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Washington Post articles stigmatize people with disabilities


Washington Post articles stigmatize people with disabilities

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Community Legal Services (CLS) is very concerned about the deeply misleading stories that the Washington Post has published about Social Security Disability applicants and recipients in recent articles Disabled, or Just Desperate, and Generations, Disabled by Terrance McCoy.  Both articles focus on mean-spirited, highly stylized anecdotes to suggest that rural Americans are using disability benefits inappropriately.  These articles include selective details about their subjects, excluding most information about their disabilities and instead focusing on somewhat controversial lifestyle choices designed to illicit contempt in the subjects reviewed.  Most of the data Mr. McCoy uses in the articles is not supported by objective evidence and has been widely criticized by experts.

The lawyers at CLS who represent people with disabilities can attest that the standard for receiving Social Security Disability benefits is as rigorous as ever. More than half of all individuals that apply for benefits, including many with severe disabilities, are turned down.  Despite these articles falsely linking a rise in disability applications to economic factors, Social Security does not relax its standards just because people are feeling desperate, live in rural areas, or live with other family members who are receiving benefits for disabilities.

Writing and publishing misleading stories about disability benefits is deeply problematic.  These stories stigmatize individuals who are coping with significant physical and mental disabilities.  Because of this stigma, some people with disabilities may not even apply for benefits, foregoing the help they truly need and deserve.

Because Mr.  McCoy’s most recent article, Generations, Disabled, considers the same subject of the President’s recent budget proposals, it is worth emphasizing that there is nothing surprising or illicit about the fact in some circumstances several members of one family may receive disability benefits.  Many disabilities have a genetic component, so it is common for siblings, or a parent and their child, to have the same disability.  These families face all the obstacles created by disability – difficulty accessing certain areas, the high costs associated with frequent visits, the need for treatment –compounded by volume.  These families need our support and assistance, not our skepticism. Cutting benefits from multi-recipient families will significantly harm these families and prevent these families from staying together.

We are deeply concerned that articles like this will be used as “evidence” to strip some of our nation’s most vulnerable families of the income they desperately need, and we encourage you to take action to protect people with disabilities.

Please contact the Washington Post and tell them you do not want to see any more salacious stories stigmatizing people with disabilities.

Tell your Senators that you oppose the President’s proposal to reduce benefits for multi-recipient families:

  • Senator Pat Toomey (202) 224-4254 or (855) 552-1831
  • Senator Bob Casey Jr. (202) 224-6324 or (866) 461-9159