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We Are People With Disabilities, Not Case Numbers

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Going through the process of applying for government help is dehumanizing. It’s an endless series of forms asking the same questions over and over in different ways. They’re labyrinthine and seem designed to trip you up. You also need to learn a new lingo. If I’m “sitting” it means I’m in a position where I’m ready to work at a desk – apparently being in a chair with my feet up isn’t “sitting,” it’s “resting.” These new definitions mean we have to re-learn the language, and it often requires help from lawyers to comprehend it. I’m on my fourth application for Disability, and I’m still not sure I understand what I’m doing or remember everything I’m supposed to say.

We talk about our disabilities on an endless loop, saying things we’re coached to say in ways we’re coached to say them by our lawyers. The people judging whether or not we deserve help stare with eyes that see us as case numbers. Office attendants, security guards, case workers, people on the phone… it feels like none of them see us as human. Or, if they do see us as human, they see us as a waste. Our society conditions us to think of the worth of a person in terms of their bank account and what they can “contribute to society.” Of course, contributing means working a day job and proving we deserve to participate in the world. Those of us unlucky enough to have the inability to do that are perceived as, at best, inconveniences. At worst, they assume we are lazy, incompetent, and under-educated.

The endless circulation of forms and trips to see government officials who would much prefer to be anywhere but where they are is overwhelming. It’s enough to trigger depression and anxiety in anyone, even if they didn’t have it before.

We aren’t meant to be numbers. Our worth isn’t measured in the hours a week we can work or how much money is in the bank. We aren’t a case number in a file somewhere. The worth of a person is so much more than that. It’s in the love we share with those around us. It’s in shared moments and experiences. It’s in creativity and hobbies. It’s in how hard we fight to get out of bed in the morning and those little victories we achieve every day.

You are worth more than a number.

Let me say that again for the people in the back: You. Are. Not. A. Number.

In a world that so often tries to shuffle us off into a corner where we aren’t noticed and don’t have to be looked at, we struggle to be seen, heard, and acknowledged.It doesn’t matter whether your victory is running a marathon or dragging yourself out of bed, you are every bit as valuable as someone who works 40 hours a week. Disability means we are challenged in ways most people aren’t. Whether those ways are psychological or physical, we fight an uphill battle in damaged armor with a sword that could use sharpening. And every day we take another step on that hill. Sure, sometimes we stumble or slide backwards, but we continue fighting.

Originally published: August 22, 2016
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