Thursday, July 27, 2006

"You should get a job"

We've all heard the stories about terminally-ill people who valiantly went to work every day until the day they died.

And then there are those disabled people who apply for Disability benefits.

I'm going to say something that some of you don't want to hear, but which the disabled community has wanted to get out for years.  The difference is not in the work ethic of the employee, but the compassion of the employer. 

Most people applying for Disability benefits would love to still be at work, but their employers don't want them any more.  Maybe it's prejudice.  Maybe they're perceived to be a worker's comp claim waiting to happen.  Or maybe they just aren't able to produce at a level satisfactory to their employer.

Once you're disabled, your chances of getting a new job – even one you're eminently qualified for – drop dramatically.  The Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to guarantee you equal treatment in hiring, but for many disabled applicants, all it means is that the employer comes up with a reason other than your disability not to hire you.

There's also some misunderstanding in the general public about what ADA promises.  You are not entitled to a job that you cannot do on equal footing with other employees.  If the job description requires typing 85 WPM and your disability limits you to 15, you can't use your disability to get around that requirement.  The employer has every right to expect you to produce just as much as everyone else once the necessary accommodations are made.

I would love to go back to work, but the law is quite clear that the accommodations that I would need (starting with "work when able") are not considered "reasonable accommodations" under ADA.  It isn't that I didn't try diligently to get a new job, but that interviews that were going really well ended on the spot when I brought up the need for accommodations.

I've been on both sides of this story.  In 1987, I had an employer willing to keep me on the payroll, even though I was only able to work part-time and not working at full capacity when I was there.  I "bravely battled" my disease (which had not yet been diagnosed) and "was dedicated to my job".  They had the legal right to fire me for excessive absenteeism, tardiness and frequently leaving early, but chose to take care of a long-time employee who was considered an irreplaceable asset to the company.

In 2000, I was just as "dedicated to my job" and just as "bravely battling" my disease, but my employer was not as dedicated to me, and even though I was absent only 2 days because I was so dedicated to trying to work despite increasing symptoms, they fired me.  Under ADA, they were legally permitted to do so.  There was no "reasonable accommodation" possible to increase my productivity.  There wasn't even an unreasonable accommodation that would have allowed me to keep up the workload when simply getting to work left me exhausted and in need of an hour nap.

My personality didn't change in the intervening years.  My work ethic didn't change.  The only thing that changed was my employer, and my employer's attitude.  This one had an eye on the bottom line, and I wasn't contributing enough to justify my salary.

That's the reality of it.  Next time you're inclined to throw in a disabled person's face that he ought not expect Disability benefits because your cousin's neighbor worked until the morning of her final hospitalization, you should instead throw that in the face of the callous employer who fired him.  If every employer were willing to be humanitarian toward disabled employees, there would be a lot fewer people forced to swallow their pride and apply for Disability.  Employers who won't let willing disabled employees continue working to the best of their ability deserve scorn far more than those rare lucky disabled employees deserve praise for having a compassionate employer who didn't fire them in the same situation.

If every employer were as compassionate as those whose employees are allowed to continue working until the day they die, there would be a lot fewer people applying for Disability benefits.  If my husband hadn't accepted a job in another city, forcing me to change jobs, I don't doubt that I would still be employed by the firm that put people before profits.  Unfortunately, you can't legislate morality, or compassion.

And, equally unfortunately, people are always willing to assume the worst about a disabled person who has been forced to swallow his or her pride to apply for Disability benefits.  They're not lazy –  doing their very best is simply not good enough for employers to want to pay them.

Dr. Mark Loveless, an infectious disease specialist and head of the CFS and AIDS Clinic at Oregon Health Sciences University, proclaimed that a CFIDS patient "feels every day significantly the same as an AIDS patient feels two months before death."


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Stress I Don't Need

I’ve had problems with the oven since moving in, so in some ways it was a relief when it gave up the ghost last week. No more setting the oven on 350 and having the smoke alarm go off within minutes because the actual temperature was over 600.

