‘If I Can’t See It, I Don’t Have to Pay for It’: Towards a Theory of Disability Blindness

Introduction

Here I would like to present two potentially useful insights into the general problem of so-called “invisible” disabilities, by which I mean any number of potentially disabling conditions all of which have the common characteristic of being more or less difficult to see, understand, and accept as legitimate by anyone lacking the often specialized and/or up-to-date training required to diagnose them directly. Depending on the disability, this can include not just family members, friends, and co-workers, but even medical health professionals, including doctors whose experience and expertise lay in domains that aren’t directly relevant to the disability in question.

Such disabling conditions may include,

“…debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations, and vary from person to person.” (The Invisible Disabilities AssociationHow Do You Define Invisible Disability?)

Me and My “Invisible” Autism

For an example from my own life, since childhood I have struggled chronically for rational control over my own attention, striven excessively to organize my entire life around strict rituals and routines, and more or less botched up every interpersonal relationship I’ve ever had at home, school, or work. But it wasn’t until November 2016, just after my 53rd birthday, that I was properly diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder that best explains this particular triad of symptoms.

Now, one would think that such a diagnosis could only be a good thing, and I sincerely believe that in the long run it will turn out to be. The short run, however, has been a mixed bag. On the upside I finally have proper medical and therapeutic support, and at least the most important members of my family have come to embrace my diagnosis as a fulfilling source of answers to questions like “Whoa, what is up with him?” and “Why the Hell did he do that?

But I regret to say that the reaction of many has been less than sympathetic. Although much of this unsympathetic feedback is unspoken and revealed passively aggressively, at least a few hardy free-thinkers have been bluntly honest and highly articulate in their antipathy towards me. For example, consider these highly critical comments from one reader:

“…You’re not disabled. You’re just obsessed and angry…You’re a complete fraud. It’s my opinion whether you like it or not…someone with your intellect can easily research a psychological condition, go to a doctor, tell them what they want to hear listen to your tall tales of misfortune and assign you a diagnosis….”[1]

Or this one:

“You’re a sad little man playing the victim card while continually breaking rules you don’t like. Seriously, grow up.”[2]

Or this blurb (note the sadism of the final line):

“This blog is a testimony to someone who’s only ailments are selfcenterness, selfishness and greed. With the amount of energy and time you have put into this thing you could have already had another job for months. If you really have autism why don’t you blog about your search for a new job with your supposed ailment. I doubt you will though because that would be constructive and helpful to people with autism. Unfortunately the only thing readers have to look forward to is an awkward 3 month break in posts followed by a new entry about how your butthole hurts because you got your $hit puuuuussshed Innnn while in Prison….”[3]

But perhaps the most spectacular manifestation of this brand of hostility can be seen in the relentless and ongoing attempts by roughly a dozen individuals — mostly MetLife employees — to punish me for (what they must imagine to be my) pretending to have a disability and attempting to exploit public sympathy for my own selfish gain.[4]

Not that any of my former colleagues has accused me out loud of such fraudulent behavior, but at this point I think that is the hypothesis most likely to explain their collective and vindictive behavior toward me. These people can’t all be sociopaths, and if they sincerely believed me to have a legitimate disability I’m sure their behavior would have been very different. No, the most likely reason for their numerous and ongoing attempts to punish me is that they think I’m only faking my disability and that therefore I deserve to be punished.

Two Main Insights

I have thought a great deal about this whole situation and written quite a bit about it on this blog already, but here I wish to summarize my two main insights into the general problem. The first one is that these very angry but surely otherwise good people simply lack the training they would need in order to see, understand, and accept for themselves my Autism Spectrum Disorder as a legitimate disability. Because they lack this training, it really appears to them that I don’t have any disability at all, and so the obvious conclusion for them is that I must be faking it.

