her, which makes Maggie's knee swell. But, freedom comes at a price. This incline looks very small, but there was a real danger of tipping over.

I worked in a large academic library, and had 3 migraine headaches per week trying to keep working. I constantly exceeded my leave. OSHA won't let you do that because it claims it's unfair to workers who can be exploited. But, libraries have a lot of projects that aren't urgent. I could've kept working for maybe 5 years, if not for the No Leave Without Pay rule. I worked with a fever, I worked when it snowed 24" overnight, I commuted 2 hours there and 2 hours back daily. It took the toll on my health. I had a TIA [mini-stroke], and my neuro warned me not to work so hard. What do you do? The Family Leave Act didn't help me, because I didn't need 6 months off at a time. I needed extra days off when I was sick. I didn't need to go to the doctor and get excuses for viruses the doctor couldn't treat, anyway.

And, this brings me to the public school and how it discriminates against the poor. Unreasonable attendance policies force the poor to take time off from work to get excuses -- again, for viruses the doctor can't treat. He just verifies, "Yes, she's sick", and we spent an hour on the bus to get there and an hour to get back. My daughter, like me, caught everything that went around. She would get a slight temp and start throwing up. I'm supposed to put her on a bus and ride 30 min to day care, only to have them tell me they can't take her in that condition? Do I need a doctor's excuse to prove she's throwing up all over the bus? A single parent without family near to help out can't afford to miss work. I only stayed home with my daughter when absolutely necessary. Yet, many times, I had to drag her to the doctor when she didn't need medicine, she needed an excuse to stay home and rest so she could go back to school, which she loved. And, doctor bills stretched our budget too far. When the budget got too tight, we stopped buying much meat at the grocery store. We didn't have food stamps. A lot of nights, I was too sick to cook, and I coached my daughter on how to heat up something simple in the microwave; noodles or rice, cans of meat, vegetables, soup. She hated it, so she begged neighbors for food because they bought things like those frozen sandwiches and mini-pizzas. She wouldn't eat meat until she was five, even at a fast food those rare times, so yes, she was skinny. Her school was year-round: 180 days like 9-month school, but it spread out the day care expense [which, for one child, was 2/3 the amount of my rent, which was in a regular apartment at market prices]. But, the year I got disabled and had to quit working, that school went 9-month and required expensive uniforms. I wouldn't have been able to afford all-summer-long day care, or the cost of uniforms. Most of this school was low-income, nonwhite parents. What was the administration thinking?

That year, my daughter fell out of her chair onto the carpet and chipped her kneecap. Later, she had a kidney infection so bad she had to get antibiotic shots [which are very painful] two days in a row. She missed a lot of days from school. Mid-year, I became disabled, and decided to homeschool. We got the truancy letter for attendance problems, and a visit from a social worker. When my daughter was in 6th grade, 2 years later, the school social worker worried that my daughter wasn't getting her education, because I was disabled. They tested her with the same tests they give all the students. Her reading was at GRADE 11.2, and her math, at GRADE 6.4; they were only at grade 6.2 at that point in my daughter's peer class. The year before, I had taken a few classes at BYU and brought her with me, with my professors' permission. They were amazed at some of the questions my daughter asked. She asked my Psychological Stats prof about parts of the brain and what they did. At 9 years old. If I supplied her with books, she sat and read quietly during class, but she would look up occasionally and listen to parts of the lecture. She's surprise me with how much she picked up, while reading.

