Monday, July 23, 2012

Four men who refused to be disabled

As a nation, we’re giving a free ride to far too many who refuse to find work.  Too many in America now believe they’re entitled to the fruits of the labor of others.  It wasn’t always that way. My father’s generation, and my grandfather’s generation, did everything possible to take care of themselves and their families.

In May of this year, 8.7 million Americans received federal disability payments – that’s 1 for every 16.3 workers in this nation.  By contrast, in 1992, the ratio of disabled to workers was only 1 to 35.5. The workplace in America didn’t become more dangerous.  The roads and highways didn’t become more dangerous. Why do we have so many more potential workers collecting disability payments?

From thirty years ago, I remember four courageous men who refused to believe they were disabled.

Mr. C. was a cerebral palsy victim.  You could see that by watching him struggle to walk across a room.  But Mr. C. did not let his physical difficulties stop him.  For forty years he was the government documents librarian at a small southern university.  Mr. C. received a number of awards for the books and articles he authored – not because he was disabled but because of his expert knowledge.

Mr. J was blind from birth.  I met him at an Ivy League university, where he was simultaneously earning an MBA and a law degree.  Where the rest of us studied by sunlight and lamp, Mr. J toiled away in darkness.  He “read” the textbooks and law cases which his wife and friends had dictated onto cassettes.  I haven’t kept up with Mr. J., but I certain he is a top-notch lawyer.  He would never have let his lack of eyesight block his path to success.

Mr. P was born without fully formed hands.  His stubby fingers seemed to grow out of the ends of his wrists.  That he could barely hold a piece of chalk didn’t stop Mr. P.  He was an excellent engineering professor.

Mr. D was also blind from birth.  When I met him, he was just starting his career as a computer programmer in the early 1980s.  As a programmer, I had often struggled to remember variable names as I read through pages of code. I don’t know how Mr. D was able to listen to his computer speak back output, one character at a time, and make sense of what was in code. Mr. D was not some charity case worker, but a talented professional.  His talents were recruited by other employers over the years.

If these four men could make it in the world without disability payments, why can’t everyone?  Certainly some people are truly disabled.  But anyone who can type intelligent sentences on a social networking website should be capable of doing some work in this nation.

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