Editor’s note: The following letter was written to state and federal legislators, but was submitted to the FPS and it was requested it be shared with others by printing it as a letter to the editor.
I am writing about a problem that impacts the lives of nearly 54.4 million men and women across the country: disability discrimination. I am one of the many who has struggled with discrimination. I have faced obstacles in my attempts to have and keep a job, build a career, a family, to rent and own property. The most challenging is the lack of caring and understanding from people who are working. I am asking for your support and leadership efforts to end the discriminatory practices of colleges, life/health insurance companies, debt collectors, banks, credit card companies, courts and judges just to name a few and to enact a federal mandate for financial discrimination awareness for the disabled who receive SSI and Disability Social Security.
There are many medically recognized disabilities and many that are not. Still, many people suffer from hidden disabilities. There are many colleges that do offer scholarships to students on SSI, but don’t tell them about them. Colleges are always asking for my tax information and when I tell them I am not working, I receive SSI, they ask me what I am living on. The financial discrimination I, and other students, live with because of illness, mental illness or physical disorders can be overwhelming. The struggle to become a social worker and to be more than my disability is a desire that gives me the strength to face these obstacles, but I and other citizens also need your support.
I was renting an apartment for a while but after two years of living there my disabled fiancée moved in with me and my rent went up more than double. Then I found black mold growing on the walls and other places in the apartment. I tried to get management to clean it and fix things that only led to them harassing me, stealing from me and forcing me out. I took two month’s rent and bought a mobile home for $500 in order to get out of the mold-infested apartment and had a place of my own.
The landlord of the mobile home park wanted only to rent to people who have a job. I had a job for four weeks during the summer and was fired because of my health problems and religious beliefs, but there are other people living here on fixed incomes as well. Such discrimination is unfair.
I received help for purchasing fuel oil in January from the local community action agency. I applied for credit with my fuel provider and was denied because of my credit history. Why can’t people take into account that a person is on SSI disability and that denying them the help they need for fuel is the same as denying food or medical care. This form of financial discrimination should not go on any longer.
When a person becomes disabled, they sometimes lose their job, home, family and finances. Then creditors call them and place them in a debt collector’s hands and have no remorse for their disability. The debt collector just keeps on harassing until you don’t want to answer your phone. Many affected by hidden disabilities do not feel comfortable speaking publicly about their struggle, but I represent all racial, religious and ethnic groups as well as both sexes. We are neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives and we just want to experience the job of being human, raising a family, having a good job or career other healthy people take for granted.
Thank you for your consideration on this important issue. I hope you will be able to help in efforts to mandate a law that will acknowledge that hidden disabilities are the same, if not more of an impact, in someone’s life as visible disabilities. Such legislation will help to fulfill the dreams of millions of disabled people.
Robert McKim, Sr.