By Wendy Burnett
I hate the “court shows” that have taken over daytime TV, but I get stuck watching them on a regular basis because my husband likes them . . .
That disclaimer being made, Judge Judy happened to be on my TV the other day while I was getting ready for work. The case doesn’t really matter, it was just another group of folks making themselves look stupid until Judge Judy came out with something to the effect of:
“if he was able to go pick up money at Western Union, twice, he doesn’t sound very disabled to me!”
This is a perfect example of the total ignorance of what a disability IS, and the complete lack of understanding that people with disabilities face every day from the “healthy” population.
Does Judge Judy perhaps think that if we are not totally confined to our homes, we don’t qualify as disabled? Has she forgotten that even those among us who use a wheelchair, and therefore are VISIBLY dealing with some form of disability, are still able to leave our homes? Does she think that going to Western Union to pick up money (a fifteen to twenty minute process) is somehow more difficult than getting to the doctor’s office and spending hours waiting to be seen, or would being able to go to the doctor also disqualify us from being able to claim our disability?
Maybe the person whose disability she so easily dismissed was a veteran who lost his legs fighting for our country, or a former police officer who was shot in the line of duty. Would that have changed her opinion, or would she still have dismissed his reality so lightly? What if he had lost a foot to diabetes? Would that disqualify him because diabetes is considered a “lifestyle disease” and those of us who are diabetic must have “brought it on ourselves?” Does a person with uncontrolled schizophrenia qualify as disabled; or someone with fibromyalgia or myalgic encephalomyelitis, or does the fact that these chronic illnesses are invisible disqualify those who have them even though many fibro and ME patients are confined to bed for long periods (and are actually more likely to be confined to their homes than those with more visible disabilities)?
I’m used to Judge Judy’s insensitivity, abrasive personality and absolute lack of understanding that her life is not typical for many of us; but this rude, insensitive statement totally threw me.
[Random rant related to the lack of understanding: In the case that is on right now, she just asked the defendant for his grandfather's phone number, and when he stated that his grandfather doesn't have a phone she said, "I don't believe you. EVERYONE has a phone." No, Ma'am, everyone DOESN'T have a phone . . . I don't. My husband has one, but we frequently don't have service on it because we didn't have money to buy minutes. I haven't had a telephone since 2008, and for almost a year my husband didn't have one either. There are also quite a few people who don't have bank accounts, because they don't have any money to put in them. The only reason I have one is because direct deposit is easier than trying to find someone to cash a check these days. (Bank accounts don't make a lot of sense when the money is gone the day after the check is deposited, especially if the company you work for doesn't offer direct deposit and you have to pay "service fees". Why would I be willing to pay someone to take my money and give it back to me when I can just keep it in the first place?)]
So, anyway, back to the point of this post; which is supposed to be the general ignorance of the “able” population about what disability is, and what someone who is labeled “disabled” is actually able to do (and not able to do.) [And, by the way, that label is incorrect as well. We are not disabled, we have a disability or combination of disabilities.]
According to the UN definition, a disability is:
Any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
According to Social Security, a disabling condition
- must be severe enough to last for at least the length of a year (or be projected to last that long) AND
- must prevent a person from being able to work during that time at one of their former jobs or engage in any other type of work
Even the ridiculously restrictive Social Security definition doesn’t exclude being able to visit the Western Union office. Just because someone is able to dress and go out for an hour or two does not mean they’re capable of spending 8 hours a day working (or even 2 hours.) I have friends who could manage to go to the Western Union office if it were important enough, but who would spend the next week in so much pain that they’d be confined to bed; and other friends, with disabilities that fit the Social Security definition, who wouldn’t be physically affected at all.
Statements like Judge Judy’s perpetuate stigma, discrimination against, and misunderstanding of the disability community. If we allow them to go unchallenged, our silence makes us complicit in this stigmatization. If this upsets you as badly as it does me; please write about it, contact Judge Judy and let her know how unacceptable such statements are, contact FOX and let them know how you feel about it, spread the word . . .
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