Photo by Michael Coghlan.
The problem with Americans today is a lot of us are still ashamed to use the f-word. But not me. I say the f-word often and I say it loud. Why not? It’s no worse than any other seven-letter word.
In fact, I’m going to use the f-word right now. If there are children in the room, don’t send them away. Children in particular need to be exposed to the f-word so that when they’re adults they won’t be all hung up about it.
Okay, so get ready. Here comes the f-word:
There. I said it. And boy, did that feel good. Anybody who’s offended will have to just find the inner fortitude to get over it. When the f-word is the appropriate word to use, I’ll not pussyfoot around by saying something socially acceptable like “long-term,” as in long-term care. Long-term implies that there is an eventual end.
I have a physical disability and I've used a wheelchair for more than fifty years. The long-term care I receive comes from the crew of people I employ to assist me with doing everyday stuff, like putting on my pants, washing my smelly armpits and getting around. I hire, fire and direct my workers but their wages are paid by everybody’s tax dollars through a state program. I couldn’t live in my home without the help of my crew. I’ve been a customer of this program for more than thirty years and I will be a customer for the rest of my life—unless the austerity vultures prevail. For me, that’s forever. So I call it what it is: forever-term assistance.
Lots of disabled folks in my situation aren’t so lucky. Forever-term assistance programs in their areas are puny and inadequate or altogether nonexistent. Some have no choice but to submit to incarceration in a soul-crushing nursing home hellhole at taxpayer expense. That is unless, of course, they are rich enough to afford to pay for all the forever-term assistance they need without bothering the taxpayers. Then it’s no problem to live at home.
It’s all pretty ridiculous and aggravating. Why are we spending tax money to lock people in nursing homes when we can instead support them in their own homes and communities?
It begins with the stigma and shame attached to the notion of needing public assistance forever. It’s un-American to need public assistance forever. In fact, it’s downright socialistic. In the United States, we say public assistance ought to be temporary. That’s why we have TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) instead of just plain-old “ANF.”
Public assistance is supposed to help recipients like me claw our way back to a state of self-sufficiency, whatever that is, even when impossible. When people need the support of a public program forever, that does not compute. It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. It throws off the social equilibrium.
And so confining these endlessly needy offenders to institutions seems like a perfectly appropriate, even merciful, response.
In order to smash this stupid shame, I’ll say the f-word again. Say it with me, will you? Forever, forever, forever, forever, forever, forever, forever, forever! I’m proud to declare that I heart forever-term assistance. It’s made me the man I am today.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple at smartasscripple.blogspot.com