Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why So Shortsighted?

When insurance companies just get it plain wrong.

If you've been disabled for long (or have cared for someone with a disability) you no doubt have discovered by now that insurance companies are rarely all that pleasant to deal with... or even when pleasant, they often are not as helpful as they should be. Case in point: Medical or adaptive equipment.

I get around, and I hear stories. One woman needed new batteries for her wheelchair, for instance. Her insurance wouldn't pay for batteries (a consumer expense, said they) but they would pay for a new wheelchair if she qualified. Hello?

In my own case, new rubber tips were not allowed (at a cost of under $10) for my crutches, but new crutches were available, at a cost of $100. Hello?

And finally, a case I heard about just this week, about a woman with a speech impediment who found a less expensive option than the text-to-speech converting computer her insurance had purchased for her. She'd learned that a common off-the-shelf iPhone ($300) and a certain app ($1) combo worked better for her than the computer her insurance had approved -- which totaled an astounding $8000. Her request for the iPhone was denied.


Insurance agencies, and especially MediCare, are strangling in rules and red tape. State MediCaid is sometimes even worse. Applying for a durable good or medical service is a process that could try the patience of Job. All too often, people are denied over and over because the goods or services in question fail to meet one criteria or other, forcing persons in dire need to wait, or worse, to be denied altogether.

Technology is advancing way ahead of the bureaucracy when it comes to insurance coverage, and this is a shame, given that newer technology often comes at a much lower cost. Take the iPhone as one example. A simple and yet powerful device that can be used to make calls, of course, but also comes with the capability to run literally hundreds of applications (like tiny computer programs) to perform a plethora of useful functions, like speech translation, navigation, information searches, and so on. Useful to the disabled? You bet! covered by insurance? Yeah, nice try.

So do I have a solution to this problem? I wish I did. For right now, all we can do is seek out these modern answers to our problems, and then begin the arduous task of lobbying our insurance companies, and government, to make them available to us through insurance. The irony is, the insurance companies will thank us (sort of) for saving them a bundle.

Or will they? Nah. What was I thinking? :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Say What?

Sometimes, people just don't think...

I look at the photo above, and I have to laugh... and I ask myself, what exactly was the person thinking when they posted that sign? Did they see the irony, or did they just complete their assigned task, and move on?

It could be a photoshop fake, of course, except that I have seen many such examples of "selective blind spots" to just pass it off without a closer look. And yes, I do realize that able-bodied persons often accompany friends who are in wheelchairs to stadium events, such as ball games. Perhaps the sign was meant for them, and I'm just reading my own bias into it?


Then again, perhaps not. I have, in the past, called ahead to find out if a certain store or restaurant might pose some kind of barrier to my use of it, and was told in no uncertain terms that the building was "fully handicapped accessible." Sometimes the voice on the other end of the phone was right... but seemingly more often than not, they were wrong. Either there was a small (to them) step blocking the only entrance, or the racks and displays were too close together, or the sole public restroom just happened to be upstairs. Neither of us ended that day happily. Me, from having wasted a trip for nothing, and they from missing out on a potential sale.

Now, in all fairness I realize that no single person can be expected to know enough about every type of disability out there to answer the question of access with 100% accuracy. My diatribe today is not about that. Rather, I'm speaking today of what I earlier described as "selective blind spots" -- or put another way, just not seeing something as a barrier because it's never been a barrier to you.

Allow me to digress just for a moment and share an example of "blind spots" not related to disability. Once many years ago our area was hit by a severe winter storm. It passed rather quickly, dumping over a foot of snow, and bringing down the entire power grid to over half of the city. The damage was pretty bad; we had no power (and thus no heat) for almost a week.

One by one friends and family called in to check up on us. Yes we were fine, thank goodness, but of course we had no lights or heat. "I can loan you an electric blanket" one helpful relative offered. Another offered an electric space heater. Except for nearly freezing to death, it was pretty funny at the time.

The point is, none of these people were stupid, by any means. All were anxious to help. They just couldn't help falling into the blind spot that often develops when we become used (dependent) on things being a certain way. Often, it takes something like a snow storm (metaphorically speaking) to shake them out of this world view so they can see reality in a whole new way.

This is the purpose of educating people about disability issues. This is why I write this blog. If you come upon someone with a blind spot that impacts your disability, don't criticize them. Instead, enlighten them. Do it with humor, and gentleness. Remember too, that what may seem to painfully obvious to us may not be so obvious to them.

Meanwhile, keep a spare electric blanket handy, just in case. :)