Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Money, That's What I Want"

Money doesn't literally "buy happiness", but it's damned useful to people with disabilities.

Money is the ultimate adaptive technology. A wheelchair can only be useful as a wheelchair. You can't obtain food with a hearing aid. A counseling program won't help a quadriplegic get out of bed in the morning. Money, though, in the right quantity, can be translated into just about anything a person with a disability needs to unlock their potential and make their theoretical independence real.

Money can buy the materials, labor, and expertise to make a home wheelchair accessible.

Money pays for the training and care of a guide dog for a blind person or service dog for a wheelchair user.

Money funds innovation in prosthetics, and purchases the results for an individual amputee.

dollar sign
Money can be exchanged for the consistent, reliable personal care that can only be obtained otherwise through family ties or the kindness of friends or volunteers.

Sometimes, money can even buy a more individually-crafted education for someone with a learning disability, or counseling and medications for people with mental illness.

Best of all, the money itself works well for any of these or other uses. It doesn't have to be re-designed in a different form for each use. Give 10 people with 10 different disabilities $50,000 to improve their lives, and the same money will be used for 10 different combinations of goods and services. In short, money is the most flexible, adaptable, and individualized disability program conceivable.

All of which is to endorse a radical notion, one that runs completely against conventional wisdom in several ways: give people with disabilities money, and more of it.

I'll have more to say about this, but for now, I recommend reading two articles:

Matthew Yglesias
"There's more to life than just this, but I've come to think that directly transfering cash money to people in need is the most underrated tool around for fighting poverty."
Smart Ass Cripple
"SSI is the primary means of income for about 7 million broke ass American cripples. And I do mean broke ass. The average monthly SSI payment is $519."
The first article doesn't say anything directly about people with disabilities, but both articles point in their own ways to how obvious, and maybe overlooked, the importance of money is in alleviating poverty. I don't think there is a group of "disadvantaged" people who can make more effective use of plain and simple cash than people with disabilities.

And then there's this ...