Although in such situations it is popular to reference the idea of an “invisible” disability, I believe this approach unfairly lays the burden of proof on the person with the so-called “invisible” disability, while lending an unearned legitimacy to anyone, e.g. a Disability Insurance company, who stands to profit or otherwise benefit from not seeing the given disability.

In order to solve these problems, elsewhere I have suggested the idea of Disability Blindness, which explicitly  acknowledges the objective possibility that, for example, a failure by Jones to see Smith’s disability might very well result from the fact that Jones simply lacks the training he would require to see it. This perspective at once shifts the burden of proof off of Smith and onto Jones, while demanding that Jones earn his legitimacy by acquiring the proper training. For a demonstration of how I have used this strategy to respond to one of my own harshest critics, please see the following 3-part series of blog posts:

  1. Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 1
  2. Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 2
  3. Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 3

The second main insight is that such Disability Blindness can actually be quite beneficial for some people, even profitable, and that for anyone who stands to profit or benefit in some way from being unable to see certain kinds of disabilities, such a person will tend to stubbornly resist the training he or she needs in order to see, understand and accept them them as legitimate. He or she will resist the training so as not to lose the profit/benefit.

This second insight can actually be expressed as a psychological law:

A Fundamental Law of Disability-Blindness

Given some disability that cannot be easily seen, understood, and accepted as legitimate without adequate training (e.g. psychiatric disabilities, chronic pain, etc.), a given layperson (one lacking such training) will nonetheless be able to see, understand, and accept the disability as legitimate to the extent that the disability doesn’t threaten to burden or inconvenience the layperson in any significant way.

Also, to the extent that the layperson perceives that he or she may be burdened or inconvenienced in some way by the disability in question, said layperson will resist the training and continue to find it difficult to see, understand, and accept the disability as legitimate, and this so as to escape the perceived burden or inconvenience.

Conclusion

All disabilities pose challenges to those who have them, but when a given disability can only be detected by people with specialized training, everyone else may succumb to the illusion that the disability is non-existent and conclude that the person with the disability is faking and attempting to exploit public sympathy for private gain. This illusion of cheating can give rise to hostility that may be expressed either covertly or overtly toward the person with the disability, thus greatly exacerbating the basic challenges associated with the disability.

In such situations, it becomes essential to understand the underlying psychological forces that are driving this hostility in order to find positive and constructive ways to cope with it. The insight, first, that the alleged “invisibility” of the disability may be due entirely to a correctable lack of training on the part of the layperson, and second, that the layperson may stand to lose profit or other benefit by acquiring such training can go a long way toward creating that essential understanding.

Of course, the above is not offered as any sort of exhaustive theory of Disability Blindness, but I’m hoping it’s a useful contribution to such a theory. I invite you to offer any thoughts, ideas, or feedback which may help to elaborate and complete the theory in a comment below.

Thanks for reading!


[1] For background and context see Hate Mail from That Disability Claims Investigator, Part 1.

[2]For background and context see Anonymous Guest-Blogger or Annoying Troll, Part 1: Who Is ‘Sulla Felix’?

[3]This bit of sadistic nonsense was left by an anonymous reader on my post Warning: This Blog Just Might Scare The Shit out of You.

[4]To summarize briefly: first these individuals unlawfully resisted my requests for reasonable accommodation of my disability, taking 7 months to revise a 1 page document granting my request (which was still wrong); then they fired me unlawfully because I filed a first complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for resisting my requests for reasonable accommodation; then they lied to the EEOC about why they fired me, giving the EEOC an excuse to drop the investigation of my second complaint against the company; then they tried to buy my permission to use their psychologically brutal tactics on others (I call the ensemble of these tactics The MetLife Meat Grinder); and now they’re fixing to send me to jail because I staged a one-man, totally non-violent, civilly disobedient protest at their campus in Cary, NC in order (among other things) to raise public awareness of The MetLife Meat Grinder.