Talk to other low-income moms. The amount of homework given to young children is appalling. On the Department of Education Web Site, I read abstracts of their studies, and found that the suggested start age for school is age 10. You read right; before age 10, a child's main need is for socialization. Just as if a child learns to walk late, usually, in two weeks they are running; so it is with school. Start late, learn fast, catch up quickly. It's all there in the studies, if you can find them between the studies of how to cram schooling into the minds of Head Start's preschoolers. What happened to the Back to the Basics Movement?! Too many affluent parents and Congressmen are scared Japan is going to exceed us. How many of those clamoring for harder schooling know that Japan has the highest suicide rate for teens in the world? Their culture is different. Techniques other countries use will not work here. Standardized testing discriminates against minorities, and they haven't fixed it, just require more tests and more pressure. Pressure on mom to get all that schoolwork done, and arguments between exhausted children and their equally exhausted parents. President Reagan said let most of the teacher's aides go and let volunteers help teach. Volunteers just don't show up, for the most part, leaving the poor teacher exhausted and burning out.

 If I ran the schools, I would group grades K-3 [and preschool, if present] in the auditorium with a few aides and let them explore with cutting out things, playing games together, gluing, field trips, and just plain learning to get along with each other. Then, extra teachers could have smaller classes in the upper elementary grades. Behavior would probably be greatly improved. I would reduce homework; one mom I know told the school she was working two jobs and just didn't have time to supervise all this homework!

Schools can't count on volunteer help. I used to volunteer at my daughter's school one hour a week when I went from 40 to 30 hours a week, just to try to keep my job. I was the last hour on Friday, so I got to see the week's log. Out of a page of volunteers, one or two showed up that day. That's a lot of load on a teacher, to expect that help and it isn't there. I missed my hour a lot because I was sick and didn't want to infect kids! Also, I would re institute parties. When I was in school, those monthly holiday parties kept me going, and I learned a lot. Parties didn't interfere with my learning, they rewarded it. I would let teachers decide when parties were appropriate.

I wouldn't ask parents to fundraise! Every time I turned around, the school had its hand out. If I had $5, we might go have a fast food night or go someplace on the bus. I didn't mind spending it on field trips.

I did mind my child being exposed to PG-13 rated movies that gave her nightmares, at 8. I would be sensitive to those of other religious beliefs. My daycare made fun of my opinion about PG-13. The school ignored me on that, and my protests about my older daughter reading James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl in 5th grade. The book includes profanity and vulgarity. Parents should be given options if their standards differ from the school's. Time should be given for groups of students who want to have a Bible devotional and pray, to do so. Or, for Muslim students to pray their 5x daily. Students who don't want to participate could do a fun activity or get a head start on homework. Why can't prayer be a part of schools, as a choice? Why can't parents have a choice about a club that doesn't fit their moral standards? Parents should be able to say 'no' to their son or daughter's membership in a club that doesn't fit their values. Let the clubs exist, but don't allow kids to attend without parental approval. I think a lot of schools out there are ignoring us parents. This is wrong. Everyone should have free access to schools that let the parent decide the morals. It wouldn't take a lot of hassle for a school to plan activities with diversity in mind. I'm not suggesting the school go to elaborate extremes to accommodate those of different faiths, morals, etc. I'm saying, give those whose parents object a chance for library time, or let groups of students plan and have a place to carry out those plans. This would be a learning experience for every participant, and those not taking a part, as well. I was a Girl Scout Leader, a Sunday School teacher and a substitute public school teacher, so I know what I'm asking. These kids need to learn how to work in groups, to make friends, and to earn respect.

I would discontinue all the benchmarking and yearly testing. Why not unburden our schoolteachers and let them teach, free of endless paperwork and the threat of job loss if their class can't pass the tests? DOE's own studies prove these tests are unfair to people of color. Instead, give schools with students who can't make the grade more teachers, and reduce their class sizes. These studies show that private schools have students who do better, and the main factor in this is probably the reduced class sizes. It certainly isn't more money, better books, or more skilled teachers. Students learn better in smaller groups. We set too much store by these tests, and not enough for teaching students how to live with other students, how to be good citizens, and how to reach out in their community.

