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Rapper's comments highlight issue of having to 'prove' disability

Rappers are known for being boastful and self-promoting. It’s part of the gig. But there are certain personalities who delight so much in themselves that their music is overshadowed by their arrogance. The most notable example is a rapper named Kanye West.

Although Kanye has millions of fans worldwide, no one is a bigger fan of Kanye West than he himself is. This was recently demonstrated at a concert in Australia when West refused to start a song until all members of the audience stood up. He called out two audience members who had not stood – one had a prosthetic leg and the other was in a wheelchair. West finally deigned to let them keep sitting, but only after his bodyguard confirmed that the wheelchair-bound audience member was not faking a disability.

Kanye West’s actions are deplorable for many reasons. For starters, he is not a king or the president of the United States. And when people stand for the president, they are usually paying respect to the office and not necessarily the person holding it.

But West’s actions are also indicative of a larger problem in the United States: The demand that people prove their disabilities. Some disabilities are visible, like those requiring full-time use of a wheelchair. Others are invisible. Perhaps you can only walk short distances. Perhaps you suffer from chronic pain or fatigue or mental illness. There are any number of possibilities.

Why should individuals get nasty looks for their disability-accessible parking permits just because they can walk short distances to the door of the building? Why should individuals at work need to show just how disabled they are before they are granted a reasonable accommodation? This “prove it” attitude suggests that anyone with a disability needs to show that their situation is bad enough to justify the “special treatment” and “perks” that they get.

Sadly, this attitude also impacts the application process for Social Security Disability Insurance. Individuals suffering from “invisible” disabilities often have a much harder time getting approved for SSDI benefits. Some amount of scrutiny (for all candidates) is necessary. But too often, Americans who cannot work because of truly debilitating disabilities are denied the benefits that they have earned through their payroll tax deductions.

There will always be people like Kanye West to spread loud-mouthed ignorance. But these ideas should not be allowed to permeate government programs like SSDI.

Source: CNN Opinion, “Kanye West and proving your disabilities,” David M. Perry, Sept. 16, 2014

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