For a more complete understanding, see, for example:

  1. The MetLife Meat Grinder: A Significant Public Health Concern
  2. The Morally Mature, Civic-Minded, Grown-Up Thing to Do: Yet, Another Open Letter to the Mysterious Mr. Phicks
  3. Is MetLife’s Code of Conduct Recklessly Incoherent Bullshit? — An Open Letter to MetLife CEO Steven A. Kandarian
  4. An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director.
  5. I Was Gang-Raped by MetLife Employees: Another Open Letter to the People of Earth.

 

Blueberry Pie for Dinner!?!? — Yet Another Metaphor for Autism

beef_goulash_331x210You’re sitting in a restaurant with a friend trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. You decide on a savoury beef goulash, and your friend orders a banana split sundae.

“Whoa, what about dinner?” you say. “I thought we came for dinner, no?”

“Oh, right,” your friend says. “OK, I guess I’ll start with the blueberry pie. That looks yummy.”

“Uh…no, that’s not dinner either. Pick dinner food.

“Dinner food, right, yes. Um…well, the carrot cake looks –”

“Nope! Try again.”

“Creme brulee?”

“HOLY COW! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? PICK A STEAK OR SOMETHING!”

Now, unbeknownst to you, the waiter had accidentally given your friend a dessert menu instead of the entree menu, so that’s why your friend keeps making all of these weird choices.

Without pretending to speak for all autistic people, I can tell you that for me the situation with autism is a lot like that. From a perceptual and conceptual standpoint, I live in a world that is quite different from that of so-called “normal” people. But for me at least, and unlike with the restaurant scenario, this perceptual and conceptual “menu” of mine actually overlaps sufficiently with that of everyone else’s so that I’m able to communicate and function under many conditions well-enough. For example, I’m definitely not actually delusional or hallucinating, but under various circumstances my behavior can strike many as bizarre or crazy, as if I were delusional or hallucinating.

So if you ever witness me making choices that strike you as, well, bizarre, it’s just because I’m not choosing from the same menu as you. You’re making your choices off of your Normal Person’s Menu and I’m making my choices off of my Autistic Person’s Menu.

Two different people, two different menus.

I hope that’s helpful!

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Mmmmm, dinner anyone? Image Credit: Pixabay

Why I Gave Back that Laptop I Stole: Introducing, Mr. Phicks

Turns Out, Kindness Is My Kryptonite

laptop_with_other_objects_323x210Remember that laptop I stole from the most recent company that fired me for being autistic? Well, I decided to give it back.

I know, right? What happened? Did my civilly disobedient cyber-crime actually work? Did I get cold feet? Did the FBI raid my apartment? Did I succumb to torture? Am I now writing to you from a prison cell?

Uh…no, none of that happened. What happened, basically, is that some guy — let’s call him Mr. Phicks — called me up, explained that he represented my most recent employer (the owner of the laptop),  and then asked me kindly to give back the computer.

Then I pretty much just said “OK”, and gave it back to him.

For the most part, that’s what happened. I’ve left out a few details in that telling, but at the end of the day, that’s pretty much the size of it.

Now, the missing details can all be packed into that word kindly that I used to describe how Mr. Phicks asked me to give back the computer. He asked me kindly, by which I mean that he seemed genuinely concerned about me and my troubles and sincerely interested in understanding my tale of woe — including all the stuff that happened with MetLife. We actually spoke for about a half-an-hour, during which he really listened and expressed a genuine interest in helping me. He was warm, friendly, honest — i.e., he was kind to me. He was a really nice guy about it, and in the end I found it impossible to refuse his request to give back the laptop.

Turns out, Kindness has an effect on me something like Kryponite affects Superman.

And how do I know he was being sincere? Well, at first I didn’t, but I decided to take a chance and trust the guy. He assured me that if I gave back the laptop, it did not have to be the end of our conversation. He said we could certainly continue our conversation and that he’d be happy to help me explore other solutions to the problems I need to solve.

And I decided that the opportunity to talk things over with Mr. Phicks was much, much more attractive than going to jail for stealing a laptop, so I accepted his offer and returned the laptop.