Personal health has an impact in all of these areas. Students in public schools need to learn how to cover their coughs, and how to stay home when running a fever so the other students aren't as much at risk [germs can be passed long before symptoms show, but those with a fever are shedding more germs or viruses]. Have students wash their hands often. A student who is ill is not going to enjoy school as much, and may just want to drop out. Why force sick students or workers to be there, do or die? How many heart attacks and strokes do we have in our country compared to other countries? Could it be that we are so stressed out as a nation that we overindulge in the comfort foods? What's more stressful than being low-income and trying to be seen as anything other than criminals or probable criminals?

Health care needs to be for everyone, not just for kids. What happens if Susie gets a strep throat and gives it to single parent Mom who can't afford to go to the doctor, and Mom dies? I started a job in Tennessee and my health insurance had a $400 a year deductible. The three of us had strep, and I met that deductible. The first month. We ate beans for a long time, meatless chili, things like that. I had help from my family, but our crisis came at a bad time. We had just moved, and been given a lot of financial help. Nobody has pockets that deep!

We're all in this together. People at higher incomes have investments, and probably, not much cash on hand. Low-income people don't have much, period, and are in danger of becoming homeless. In the 80's, I knew a lady who became homeless, a good friend of mine. She wasn't a shirker by any standard, but she was chronically ill. I met her friends in the homeless shelter. I was low-income, but she was a lot worse off. About a third of these women were mentally ill or chronically ill. About a third were on drugs or recovering. And, about a third were escaping from abusive relationships. Of these, most of the escapee third got back on their feet quickly, because most of them had jobs, just needed an emergency place to stay while saving up for the next apartment. The third involved with the drug scene, many of them had counseling and support, and turned their lives around. But, the other third that weren't healthy, they had trouble making it. Counseling can't fix that. Medical science can't fix everything. A lot of these lost their jobs because they weren't healthy enough to meet the attendance requirements, for work or going back to school. There were a few who were chronically homeless and not about to give that up, for their own reasons. Most of these women, if you passed them on the street, had class with them, or worked with them, you would never know from their clothing or the way they acted, that they were homeless. Most homeless people can get clothes from charity pretty easily [shelters give them out], so if they have regular access to a shower, they don't LOOK homeless. They act like you, me, and everybody. Some are very likeable and some are antisocial, but most are on the likeable side, and make good friends. You can't put a label on the homeless.

The makeup of the homeless is a lot different since the 90's. Fully half are families with children, a big change from mostly singles. My friend had to let her ex take her daughter and lost custody because shelters didn't take kids. Salvation Army did, but in the middle of the day, you had to leave, and food was on her own. My friend was afraid her daughter would be hungry, so she let her ex take her. Once, she came for her visitation and the little girl was playing with broken glass in the parking lot. Dad was sleeping. Another time, a nude babysitter met her at the door, talking to someone who wasn't there. This person babysat for free, but needed care herself! My friend had quite a court battle gettting her daughter back, and nothing but behavior problems afterwards. The neglect changed her.
Shelters are harder and harder to get into. It used to be just a few days to get into a shelter, and if you needed a long-term stay, you could stay. My friend stayed for a year before getting into transitional housing and an apartment. Now, you get three weeks, and you have to leave. Transitional housing has long waiting lists. Shelters can take weeks of persistent calls before finding an empty bed. An apartment for a low-income person can take at least six month to 2 years or longer, especially for a handicapped person.

If you look at the problems of poverty, health is a big issue. If our country were to provide health care, even at a percentage of salary, for everyone who needed health insurance scaled to income, Medicaid budgets might not need to be at the high levels they are now from state budgets. After all, society suffers when preventable illness becomes deadly because someone couldn't afford an inexpensive screening. Advanced cancer is much more costly to treat than removing a tiny growth. We don't have to insure the entire country at once. All we need is an option for those who can't afford health care.

