Thinking Today: Disability, Working, and Risk

Multicolored word cloud around words "Employment" and "Disability"

I read this tweet from the UK yesterday:

Poverty is hard, time consuming work, and being poor does not make one more attractive to employers. Employers usually prefer to hire people with stable, secure personal lives, including stable finances. Hiring a poor person or someone teetering on the edge of poverty is risky for employers, even before taking disability into account.

For most disabled people themselves, work itself is risky. There are tremendous benefits to be had from work, both emotional and material, but it's risky. You risk failure. You risk upsetting the balance of your health, either physical, or emotional, or both. Even if you plan and calculate meticulously, you risk finding yourself worse off financially than before you tried to work. You risk finding out there really are hard limits on what you can do with the body and mind that you have. You risk confusing people about whether you are, in fact, “disabled” and what that actually means.

That's another reason disability-related benefits like Social Security Disability and SSI shouldn't be viewed as something people get because they can't work, but rather as a secure base on which to build or rebuild a life of work. Benefits should back up your effort to work, not disappear as soon as you achieve stable, satisfying employment.

This should all be common sense. It’s not though, and that’s one of the persistent barriers to employment for people with disabilities. It also complicates most efforts to “reform” disability-related benefits.