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What is a Disability?

 article about activity
 I have a friend.


No, its not really me pretending. This is an actual friend who has an actual problem that I want to talk to you about. This friend had some serious health issues a while back -- a rather large stroke when she was very young, leading to epilepsy. Still, she made it through the rest of high school, then college. She was tough. True, she didnt make it in four years but in seven. She didnt work two or three jobs to finish in the university, partying all night and going to school and work all day like many students. While I was out clubbing and drinking, she was sleeping the required hours, abstaining alcohol and coffee rather than risking seizures. While I was dating X amount of men, jabbering and babbling to the new toy-boy of the week, she was quiet with her one quiet beau, taking time to speak because of her aphasia.


When she finally got out, ready to start life in her mid 20s, she had a problem. Because of her epilepsy, she had to take medication that knocked her out and made her spacey. Because of her seizures, she couldnt function on a regular basis all the time. Because of her aphasia, she couldnt talk very well. Because of her stroke, she could only use her stupid left hand. Thus she couldnt hold down a 9 to 5 job very well. She had a very competent college degree with nothing to use it on.


Sad, you say. But a lot in life is sad. And in America, if you cant find work because of a disability, you go to Unemployment or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or, since she hadnt worked at all, SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Right?


She applied. I helped her apply, feeling slightly guilty for my 9 to 5 job which I got almost after getting out of school. She went to the Social Security office and pled her case. Then we waited. And waited. After all, she really wanted to work and this Ticket to Work that the honorable President Bush put in place was just the thing to give her a boost. Right? And waited. Finally, the letter came in the mail.




Why, you ask? Because, as far as they can see, she is able to be employed in a substantial gainful activity:

The term substantial gainful activity describes a level of work activity that is both substantial and gainful. Substantial work activity involves performance of significant physical or mental duties, or a combination of both, which are productive in nature.

Gainful activity is work performed for pay or profit; or work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized. For activity to be substantial, it need not necessarily be performed on a fulltime basis; work activity performed on a parttime basis may also be substantial.1

In other words, since she went to college, studied hard in a very lucrative field, she could now work at McDonalds. As far as SSI was concerned, she was not disabled.

Bush extols his new plan, stating,

Too many individuals still find it difficult to pursue an education, or own a home, or hold a job. We must continue to remove the artificial barriers to achievement that remain.2

The ironic reasoning is that if she didnt go to college, if she didnt strive to work with the brain that the stroke had left her, then she would have been eligible.

Disability, it seems, comes in two levels: qualified for SSI vs. ineligible. Private companies, in many places, judge the eligibility of each person with whether he or she could get SSI. The JAN (Job Accommodation Network), a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy U.S. Department of Labor., though not entirely biased, looks hard at the record of SSI before helping in its truest capacity.

And my friend? Now shes self-employed. It was hard for her -- her parents supported her, not the government, and her job now is nothing like what she studied in school. The Ticket to Work didnt work in her case, but she finally got ahead anyway. Some disabled people make it.

Most dont



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