Health and attendance policies of work and school are interconnected, and discriminate against those with health problems. Schools should get money based on enrollment, not on attendance. People shouldn't be punished for having poor health, or accused of doing drugs or getting drunk when they miss Fridays or Mondays from work because they just can't push on any longer that week. OSHA policies that punish businesses for allowing employees to take leave without pay need to be changed. The Family Leave Act doesn't help people who don't need six months off at a time. There needs to be a way to allow certain jobs for handicapped or people struggling with poor health to be benefit-providing, but flexible, so these folks can stay in the workforce, or stay in it longer. Regulations need to include the disabled and protect them, so they need not be fired as a marker that they need to apply for Social Security Disability. The latter needs not to punish those who apply, and there needs to be a regulation that this agency can't just take away benefits, leaving the ones least able to fight to lose their homes and possessions, joining the ranks of the homeless. All of us who draw Disability have that fear, that we might lose our benefits because we are at the whims of strangers, who don't know our cases. If you don't believe this, talk to someone like me who's on Disability. Ask me how hard I had to fight to get it, and how many people I felt needed it who gave up because the process was just too hard. Ask me how many people I spoke with in Food Stamp offices, who spent years trying to get it, and needed it, and couldn't get benefits. Disability isn't a given, as I thought, in case you get unable to work. You wait five years after you can't work, and you aren't eligible. A lot of people live off savings and wait too late to try to get benefits. Many people are surprised, who know me, who knew how I struggled to keep working, how many years it took to win my case. The day I won, I came out crying. The process is painful, and scary. Also, the win isn't really a win; it's a declaration that you really can't keep working, that you are disabled, and it feels as if your world fell apart. Nobody WANTS to be disabled. Work defines us, here in the United States. Losing a job is traumatic. Admitting that you can't keep on and you won't ever be able to work again, it's crushing. A lot of people think you're a bum. That, somehow, your moral character is flawed because you somehow couldn't keep fighting to get to work every day. There is a stigma to being unemployed; being disabled and unable to work is a stigma that never ends. You feel less than a person.

I enjoyed work. It gave me a venue where I could excel. Yet, the pressure to perform, to compensate for my poor attendance, was excruciating. I struggled for about ten years before i couldn't struggle any longer. When I worked a temp job in an office, typing up voice mail for eight hours a day, this was easy work. Yet, those 4 days split by a weekend I spent in bed, took so much out of me, I spent a solid month in bed. I'm not exaggerating. I got myself to the bathroom and to the kitchen to throw something easy together, and that was it. I couldn't walk my daughter to school and back [we lived a half mile from school, a pleasant walk on flat territory with good sidewalks]. At that point, I finally listened to my doctor and gave up. I was stubborn. It took 2 years to decide that i needed that cane my doctor recommended. I had carpal tunnel. The cane aggravated it, even though I switched hands. I limped on both sides. I got 'elbow crutches', those things people who had polio use. That aggravated my carpal tunnel in both wrists at the same time. My health care provider, a nurse practitioner, suggested I get a wheelchair, but her family practice doctor who supervised her disagreed. He knew nothing about my condition; he specialized in OB/Gyn in his practice. The nurse practitioner was the expert on fibromyalgia, and she knew my frequent falls weren't related to that, not at all. She went to conferences and shared what she found out. The doctor refused to sign my prescription for a wheelchair that she wrote out. I didn't have Medicaid and couldn't get it without winning my disability case. The disability case took four years. So, for four years, I didn't have health care, except what I could afford, which wasn't much. I went to my local Independent Living Center, and they loaned me a wheelchair.

I missed working. My self-esteem was very much tied to my library job. Without it, I felt kind of lost. But, I kept busy, as my health would allow. I made the decision to homeschool my daughter. I learned a lot about how the schools really work, about how much they ignore any studies that don't support the way they do things in the schools [oh, no, I'm beginning to sound like a conspiracy theorist!]. I would have gotten a lot more creative with the way I did homeschool if not for the Core Curriculum Standards set by the state. We lived in Utah. I think a doctoral education student would have had difficulty understanding the standards they expected teachers and us homeschoolers to follow! I looked up the Georgia ones. They were spelled out very clearly, in such a way that someone without a college education would find easy to understand! I used the GA standards to explain what I, a college-educated person, could not understand in the Utah ones. There is little difference between what the states expect, at least comparing GA, UT, and CA.

