I may not look “disabled” but I am. I have a list of “learning” disabilities as long as my arm. I have chronic Lyme disease syndrome. I have a respiratory condition that has defied diagnosis for three decades. I am a cancer survivor and I still haven't found the energy and stamina I had prior to chemotherapy.
I have problems with the term “learning disabilities.” Even though I had a great deal of trouble in school, I have been able to teach myself a good deal of the Russian language and enough nuclear physics to understand the design of reactors, nuclear explosives and thermonuclear devices. Understanding those devices went a long way to encourage my anti-war activism.
None of these so called “disabilities” would prevent me from representing the best interests of the people of Connecticut in the United States Senate. But they have presented me with a life-long conundrum that the domain of jobs I am capable of doing and the domain of jobs I am qualified to get have no overlap.
My “learning disabilities” are sufficiently severe that I was believed to be retarded in first grade. During the time the school system was discussing moving me to a school with lower standards, it was discovered I have a Mensa level IQ. The way schools were operated when I was in them, any pupil who had problems with school was moved away from the more rigorous intellectual activities and toward the more mechanical/rote aspects of school. That left me being moved from my area of strength to my greatest weakness. I have never done well in situations where I was required to learn by rote. And with eye-hand coordination problems, I had immense difficulties with penmanship.
In short, the public schools completely failed me.
The few jobs I could get required me to do things I was physically unable to do. There was no “reasonable accommodation” and there was no access. I had limited success as a motorcycle and race car mechanic. My success was due to the fact that I specialized on machines that were out of the ordinary. I compensated for being slower than mechanics with better eye-hand coordination by working on things that required higher mechanical aptitude and understanding.
After a severe respiratory injury in a motorcycle shop, my career as a mechanic was, for all practical purposes, ended. It also gave me a respiratory condition described best by research physicians at the Winchester Chest clinic of the Yale-New Haven School of Medicine thus: “What you have is real. We've seen it before. We don't know what it is.”
An attempt to return to school met with limited success; I was able to maintain a 3.75 grade average at UConn, pursuing an engineering curriculum, but kept flunking financial aid.
I had believed I had some talent for written communications but was told over and over no one would ever look at anything I wrote because my writing was too sloppy. Writing a few essays for British Motorcycle Owners Club newsletter proved otherwise. One editor was sufficiently impressed with the content I offered that he was willing to read my handwritten manuscripts, transcribe them, send them back to me to check that what he typed was what I actually wrote, then publish them. Quite the expenditure of time and effort for something “too sloppy” for anyone to bother with. There is a deeper lesson there; those who have dismissed me because of an absence of credentials or qualifications, or even a three-piece suit, have prevented me from making the contributions my talents and nature would have made if I had been allowed.
As I write this I have just passed the second anniversary of my diagnosing my own leukemia. I had no medical coverage because I couldn't do the paperwork on my own. My health had been deteriorating for a year or more. It was the 30th of September 2008 and I was taken to the emergency department by an APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse). On the way to the ER I was told previous blood work turned up that I was dangerously anemic, dangerously low on white blood cells and dangerously low on platelets. The thought came to me I had bone marrow disease.
In the ER the APRN who brought me in showed my blood count to the attending physician. Apparently I lacked one important symptom to meet the criteria for admission: adequate medical insurance. As I walked out the door with a prescription for antibiotics, I remarked “I need to be checked for leukemia.” a week later I received the test results. I do, in fact have leukemia. I spent eight weeks in the oncology ward and have been in strong remission since February of 2009.
I know firsthand that the medical services industry in this country needs reform.