Disability claims — the new welfare

I knew back in 1990 that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was going to be a disaster.  Why did I know that?  Because I was a lawyer and I immediately started to spend my time doing defense work for employers who were being sued by every employee who had a backache (illegally bad chairs), a phobia (I must have an office with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean to combat my claustrophobia), or any other junk claim you can imagine.  I only saw the cases that went into litigation.  For every case I saw, there were undoubtedly 10, or 50, or 100 times as many cases in which the employer instantly caved when confronted with the employee’s demands.

And of course, once a person gets that “disability” diagnosis, suddenly the person qualifies for SSI (social security payments, not for retirement, but for disability).  I never did government work, but I can’t count the number of hale, hearty people who were suing their employers for ADA discrimination, collecting SSI payments, and living the lush life, with government subsidized housing and lots of free time for fun and travel.  Please understand that I’m not complaining about SSI payments for those who are genuinely unable to care for themselves.  (Although there are people who, despite what others think might be a handicap, are more competent than most people you’ll meet.)  A moral society helps those who can’t help themselves.  It has no obligation, however, to help those who won’t help themselves.

Handicapped claims are expensive in other areas too.  I’ve written before at this blog about the insanity that is bureaucratic control over handicapped access.  I agree generally that handicapped access is a good thing.  It benefits mothers with strollers as well as handicapped people.  I’m grateful that, when I’m with my Mom who’s quite disabled, I can grab a handicapped parking space and and have her totter up a ramp under her own steam, rather than having me lift her up the stairs.  Having said that, the notion of handicapped access becomes insane when a city spends tens of thousands of dollars to install a wheelchair ramp within two feet of a wide driveway, or forces a school to spend a quarter million redoing a wheel chair ramp because the bureaucrat’s tape measure reveals that the ramp, as built, is a quarter-inch narrower than the building code demands (but still wide enough for the widest wheelchair).

As with Prohibition, ADA was another over-the-top case of legislating morality.  A decent people make an effort to accommodate handicapped people, elderly people, and even young mothers.  An insane legislative mentality creates a world in which employers have to give mail room clerks corner offices if they claim claustrophobia, cities are forced to build ramps next to ramps, and schools have to spend hundreds of thousands over quarter-inch deviations.

In a very surprising move, the latest attack on the insanity that is modern disability law and welfare comes from, of all places, the Left.  Channa Joffe-Walt spent months investigating disability claims around the United States and concluded that it’s the scam what am.  Her conclusions first appeared on the Left-leaning radio show, This American Life, and she followed that with an NPR article:

In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

Read the article or listening to the radio show.  Joffe-Walt’s findings are eye-opening for those who, unlike me, haven’t had a front row seat for this costly, inefficient, discriminatory Big Government bureaucratic travesty.  It’s a reminder that when we substitute government mandates for private morality, everything goes out the window.  How much better it would have been to create a moral culture that sees people voluntarily providing access for people who have true disabilities, but who nevertheless have gifts, energy, enthusiasm, and abilities that would make it morally criminal to prevent them from engaging in the world.