Well, that was a couple of weeks ago, and now tomorrow morning we are scheduled to speak again. I have no idea what to expect from the conversation. Maybe nothing will come of it, but maybe something will.

I’m really curious to find out. 🙂


Image Credit: (olive branch) Pixabay

 

 

 

The Zipper Merge

I just came across this video. For years I have been “that guy” who actually drives the full length of the remaining available right lane before merging into the left. I’ve never been able to articulate why this is actually the correct and polite thing to do, but this video does a great job.

Or Should I Say: Autism Is Like When Your Car’s Steering Wheel Is Perfectly Balanced, And All The Roads Are Curved…

…and whether the roads curve a little or a lot, you must always adjust for their curvature, and nobody should be shocked if sooner or later you land in a ditch.

Sincere Apologies For Yesterday’s Ableist Version

I wish to apologize for yesterday’s ableist version of this post, which by  putting the source of the need for adjustment in the “unbalanced steering wheel”, suggested implicitly that there’s something wrong with being autistic. Although I must admit that I was aware of the problem even when I posted it yesterday, I’m frankly so enamored with the analogy, and believe it to be so useful that I thought it was worth posting anyway.

In any case, I hope you will agree that today’s version of this analogy actually does a much better job at what it’s supposed to do — illustrating some core and problematic issues with autism (it’s is only a “problem” because all of the roads are curved), while simultaneously pointing toward effective solutions (i.e. straight roads!) , and it does so without the implicit ableism.

However, I’m not going to take down yesterday’s post, because I think that a comparison of the two does a nice job of illustrating some core issues with ableism. I will, however, add a disclaimer to that post.

I sincerely beg your pardon for my confusion.

🙂

Autism Is Like When Your Car Has An Unbalanced Steering Wheel…

…whether it pulls a little or a lot to one side, you must always adjust for the pull, and nobody should be shocked if sooner or later you land in a ditch.

Disclaimer

Although I think the core analogy is sound and quite useful, this version of it, by putting the source of the need for adjustment in the “unbalanced steering wheel”, suggests implicitly that there’s something wrong with being autistic. The day after posting the above, I wrote a much better, non-ableist version of the analogy. I have decided not, however, do delete this version, because I think a comparison of the two does a nice job of explaining some core problems with ableism.

Calling All Slackers: How to Get Paid and Save the World by Being Lazy, Ignorant, and Self-Entitled

two_boys_poverty_316x210Do you need money? Do you want to help save the world? Are you lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled? If so, then today is your lucky day, because I have recently invented an easy way to re-purpose your currently worthless and embarrassing slackritude into a powerful world-saving money-machine.

[Note: if you are just too educated, hard-working and humble to qualify as a slacker, then don’t despair. You can still use this method, but you probably won’t make as much money. But then again, you probably don’t need money because you have a real job, and in any case you can still feel good about helping to save the world.]

Slackers have always been a persecuted minority. Most of us despise slackers and see them as merely human-ish. They are forced to live in a world that reviles them, marginalizes them, insists that they work for a living like everybody else. Everywhere are advertising messages, movie characters, and other constant reminders that all so-called “real” human beings are hard-working, educated, and humble; and that slackers are somehow defective, inferior sub-human beings. Slackers are systematically denied opportunities to relax, enjoy, love, and really for no other reason than that they earnestly believe that the rest of us owe them a luxurious lifestyle.

If you are lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled (or simply want to save the world), then get ready to transform your life, turn the world on its head, and become the envy of everyone who is too proud to accept charity.

Introducing: Diversity Acceptance Consulting

Diversity Acceptance Consulting is a totally new profession that I am currently inventing  by myself (but only because I haven’t yet been able to entice anyone else to invent it with me). It is nothing less than a way to fix everything wrong with you by re-purposing or up-cycling it into a professional credential. Although in this post we are looking at the particular credential package of laziness, ignorance, and self-entitlement, literally anything and everything about you that may be viewed by others as weird, strange, foreign, yucky, gross, offensive, unattractive, inappropriate, or somehow undesirable can be used by you to do Diversity Acceptance Consulting, if you so choose.