I thought back to my time in public school. In elementary up to junior high, one could miss up to 30 days out of 180. My grades in 6th-9th grades were A's and B's. Yet, I usually missed all 30 of those days, because I was running a fever. That was Mama's criteria for keeping me home. If I ran a fever or had vomiting or diarrhea, she kept me home. So, I was genuinely sick all of those days. Then, high school came. Mama was a nurse, and she really didn't like the new attendance policy : You could only miss 20 days. I couldn't afford to fail, so I went to school with a fever a lot of those days, and I probably infected a lot of other kids. In 10th grade, it got so bad, I had to go on the Homebound Program so i wouldn't get the truancy letter, while our doctor ran tests on me [he suspected heart problems]. A specialist said I had Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. I felt like my life was over! Everything depends on attendance. From that time, I planned for the time that I would get disabled. I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could. I planned to make it to age 65 or die. But, I avoided debt, just in case. I planned to finish school and get as much education as I could. I actually worked very hard to finish high school a half year early [including summer school] so i could start college Spring Quarter before I would graduate with my class in June. Attendance policies in college were even stricter, and I struggled even more! If I struggled that much, think of all the people literally dying who cannot work or get Social Security Disability. I was not and am not dying. I hurt, thinking of all the ones who need it and gave up because they couldn't physically get up and fight to get it. I know people who lost it and gave up. These are the people who can least fight, who are ignored by the system. What's wrong with this picture? Now you can understand why the homeless shelters are crowded with the disabled, and these folks aren't going to magically be able to leave the shelter in 3 weeks or less and get a job!

We need governments to do what we cannot do for ourselves, for our families. We need roads and bridges. We need a school system. We need laws and rules. Apparently, the insurance system is broken, and we low-income folk look to our Congress and our President to help us with this. How can legislators who make $70,000 a year or more understand me? My income is less than $20,000, and I have a daughter in college. I have Medicare and Medicaid, but anytime now, Social Security can decide I am no longer eligible to draw Disability, and I can lose my house I bought under GA Dream Program, a HUD program. It has happened to friends. Not long ago there was an outcry to cut all dual-eligibles from Medicaid. If they do that, I lose my personal care aide, who helps me take baths, heats up food for me, does light housekeeping to take some of the burden off my daughter, my primary caretaker. Look carefully at my face, on my profile picture. I am a dual eligible. I get Meals on Wheels. I have to pay for my monthly personal care aid and food [most people are shocked that I have to pay anything, at my income].

 I am at the mercy of Congress and its whims. I feel no one represents me and people like me, except maybe Mr. Obama, and all he gets is criticism. I hurt inside for all the people I see around me struggling to keep working, when they should be able to get Disability. And, I feel awful for all the people I run into when I'm waiting at the Department of Family and Children's Services, or seeing a counselor for handicapped services, or infrequent trips to the Social Security Office. I'm not out and about very much; about 90% of my days are spent literally in bed. Yet, when I meet others who have handicaps or health problems, many have applied for Disability and have been turned down. These strangers that I meet for a few minutes break my heart. So many need Disability and cannot get it, or face meetings with embarrassing questions, or see a different doctor who says they aren't handicapped and lose their Social Security. I had to fight for four years to get it. You apply for Social Security Disability, and 90% are denied. Some people give up at that point. You can ask for them to see your file again; this is a Reconsideration. About 50% are denied at this point. The next step is to get a Disability lawyer and submit medical records, an expensive and time-consuming process. There are Social Security doctors to see, and some are combative. You get your day in court and come out crying, even if you won, because it's a combative process, because it's the final proof that you are disabled and can't work. The psychological toll of not being able to work, of exceeding your leave, of worry over the possibility of losing your job, of being fired because you're sick too much, and maybe being accused of being alcoholic because you miss a lot of Fridays 'cause you just can't make it one more day. The Mondays because you got sick all weekend from trying to make it through Friday.

