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Overcoming ignorance about what disability should 'look like'

Despite how far America has come in the past few decades, disability is still very misunderstood. And sadly, ignorance about what it means to be disabled often leads to insults, insensitivity and lack of empathy for those struggling to live as others do.

Perhaps the most glaring misconception is the idea that a person's disability needs to be visually obvious. This is evidenced by countless stories of people being shamed for taking advantage of disability parking spots because they don't "look handicapped."

Recently, a mother and daughter in Colorado parked for just 10 minutes in a reserved parking spot outside of a Target store. The 10-year-old girl suffers from a genetic disorder characterized by muscle weakness and brittle bones. She also suffers chronic pain and sometimes requires the use of a wheelchair or crutches.

On that particular day, she apparently wasn’t using either, because there was a typed note left on the windshield of their car when they returned. Part of the note reads: "In case you don’t know, these spots are reserved for people who are truly handicapped, and because of idiots like you, they have to park farther away or not be able to come here at all.”

The person who left the note presumably keeps many copies of a form letter in their own vehicle to hand out. However well-meaning they might be, their accusations are offensive and ignorant.

Unfortunately, the same ignorance behind incidents like this can also be seen in public attitudes about the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Politicians and certain media outlets claim that the SSDI program is rife with fraud and abuse, and that many people who "easily" qualify for benefits are not truly disabled. There is no evidence to support these claims and much evidence to refute them, but the narrative is frequently repeated nonetheless.

The SSDI application process can be both lengthy and difficult. And contrary to the narrative presented above, many deserving applicants are denied benefits because it is difficult to "prove" that they are disabled. We must hope that as America comes to better understand and empathize with disability, more people will receive the help and support that they need and deserve.

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Melissa A. Proudian, Attorney at Law
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Fresno, CA 93711

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