Here’s how it might work if you are lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled:

Whenever a so-called “normal” person — educated, hard-working, humble — becomes aware of your lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled ways, they are presented with a wonderful opportunity to practice and develop their own ability to become aware of, understand, and accept someone they currently despise. But that way of describing it suggests that you as a slacker are somehow constrained to the role of passive bystander. With that way of viewing it, you’re just sort of there by accident, slouched on a couch littered with candy wrappers, binge watching Downton Abbey, and waiting for your soul-mate to break into your home and kidnap you; and whether the so-called “normal” person is even aware of this opportunity, and actually sees it as such is entirely up to him or her.

But you don’t have to be so passive. Even though you are a slacker, there is really nothing stopping you from taking an active role in the encounter. You can literally choose to take control over the situation and guide it proactively toward success. For example, you can simply tell the other person that your own slackrositous magnificence is an opportunity for them to practice and develop their ability to be aware of, understand, and accept boorish space-wasters such as yourself. For example, you might say to them something like,

poor-child_210x224Hello. I am a professional Diversity Acceptance Consultant, specializing in raising awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people who are lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled like I am. Basically, it’s my job to help hard-working, educated, and humble people such as yourself to become aware of, understand, and accept that people like me are perfectly normal human beings who just happen to be lazy, ignorant, and self-entitled. If you see value in your own ability to be tolerant towards people who are different from yourself, then you may wish to become one of my clients and pay me to help you further develop your own awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people like me.

Now, that’s really a hypothetical example. Here is the real deal:

If You Like This Idea, Please Pay Me For Sharing It With You

dscholten 8-8-15Hello. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Daniel L. Scholten, a.k.a. “The Walrus”, and I am a professional Diversity Acceptance Consultant, specializing in halitosis acceptance. What that means is that it is my job to help people such as yourself to become aware of, understand, and accept walrus breath as a perfectly normal part of the human experience. If you value your own ability to be tolerant towards people who are different from yourself, then you may wish to become one of my clients and to pay me to help you develop your own awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people struggling to survive with breath that can ruin photographs while living among people who can be french-kissed immediately upon waking.

If you would like to pay me for this service, which I provide to my clients in part by refusing to brush my teeth and by chewing plenty of fish oil capsules and raw garlic, then please visit my How to Hire Me Retroactively! page and follow the instructions there.

If You Really Like This Idea, So Very, Very Much That You Too Want To Get Paid And Save The World With Whatever Is Unique About You

If you love as much as I do this idea of Diversity Acceptance Consulting, and you want to get started in this profession, then this is your invitation to do so. And here is one basic way to do it (you are welcome to invent your own way):

  1. Identify your own specialty or specialties: make a list of everything you’re ashamed of, embarrassed about, etc. — the stuff that makes you weird, offensive, or otherwise rejectionable. These are your credentials as a Diversity Acceptance Consultant; this is your platform, your own unique area of expertise. Note: If you really can’t think of any reason that someone might reject you for, then you can use “in deep denial about how others see me” or maybe even manufacture the aforementioned halitosis credential by refusing to brush your teeth and chewing fish oil capsules and cloves of garlic on a regular basis. There are surely other credentials you can simply adopt as well.
  2. Take a proactive role in presenting your credentials to others as opportunities to increase their awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people who share your credential or credentials.
  3. Ask them to pay you for this service.

A few additional points: I view the development of the Diversity Acceptance Consulting profession as an open source project, by which I mean that nobody actually owns this amazing idea it, and anybody is free to contribute to its development and evolution, provided she or he does not try to take control over the project and turn it into some closed source thing.

Have fun, and let me know what you think!

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