The way people tell you, "oh, you could work if you just wanted to bad enough". What a thing to say to anyone! Or, the people who got disabled and somehow overcame it, and berate you because you "didn't have the guts to get out of that wheelchair". I liken it to the Olympics. Most people can learn to swim, but very few will ever be good enough at it to go to the Olympics. Those folks who did escape disability, that's wonderful, like winning a gold medal! But don't assume that just 'cause you won the gold, that everyone can do it. There are too many ads by agencies that help the handicapped portraying the handicapped as 'courageous', 'brave', or 'strong'. I never feel any of those things! See my other post, a reply to the lady dying of cancer who said she wasn't, either. People go through bad things. They deal with it. It's not like choosing to be a hero! But, should they be treated like they are morally deficient if they can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps? I did, for years, until I got to the point I just couldn't do it any more. I've been disabled since before age 7. Everyone walks down a road that's just too long, at some point in their lives. I am a little over 50, and hit that point at the young age of 40. If I could've had some jobs that didn't require me to lift tens to hundreds of file boxes or bins of cans, or books, I might not have become disabled. Or, if I could've taken leave without pay during the winter, at times. In every library job I had in my adult life, my bosses said my work was so good, they could put up with my absenteeism. Personnel was sympathetic, but blamed OSHA. In the meantime, I had a daughter to support, and I couldn't expect my family to support me.

You have probably heard many stories worse than this, and solutions by more learned people. Our country has a crisis.Will our legislators argue until another year, and another passes, and nothing changes? I think even an imperfect, flawed National Healthcare Plan is better than sitting on our hands afraid to do something because it doesn't please everybody and their brother. If they can't come up with a plan, why not take all the ideas and do little plans? I pay outrageous school taxes but my daughter is in college, not public school. In fact, she saved them a year's worth of expense by taking her GED and entering college a year earlier [her choice because she didn't like online high school and didn't want to attend public school]. She was a GED honor grad with a trophy to prove it. As her mom, I am praying she will do what I couldn't: Finish school, and continue her dream of becoming a nurse. She wants to get out of poverty and support me. She could've gone off to Idaho to BYU there, and left me to fend for myself; but she decided she wanted to support me and stay with me. My daughter is proof there is hope for this younger generation. Her peers at Andrew College seem to be more interested in partying on the weekend instead of studying as she does. My daughter has ADD, and her studies take more of her time. But, she's a good B student in her second year. She is proof that poverty can't stop a person with good goals. Every day she walks the three blocks to school and back several times, to let our dog out and check on me. She has a painful knee that bothers her when it rains. She gets sick more often than her peers. One October Friday she missed class, and the opportunity to dress in her much-awaited Halloween costume, because of a really bad migraine. But, my daughter keeps going, as I tried to do in college. My mistake was trying to work and put myself through. If I had it to do over again, I would go full-time and put up with the debt. My fear of debt left me with Senior standing but no degree, because my health ran out. I have hope that my daughter will make it, and I pray she does not get disabled, at least until she retires. But, like me, she struggles against migraines that don't respond to meds, frequent illness, and a knee that swells up every time it rains, to get to class and concentrate on her studies. She has ADD, but her school requires an expensive program to get any standard helps like being able to use a tape recorder for lectures. Several classes forced her to watch R-rated movies as part of her class time, and that's against our religion [we are Mormon].

If you agree with me, please send this link to your Congressman, to your favorite news outlet, or send it to a friend. If you don't believe me, go down to your local Family and Children's Services office. Talk to a social worker. Spend some time talking to people waiting. Do a Google search. Suspend your disbelief long enough to do a little research; just a few mins of your time. People are dying. They are suffering from policies that make it harder for them to be normal. Congress is so paranoid about low income people trying to steal from the government, they ignore the fact that they are punishing the very people who are supposed to be able to get help.

