Two polar perspectives bump into each other in the realm of disability policy.
One says that disability is a condition that precludes working. We should take care of people with disabilities, since they are unable to take care of themselves. This is the Social Welfare Model.
It's also known as the Medical Model, because it entails having to make a clinical assessment of whether someone qualifies for benefits.
And so the Medical/Social Welfare Model sees people with disabilities primarily in medical terms, and requires them to prove as much in the doctor's office - if not the courts. It also creates an environment that invites fraud.
The Civil Rights Model sees people with disabilities as fully human individuals with characteristics that may or may not limit them in given settings. It sees everyone as entitled to pursue what's possible in their lives, and that society should provide an environment free of artificial obstacles and attitudes which interfere with that potential.
Also known as the Independence Model, it's goal is social inclusion, and tapping the contributions these people have to make in their communities, families, and at work.
Here's where they conflict: in the Social Welfare Model, you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI) benefits by saying you can't work. But the Civil Rights Model says that people with disabilities can work, and are entitled to protections from discrimination and provision of accommodations in the workplace.
So? Which is it? Yesterday you told the judge you can't work so you need benefits, but today you're saying you want the courts to protect your rights in the workplace.
Some think this is a matter of people with disabilities wanting to have their cake and eat it, too.
We're in a moment of historic transition. As I see it, the Social Welfare/Medical Model is the dinosaur which is in the process of being replaced by the Civil Rights/Independence Model. People were in fact unable to work, but often that was a matter of inaccessibility, doubting attitudes, and a pre-technology world in which work really was not an option for many people. They needed the social welfare safety net.
Now work is more possible than ever for more people than ever. So rather than get caught up in the "Well, which is it gonna be?" question, we need to invest in the people who are able and wanting to work. We need to adopt a social and workplace cultural view that focuses on potential rather than fearing costs.
If we're going to continue to believe that disability necessarily precludes work and independence, then we're going to remain stuck paying unnecessary benefits. We'll be denied the real contributions those people are able to make - not to mention the taxes they'll pay, the less health care they'll need, and the consumer market they'll represent.
Entitlement programs are currently being targeted in politician's efforts to get the budget under control. Our strategy needs to be to disengage from the brick wall of an apparent policy contradiction. We need to liberate the people who can and want to work from the trap of entitlements they neither want nor need.
And then we can continue to provide the benefits and social safety net for those who truly do need and deserve them.