We went to a well-known store that I’ve dealt with many times and trust implicitly. My companion was a former salesman and, in fact, a former department manager for the same chain (different store); needless to say, he also trusts the company and knows their employees are trained to be honest.

I made it clear that I did not want electric ignition, and when the salesclerk tried to talk me into the more expensive model with it, telling that I could light the burners by hand during a power outage, but couldn’t use the oven, I made it real clear that this was not acceptable.

I repeatedly questioned her to be sure that the stove I was looking at operated with a pilot light ... to the point that my companion nudged me, he would have gotten very frustrated answering this same question that many times. He and I discussed at length, 2 feet from her, some of the reasons why I didn’t want electric ignition. Then I bought what she told me was the only model with a pilot light.

The stove arrived this morning, and ... it’s electric ignition! I called my companion first, then the salesclerk, who swore up and down that she never told me it was a pilot light system. Then my companion again, who confirmed that he heard her repeatedly tell me that this was the only model that did not have electric ignition. Then called the department manager, who chose to believe the salesclerk that I never said the only thing acceptable was a pilot light system and that I absolutely did not want electric ignition.

The manager did some checking, they no longer carry anything that isn’t electric ignition, and she’s not sure where I got the notion that this stove was anything but. Clearly, there was some "misunderstanding". I could see the clerk misunderstanding if I’d only mentioned it once, but I asked about it repeatedly; at some point, I should have used the right words to make myself clear.

I know exactly where I got the idea that this was the only model that did not have electric ignition – from a salesclerk so desperate to make the sale that she was willing to lie, repeatedly, several times while we were looking at the display, and one final time at the cash register, that this was what I had told her I wanted. My companion confirms he heard it, too, and she unequivocally said more than once that this worked with a pilot light, not electric ignition.

Clearly, she was using an old sales trick ... if you don’t have what they want, sell them what you have, and hope that when they get it home and find out it’s not exactly what they wanted, they fall in love with the bells and whistles and decide to keep it anyway. That gets you from no chance of getting a commission to a 50-50 chance.

So, once again, I asked the right questions, and was told what I wanted to hear so convincingly that even the professional salesman with me believed this was true. Yet another time that I wish I had been wearing a concealed microphone, so that I could prove that the problem is not that I don’t ask the right questions, it’s that people lie to me and tell me what they know I want to hear, knowing that they’re lying and hoping I won’t find out till it’s too late.

I told the manager that it would cost me another $100 to have an electrician come out to put in an outlet so that I could use my $300 stove; that’s a pretty hefty unexpected mark-up on my bargain! She was still insisting that the salesclerk wouldn’t lie, and that the entire problem was me. Offering to share the cost of the outlet might have saved the sale, but the manager was too busy defending her salesclerk to try to appease me.

At that point, I was so perturbed that I didn’t care if I had to pay ten times as much have a stove custom-made, I definitely didn’t want the stove that was delivered. (And, needless to say, that store will not be my choice to replace the washer/dryer and refrigerator that will need to be replaced in the next few years.)

Put out some feelers, found a nice one (but more expensive) at Lehman’s Non-Electric,, a company that serves the Amish and understands the notion that sometimes electric ignition is simply not acceptable. Then got a response to my e-mail that a locally-owned store has one in-stock for the same price I paid for this one.

So, going out in 111 degrees on Saturday was a complete waste of my limited energy, and most of my limited energy for today was also wasted in trying to find another source for what I thought I already bought. Fortunately, I had no work to do, so it didn’t cost me anything financially, just the ability to get a few chores out of the way. 

Oh, yeah, and now I have a headache and my upper body is so tense it hurts because what should have been a simple transaction is unduly complicated by the other people involved.


UPDATE ... The store manager of the original store called to let me know that the department manager has been let go for being rude to customers, and the salesgal was being spoken to sharply about the store's reputation for honesty being worth more than a few bucks commission.  He is going to refund everything, including the delivery fee, and the stove was picked up early this morning.  The other store will be delivering the RIGHT stove tomorrow.