Someday, if you are healthy, you might get a severe health problem [I pray you don't]. Or, your elderly parents. Maybe you have a relative with a developmental disability. If you ask among members of your family, or your friends, you will find people affected by this issue, who are struggling against restrictive attendance policies to keep going to school, or keep working, and some might be losing the battle, as I did at the young age of 40. Don't assume someone is healthy enough to do ________ [fill that in with just about anything] because they look healthy. I am very disabled, and I look perfectly healthy. Ask your doctor if you don't believe me, if someone disabled looks disabled. There are many facets of disability. Some disabled people can and should keep working. But, who should decide it? Are we so sure that people are taking advantage of disability benefits that we should keep the very ones who need it from getting it? Are we so sure that people are taking days off for leisure that we punish the workers who struggle every working day to come in? Are we so cruel, that we accuse the poor of using kids to do drug deals instead of sending them to school? Yes, some people do these things. But, not most people. These policies punish the low income person, who's struggling to do the right thing.

Don't wait until the person with the health problem is you. Change your attitude. Don't assume that low-income people are all drug addicts and out to cheat the government. Many people suffering from drug addiction got there because of the stress of working and trying to follow the rules, and either ill health or mental illness led them to say, nothing matters any more.' Drug and alcohol addiction is a problem for all income levels, not just the low-income segment of our population. Crime can happen anyplace, though low-income areas are often a target for crime against low-income people, because we are vulnerable, because there are assumptions that somehow, we don't deserve programs to help us fend off these predators. I have had to live in low-income areas, because the 'better' areas are too expensive. I got to know my neighbors. We were all in the same boat. We knew where the predators were and avoided them, and tried not to come home after dark. Some of my neighbors grew up in trouble with the law and their families, too. Yet, they never tried to hurt me or steal from me. All of the ones I knew were trying to straighten up. They had more obstacles to overcome than I. Many were former addicts struggling to stay straight. Every person has good in them. No life is disposable. Social problems are not simple. Cookie-cutter solutions don't work.

The next time you see someone who says all people on Welfare should be tested for drugs, think about this: What if you, in your youth, made a mistake? How many times should you pay for that mistake? What if people assumed you were a drug addict when you weren't, because you lived on a street where drug dealers hung out? What if you could only afford an apartment on that street? Would you like being tested for drugs even though you never used them, or used them 20 years ago? What if you lost your job and everything you owned, because you got laid off? What if you had to apply for Welfare? How would you feel, going down to that social worker and having to prove you didn't have any money in a bank account someplace? Wouldn't you feel just a bit resentful that you, an honest and hard-working person, had to answer questions like, "Are you a fleeing felon?" on the Food Stamp form? [that question is still on there. If I were a crook, and a fleeing felon, would I tell the truth? The question insults my integrity and is offensive to me]. The government assumes I am dishonest, and involved in some sort of crime, because Congress makes a lot more money than I do, and because of that, they assume that all low-income people are crooks. I am not. I'd love to tell every person in Congress that i am honest, and I am sick of being treated like a crook, because I have to get Food Stamps so my daughter can eat [Meals on Wheels is only one meal a day, for the person who needs the Personal Care Aide]. I was sick of being treated like a drug addict every time I missed Monday or Friday, when I worked, and paid a high price in pain and discomfort sitting at my desk each day I made it there. Many days, I looked fine to my co-workers, and felt like I would faint any min. The stress of trying to handle just getting my daughter to day care on the bus, then taking another bus to get to work on time, and just making it through each day, it was killing. I was sick of the attendance policies and not being able to stay home when I was sick. I was tired of being a body in place because I couldn't think, because I was too sick to be sitting there at my desk, and my boss usually wished she didn' t have to answer to Personnel if she let me go home. In school, I was afraid of failing because I missed too many days, even though I made up my work and had good grades. I resented only making a C in PE because I couldn't do normal things. Attendance was only one of the discriminatory policies that made my disabled life a LOT harder.

