Sir, may I have more please?

We all know the image of Oliver standing with his empty bowl asking for more porridge because he and the other boys were so hungry and underfed. He was “elected” to go ask for more food, a task that doomed him to censure.

Asking for help when you’re disabled can feel like that. Just like the image of the “charity boy” portrayed in Oliver, some people still think assistance to those of us with disabilities makes us “charity cases” . This image does not serve us well.

Many of the agencies designed to help us say they use a consumer model and would be aghast if told they are still treating people with disabilities like charity cases. But they do. I hear from people all over the country every day who report incidents of being treated like a charity case. It doesn’t always emanate from the top officials in an organization or agency – although sometimes it does , often in the sense of a tacit agreement to look the other way when others do it.

I’ve met quite a few social workers, for example, who still adhere to the charity model. I see social workers who completely ignore communications from people with disabilities, ranging from requests for services to complaints about service and then flippantly remark “Oh he (or she) doesn’t work and has nothing better to do!” to other professionals. Others make decisions on behalf of clients with disabilities as if the person has been declared incompetent, overreaching in an inappropriate way in order to save their own time and effort.

This results in either poor service to the consumer – or no service at all. I know people with disabilities who prefer not to get services rather than submit to this kind of treatment. It’s dehumanizing. And when you’re struggling with energy issues to get through the day, dealing with difficult people sometimes feels like too much.

So it may feel to people with disabilities that there is no recourse when this type of treatment happens to them individually. The reality is that employees who treat people this way usually do so across the board. It’s not personal – although it can feel that way. As hard as it is to do, it’s important to report workers who treat us this way and speak up about it.

If you’re dealing with a private company or organization, go up the hierarchy. Talk to the person’s manager or boss. If you don’t receive any satisfaction, report them just as you would any other business.

If it’s a government or public program, you can also go up the hierarchy, but also remember that taxpayers want to know how their money is being spent in these programs. Legislators trying to design programs that do more with less money want to know what services are needed and what programs work and don’t work. We are in an atmosphere where change can happen if we speak up.

No one should have to beg for services that provide for one’s basic needs or sustenance. We are not charity cases. Don’t let the people who are paid to run these programs treat you like that.

copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

4 responses to “Sir, may I have more please?

  1. Hmm. I am having to write one of those letters today, asking for money, and it is difficult to get *myself* away from the mindset that to ask for the help I need is the same as begging. The help I need is not for my survival after all, but my quality of life – and for some reason, I feel immensely guilty about that.

  2. Thanks for your comment- you make a couple of interesting points that I’d like to respond to. You make a good point about quality of life services – and I think those services fall under the same rubric – for me as a PWD I need services to have a quality of life so the charity model is inappropriate . It’s a matter of empowering ourselves to live fully and productively. Guilt , at least for me, comes out of of the way the services are set up – well it does “feel” like begging (at least to me) and it’s guilt-inducing (for me). I really do think we need to revamp the social systems that serve people with disabilities and make it far more empowering, which would actually be more cost efficient too. Good luck!

  3. It’s such an awkward mix of guilt and necessity or shame and pragmatism for me…

    But people are profoundly embarrased when I admit in public that not only did I collect disability when I was not working, I also applied for and recieved food stamps, vocational rehab, etc.

    AB’s actually look away from you….they’d like to paint you as a lazy victim, but they know they really can’t and they are uncomfortable.

  4. They are uncomfortable and often broadcast it in many ways – which is hard for us to deal with. I really think the way you put it with guilt and necessity or shame and pragmatism sums it up. We need these services because we have a disability – and if that is then “seen as” and handled as something we can’t even discuss in public or talk about, it’s another source of alienation in many ways. Having the needs in and of itself is one thing – what it gets turned into in society is another.

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