Monday, May 14, 2012

Op-Ed: Give Us a Fair Shake

By Kathryn Fazio

Give us incentives equal to that for the blind

I learned from a group meeting at Lighthouse Inc., an organization for the blind, that the mental health disability population was the most feared disability group. Statistics showed people would rather be blind then cope with our challenges.

I engage in advocacy work so that one day I might see work incentives changed to encourage economic advancement, social compassion, and a realistic budget on par with the blind.

It is unsafe and unrealistic to be bound by out-dated Social Security Income resource limits ($2,000 is a disincentive to work), punitive rules and outdated Social Security law and practices that make it impossible to advance in "good faith" because of the complexity of managing our disability group. We require the additional supports that have been given to the blind population. The President of the United States needs to address this issue and replace old incentives with new more practical and achievable work incentives.

It is our collective duty to change case law and how rules govern Social Security so the President can measure our dissatisfaction in case law.

If we collectively and in an organized, responsible fashion enlist the help of psychiatric rehabilitation organizations in this issue instead of asking for expenditures that are far-fetched, we would crush the misuse of fear against us. I know that we and our skills are awesome. Our country must do what President Obama once stated, “Let’s recommit ourselves to building on the promise of Olmstead by working to end all forms of discrimination, and uphold the rights of Americans with disabilities, and all Americans.”

Have any of you ever experienced a hang-up, or just a constant loop of arduous ringing tones when trying to communicate with overloaded agencies who claim they want to assist us in recovery? Due to case law, better communication practices exist for the blind.

I require an open-hearted system, without unnecessarily harsh guideline barriers. I need motivators and human beings capable of kindness working in social or human services, not people who crack gum in my face and say the computer cannot be changed when I go to the Social Security office, Medicaid office, Medicare office, or Food Stamp office. It is stressful to see a line of foot soldiers working like adversaries behind plastic, just waiting to mess me up with some mistake I made due to my disability.

When I become disorganized because of mental illness, or when I am afraid of people I know can harm me, I feel displaced or unsafe in my environment. The last thing I want to hear is I did not keep the budget or receipts I was supposed to and that the onus of proof is on me. I am insulted at the disregard intelligent people have for our disability and our struggles. Why punish people with such a challenging disability involving the brain?

It is our time to create a collective standard through case law, which is as important as the Americans with Disability Act. We need opportunities on the ground level, accessible conversations with people who have power over us in government or federal agencies; communication with government representatives who have a real desire to propel us forward so we can live more dignified lives in a safe and predictable entitlement environment. We should not have to beg for this or be chased from one phone call to another with non-ending computer loops. These are safety issues as we manage erratic life-threatening disabilities. We need assistance that works instead of filling the disability issue with mixed messages as it pertains to employment, accessible work incentives, and organizational help.

I require access to true equality. I want the promise of appropriate employment goals and dreams fulfilled, without putting myself or my family’s assets in jeopardy, because I already know I have burdened my family and those I love by the simple fact that I am a person who copes with a persistent mental/emotional illness. Upward mobility with dignity, without discrimination or disparity equal to that of the blind community is overdue. Our population should have access to the benefits that the Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to insure.

The way to begin is through compassion. The way to document it is through case law, and the way to implement it is to harness genuine economic incentives and opportunities. The onus of responsibility to provide these life-affirming economic opportunities must be on the federal government as it has been for the blind. We owe it to ourselves and our families to stand up for our rights as people, and to snuff out the long accepted practice of discriminatory budgets, unequal budgets, and poor work incentives.

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