I'm not saying that disabled people should eat up all the resources of our great nation. I'm saying that, there are ways to change these discriminatory policies without costing a lot. Politicians think it sounds great to cut dual eligibles out of the Medicaid and Medicare budget. But, do a search on how much that actually cuts from that huge budget; you will find it's about half a percent or less. It's not us disabled people costing so much. It's sloppy accounting. It's poor people waiting to get cancer treatment until it's advanced. It's little health problems growing into expensive ones because of lack of money for inexpensive tests.

My father died of Malignant Myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer. He probably got it because he was deliberately exposed to mustard gas during WWII in the Navy. They were told it was tear gas. When Saddam Hussein unleashed mustard gas on the Kurds in the 80's, they did long-term studies and found that genetic neurological anomalies carry down through the 3rd and 4th generation. It's probably the reason I'm disabled, more than the fibromyalgia, but I can't prove it. Dad's military records burned in the huge fire in Page, MO where WWII records were stored during WWII. Medical records are now kept only 7 years. If you don't keep copies [ever priced records at your doctor's? Low income folks can't afford to keep copies], you won't get them after 7 years. So, I had trouble proving the severe concussion I had at age 9, too; that can have lifetime consequences. I was in the ICU for 2 days. I don't have any proof.

But, back to my father. He got too sick to work, and had trouble making ends meet. He was too proud to ask for help to get a simple test to find out why he was so sick, a test that cost about $100. My sister had that much money and would gladly have lent it to him, or given it, if he couldn't pay it back. But, Dad didn't tell either of us. His cancer got a lot more advanced because of that, and his work cut him off. He was only months away from retirement when he got sick. He died at 62. He never got Social Security, Disability or Retirement. He died penniless. Dad had a nice income as a telephone engineer. There was no reason for him to die in a world of debt. There was no reason for him to have to skip that $100 test which could have spared him a lot of suffering and a lot of expense. Like me, he assumed the government would help him if he ever became unable to work. He thought his work would help him, because he worked for the company a good many years. Both safety nets he thought were there weren't.

You owe it to yourself to do a little research. Don't take my blog for it. Do a little Internet research. Ask yourself what you would do if tomorrow, you became disabled, because of an accident you didn't see coming, an illness, or a condition you didn't know you had. Do you think it would be easy to get Social Security Disability, or disability benefits through your work? If you lost your job, how would you afford COBRA? Could you make it on your savings? Are you up to your ears in debt?

You might say that since I saw disability coming, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. You might call me a liar. It's easy to criticize something you disagree with; but, I took steps to keep away from debt. I paid off my school loans early. I never got a credit card. I didn't go to school far away or live in the dorms. I worked my way through school. I got to Senior standing, but my credits weren't in the right places. But, before you criticize me, ask someone you know who's been through the Disability wringer. Chances are, it was just as hard for him or her to get it as it was for me. If it wasn't, ask them about people they met while getting Disability. Was it as easy for those people? Volunteer at a soup kitchen, and look at the faces. Listen to the stories. Homelessness isn't caused by being too lazy to get a job at a fast food. Even fast foods aren't easy to get a job there. If you aren't healthy, you can't make it. I worked at them in my 19th year, and couldn't handle liftting 50 pound sacks of onions, lettuce and tomatoes every day. I had a job at one in my 30th year, and couldn't even last 3 days. I couldn't physically do the work, not even part-time. I wasn't lazy. I was disabled. There are many with similar problems. They aren't lazy, but it's easy to call them lazy if you're healthy, if you don't have problems meeting the qualifications of attendance at school or work. Go talk to people so you can understand how it is. You don't have to believe me. But, you might find out from someone close to you, whom you can believe, how bad things are for the disabled. Restrictive attendance policies and lack of health care are related. Both discriminate against low-income people.

Dannis Cole
Therapeutic Science Fiction. No profanity. No explicit sex. No sickening gore. No excuses.
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Therapeutic Science Fiction


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