A short time ago I was speaking with a man who had a disability. He was sitting down with me and we got chatting away about things innocently enough and gradually the conversation took a turn to his situation. Seems he has had his physical disability all his life, and all kinds of people in his past have pretty much told him consistently that he’d never really be able to work.
“Don’t get me wrong”, he said, “I want to work, but you know with my handicap, I’m on disability forever”. Now I’m not a Doctor, and I don’t pretend to know a person’s physical capabilities or limitations without that expert training and a full medical examination. However, I do know a thing or two about personal motivation and when someone is truly motivated or just making excuses. So was he using his disability as a crutch and making excuses for not working, or was his disability so disabling that there truly is no job on the planet that this fellow could do with some effort on his part? That’s what I aimed to find out.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I am sensitive to the needs of someone who presents with a disability, but I am equally aware and empathetic to the fact that all people carry around with them some vulnerability, some weakness, something that limits them from perhaps achieving their ultimate goals, and not all those things can be seen with the naked eye.
This man told me that he went to the Doctor and got the Doctor to confirm his disability, then he provided written verification of this disability to his Caseworker, who in turn told him that he was not required to job search, and would receive financial assistance in the form of Social Assistance (currently $606 a month Canadian). He was also told to apply for Disability assistance which if granted, would be issued instead. “So that’s it then”, he said. “I’m disabled”.
So I mulled things over in my mind quickly and here’s what I did. I told him that I was sorry to hear about both his disabilities. “Both?” he replied. That’s when I acknowledged his physical disability and made reference to his other less visible disability – his personal motivation. This is the part of my blog where some of you can’t believe I could be so insensitive. Others have a good idea where I’m going.
Many disabled people tell those of us who are not, that they don’t want to be treated differently. They want to be challenged, be accepted, be useful, be employed, and don’t need our sympathy but do need and want us to treat them with dignity and give them a chance o prove themselves. I hear perfectly able-bodied clients telling me that they’ve stopped looking for employment because of the economy, their frustration, a death in the family, lack of education; external stuff. So was this fellow the same in that respect?
I had picked up on an earlier statement he made which was, “Don’t get me wrong, I want to work”. So I asked him if he truly wanted to work, how much thought had he put into what he was capable of doing instead of what he was physically incapable of doing? “But my Doctor says I’m disabled”, was his reply. That’s when I knew I was on to something. He didn’t answer the question but used an external source to validate his current situation instead of taking personal responsibility and answering the question. I suspected he wanted one more person to validate his lack of effort, not his physical disability, which by the way no one would question.
So I suggested he go back to that Doctor and instead of making an appointment to just get his disability confirmed, have a discussion about what he physically is capable of. In other words, could he take on some job, perhaps on a part-time basis to start, where he could use his brain, his arms and hands, be productively working to raise his spirits and feelings of self-worth, or was he truly entirely unemployable. “You’re the first person who thinks I could work”, he said. I told him that his physical disability was not in fact his biggest disability, the larger disability was in fact his attitude. Not in a, “You’ve got a terrible attitude” way, but in a self-limiting mindset way.
If that Doctor confirms there isn’t a job on the planet this fellow can do, then I’ll be glad to agree that although he wants to work he can’t. However, I suspect that there are a wide number of jobs that with the proper training and accommodation, this fellow would be more than capable of doing. Due to the nature of where I work, I may or may not even see this fellow again. I hope I do because then I can follow-up and see if he followed through on this suggestion.
Before you can get others to see past your disabilities, you often have to truly believe in your capabilities yourself.
Check out this video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmVdfFKiaLU or just type, “They were wrong” into the Youtube search engine.