Monday, May 28, 2007

The Second Energy Crisis and People with Disabilities

[This post is part of World Without Oil, the alternate-reality game. This is fiction, but my opinions are based on fact.]

According to the Salem Commission on Disabilites, 20% of Salem residents have a disability, a condition that impairs their daily life. About 1 in 10 of them have a serious disabilty that requires frequent and regular care. These include paraplegics and quadriplegics stricken by illness or accident and people with muscular dystrophy, MS or ALS to name the most obvious cases.

There are less obvious cases. The co-chair of the Commission (and a dear friend) has two adopted developmentally disabled daughters. (They're charming kids!) They need regular care.

Diabetic people are often not thought of as having a disability until something goes wrong. People with diabetes don't only have to worry about their meds, but they have to eat well, too. If not, the aftermath is not pleasant.

Can you even get your meds? (also see Meds and the USPS) What about chemo patients? Many elderly people need regular care, whether they're in nursing homes, retirement communities or just left by themselves in public housing (as I've seen too often in my building.)

If people lose their nurses and their care attendants, they'll head right for the emergency room. That is scary.

I'm fortunate in a few ways: I've had five eye surgeries (retinal detachments) and have kept my sight. I've always had low vision and cannot drive, but all I need is to be able to read books, use the computer and tinker with ham radio stuff. Even still, there have been bad times recovering from one operation or another, or suffering one complication or another, where I've been virtually blind for weeks and months.

What if you were in an accident and suffered a detachment? And a surgeon wasn't available (retinal surgery is very specialized in both its practitioners and its equipment)? You'll go blind. Untreated retinal detachments are not fixable. That's just one of the many dilemmas we face.

Another question: Our disabled Salemmites--are they working?

According to the Center for an Accessible Society, 30 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. (The figures for blind people are even worse: 70 percent unemployment.)

The Salem Commission on Disabilities is considered a civil rights board, but many businesses consider it just another layer of bureaucracy. People with disabilities are a minority, and a common libertarian argument that many people subscribe to is that it is not worth the added cost to the majority (the business owner) to accommodate people with disabilities either as customers or employees.

(Anyone remember that old public service ad from the seventies? The one where a couple couldn't get education for their learning disabled child because the administrator told them, "we can't do this for only one child"! Many still think like that!)

When times are tight, businesses will not see people with disabilities as an asset, but a liability. We are already seeing this with health insurance; if an employee "gets" a disability or any sort of health crisis, premiums go up, and suddenly, the employer can't afford to keep that person.

Many people with disablities rely on gas-powered vans to take them to work and to shop. They just became homebound in the Second Energy Crisis.

People with disabliities have gained and kept their independence because we have been rich enough to lend a hand. At the first sign of a crisis, people with disabilities will be the first to lose their independence, if not their health and life itself.

It's very scary for us out there.

Take care.

UPDATE: Casuabon's Book goes into some detail on how Peak Oilers look at the poor and people with disabilities.


Anonymous said...

Very good point. It has been said that how a society treats its youngest and elders and the sick and disabled is a measure of its civility-don't remember the actual quote-this is a rough paraphrase! But yes, it can become a real issue. If meds are unavailable or an attendent who cares for someone with paralysis doesn't arrive, or meals for a homebound elder- it won't be good for those people. So it is important that we consider the needs of those who are in need of assistance- and not forget about them in times of trouble.


The Heretic said...

There is good news for the diabetics, like me. Insulin is manufactured at many sites, including Vacaville, CA, which happens to be on a railroad line which easily changes over to the port in Benecia or up the line along 5 or 99 to Oregon. So Salem residents can still get insulin as long as there's a ship or a train that's making the trip. Even without oil, a clipper ship can make the trip. Oh, and the raw materials? Kelp and solar power to run the plant. Its made by genetically engineered bacteria. RNA base, is what they call it. On the east coast, they make it in New Jersey. The only other limitation is it needs to be refrigerate (without freezing) during transport, however even an evaporative cooler like a cool-bag can keep it from exceeding safe levels (92'F). Similar efforts can be made with a sailboat to run mercy trips, or if piracy is a problem on the coastline (thanks to all the desperate people), run further offshore, beyond the horizon. Considering the demand, insulin should be worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, they might end up charging that too.

jewishfarmer said...

Nice post, David, and thanks for the plug. I'm particularly interested in Salem - I grew up there and in Beverly.