A new policy proposal by the Trump administration calls for the surveillance of disabled people’s social media profiles to determine the necessity of their disability benefits. The proposal, which reportedly aims to cut down on the number of fraudulent disability claims would, monitor the profiles of disabled people and flag content that shows them doing physical activities. When it comes down to it, the policy dictates that disabled people shouldn’t be seen living their lives for fear of losing vital financial aid and, possibly, medical care.
The administration has been working closely with the Social Security Administration in an effort to reduce false claims believing that social media holds a cache of information regarding eligibility of Social Security Disability Benefits. They believe that by monitoring the social media accounts of disability benefit recipients, they can root out false claims and reduce the overall amount of money spent on the programs.
The proposal, like many of its policies regarding disabled people, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of disability and takes advantage of how social media operates in order to cut them off from the support they need. Disabled people don’t all function in the same way, and disability is not a set of stereotypes like taking selfies staring longingly at the world. They live lives while managing their energy for the activities they can handle and trying to make those they cannot more accessible.
Additionally, studies have shown that a majority of social media users show only the good in their lives, not the hardships or difficulties. Disabled people should be allowed to share the full scope of their existence without fear they’ll be accused of lying—and even fraud—by the United States Government which will likely reason that if a disabled person is seen going to the mall or taking time to swim or jog, they can be working.
The truth about disability is that it isn’t a series of down moments but both highs and lows that comprise the lives of the disabled. Simply because disabled people are seen exercising, dancing or shooting hoops does not mean that they have the ability to sustain that level of energy all day. This type of policy also plays upon the assumption that people with disabilities all function and move about in the world in the same way, which is entirely untrue. There are wheelchair users who can walk, people with cerebral palsy that can run and amputees that are bionic. It is just as dangerous to assume that disabled people should have to “overcome” their disabilities to do what they love as it is to assume there is nothing they want to do. One person’s body should never be considered a prescription for another.
Another thing that the general public does not understand about disability and the internet is that attention to disability issues often operates within an economy of “Inspiration Porn.” Abled people often film, post, share and circulate photos and videos of disabled people doing extraordinary things as a litmus test to how “poor” life could be with a disability and how disabled people achieve “in spite of” their disabilities (quite often, this type of posting occurs without the disabled person’s permission). And, while many disability advocates disdain this type of media representation and are vocally calling for an end to inspiration porn, there’s a not-so-often talked about number of disabled people who play upon these stereotypes for their advocacy and to further their own quest for disability rights.
Quite often, in order for disabled people to be seen as needing help, nondisabled people need to see them as pitiful, helpless and ripe for a nondisabled person to swoop in and play hero. Without the ability to do so, a great many nondisabled people would not pay attention to disability issues. Disabled people know that, and it would appear the U.S. Government does as well. Public sympathies rarely side with disabled people who appear confident and comfortable in their own bodies. Therefore, there will be little outrage for cuts to disability benefits for active disabled people.
Aside from the cruelty it takes to cut necessary funds from a disabled person’s life because of a moment of activity, it seems willfully ignorant. Many in society already see disabled as “fakers” trying to take money from unsuspecting people, and this policy would only raise those tensions among the public. Disabled people are people, and as such, lead complex lives with ups and downs like the rest of the population. Relying upon a reductive narrative of disability is dangerous and will cost lives. Due to this, the administration should look inward and learn how to #BeBest.