A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART FOUR: YOU SAY ENTITLED, I SAY EQUALITY

Please read A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART THREE: MOTHER MINISTRY, HER CHILDREN, AND THEIR CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP before continuing.

”Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – I Thessalonians 5:18

Corrie Ten Boom, and her sister, Betsie, put this verse into practice in the very direst of circumstances—while in a Nazi-controlled concentration camp in World War II. Read her story in her book, The Hiding Place, or listen as a dramatized radio drama by Focus On The Family.

How terrible it would be to find even one thing to be thankful for in a concentration camp! I’m continually encouraged by Corrie and Betsie’s attitude of thankfulness and I try (and often fail) to adopt it for myself.

On the inaugural day of a week-long girls getaway, it became my mantra as everything seemed to be going wrong. From twisting my ankle, taking transit in the rain for seven hours with multiple missed or late buses, losing my credit card, winding up in emergency for my foot, and getting excruciating menstrual cramps, I repeated “give thanks in all circumstances” through the day. And though it didn’t change my circumstances, it changed my attitude.

Thankfulness can be a tricky concept. Many a disabled person can regale you with experiences where, when trying to explain the challenges they face living with disabilities, they are told to “just be thankful.” That same sentiment echoes in my brain when considering the system that both gives financial support for disabled people in British Columbia, and also takes it away, which, in doing so, puts the disabled person in financial stress. Ironic, isn’t it

But there’s one glaring problem with this response, and it’s this, that in telling a disabled person to be thankful for what they have, you imply that they are entitled if they ask for more.

If we are less than enthusiastic about the amount of income we receive from the Ministry, and even insinuate that the amount should be higher, we are perceived as entitled. If we want more, then we’re dissatisfied with what we have, and maybe even greedy. We expect too much, and think that we’re more deserving than we really are.

But hear me, oh please hear me now: This is not an issue of entitlement, but an issue of equality.

As a disabled person, I’m not being entitled to expect equitable treatment and support.

It is not entitlement to want enough money to supplement my husband’s income that allows us to sufficiently cover our living expenses.

Disabled people are not being given special treatment if they receive disability income support.

And there is one more misconception I’d like to clear up: Disability support is not a handout. It isn’t money given at will so that disabled people don’t have to work. It’s compensation to help sustain us month to month as we search for employment in a society in which it is very challenging for disabled people to obtain. We are not greedy, or lazy, and I’d wager that each individual receiving it would choose not to be reliant on it if they had a choice.

But the fact does remain that many people are in need of it for any number of reasons. And they should never feel shame or embarrassment at being in receipt of this support. It’s been my lifeline for years now, and I don’t know how my life would have unfolded without it.

But should disabled people be thankful for this sum of money that is, at times, laughable, because how does the government deem $375 enough to cover shelter costs for a single person?

Yes. We should be thankful that the Canadian government does provide a system for supporting its disabled citizens. The support we receive keeps many disabled people afloat, and acts as their only source of income. There are places and systems that don’t give, but take from its citizens. So yes, I am very thankful to live in a country that provides for people like me.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize or speak out about its flaws or discriminations. If we keep quiet, nothing will change. And striving towards a positive change is what this series, and this blog, seek to do with each word written. Of course it’s uncomfortable and even hurtful at times, but that is because I’m addressing issues in a flawed world. But nothing will change if we don’t raise our voices.

And this blog is my voice. I hope that through this mini-series, you’ve been able to hear me, and hear not only the words I’ve said but the person behind those words. Because I am not the only one whose reality I have just stripped bare. This is life for many, many Canadians, and though every situation is individual, there is one commonality that binds us: Every disabled person deserves equality.

And my hope is that through more and more disabled people speaking up, we will grow ever closer to achieving it.

A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART THREE: MOTHER MINISTRY, HER CHILDREN, AND THEIR CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP

Please read A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART TWO: HOW TO HAVE YOUR COMMON-LAW CAKE AND EAT IT TOO [BUT WHY I DIDN’T] before continuing.

After a lengthy process of phone calls, office visits and mountains of paperwork, the drama of getting married in the eyes of the Ministry was complete. My surname was changed to match my husband’s, and he was added to my profile. We received reimbursement for our security deposit since it put us in “financial stress.” And, to our great surprise and utter relief, we also received a month of back payments to account for our substantial increase in rent.

My husband rested his head on my shoulder and we both let out deep sighs of relief. With a move, a possible job change, bills to pay, and dreams we want to fulfill as a newlywed couple, it’s reassuring to know we can make this month’s rent.

And yet, it grates under my skin the fact that working a full-time job at minimum wage, I would earn more money than what the Ministry provides to disabled people on permanent support. And with minimum wage set to increase, the difference is even more distinct. Yet, in a society that is still glaringly discriminatory against people with disabilities, finding work with which to support myself and my husband is a prospect I’ve grown bitter about—I can’t dare to hope for it because I know I’ll be disappointed yet again.

So I go back to the Ministry, month after month:

  • Yes, I am still in need of support.
  • Yes, I am still searching for employment.

It isn’t dissimilar to a parent-child dynamic in my mind:

A child is growing up, eager to spread their wings and fend for themselves in the world. Follow your dreams, fall on your face, and get back up again. It’s the only way you learn. And the cycle repeats itself over and over again until life itself is over.
But sometimes, parents don’t want to let go. They can’t let go. They know the thirst for freedom and independence their child has—it’s the same freedom they chased when they were young—but now, on the other side, it’s hard to let go and grant the independence that will transition their child from a dependent youth into a well-rounded, self-sufficient adult. And the struggle persists between parent and child, a struggle for freedom, control, independence and ultimately, life itself.

Okay, so it’s a flawed example. For starters, unlike the Ministry, parents usually want the best for their children even when it’s difficult. And though I’m speaking about financial dependence and not emotional or relational control in a familial context, my point remains: Children want to be set free, to experiment, fail, learn, grow, and not be under their parents’ authority.

And that is the sum of what I long for as a child of Mother Ministry. But to my chagrin, I’m dependent on her support to do that.

But I long to be free of the Ministry’s grasp, not to be dependent on the money that drops into my bank account every month which for years, has been my only means of survival. And even though I am married now, we are still dependent on it, as rent has increased, utilities have increased and the cost of a household of two costs more than we expected. In short, we need the Ministry’s money to make it.

But I long to claw my way out of the government’s hold, to follow my dreams, fall on my face and get back up again… Just like everyone else. I don’t want to need their support. I want to be a self-sufficient adult, earning my own money to put food on the table for my husband and I to enjoy together each nightt. I want to work and be productive, and believe that the work I do is worthy of monetary compensation, and feel a camaraderie with the majority of the world who go to work, earn a paycheck and come home, knowing that they worked for it. I want to use the drive and ethics and principles that my parents taught me, and that I want to pass down to my own kids.

They say not to bite the hand that feeds you. But whether I like it or not, I need the sustenance the government offers to make it. And don’t think I’m not grateful. But I’m despairing of the relationship that leaves me stuck, reliant, but unable to escape.

All right, so I won’t bite. But what did a nibble hurt anyone?

Read this next: A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART FOUR: YOU SAY ENTITLED, I SAY EQUALITY