Working as a Social Security disability lawyer, I work with many people that Social Security and the government consider disabled. Social Security legally considers someone disabled if they have an impairment or set of impairments that prevents them from working 12 months or more in a row. When you meet and talk with many of my clients, you wouldn’t always associate the word disabled with them, and that’s because many of us grow up with a more traditional view of disabilities. When you hear the word disabled, your mind might immediately jumps to someone born with the odds stacked against them or someone who experienced a severe tragedy. cousin randy

That’s not to say that those considered disabled by Social Security are not dealing with challenges. They are. I see it every day. My clients are dealing with physical, emotional, and mental struggles as they cannot work due to an injury, illness, or other health condition. When you face a difficult obstacle, I’ve found that it can help to compare your situation to those that have it even worse. 

In early December, we recognize International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a day focused on promoting the rights and well-being of those born with specific issues that will never improve. These issues make their lives challenging in every respect, and it’s something I’ve seen firsthand. 

Growing up, my family would spend every Sunday at my grandparents’ house with all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Two of my cousins were born with a unique form of cerebral palsy. My cousin Randy was four years younger than me, and his cerebral palsy was very severe. He could never walk, talk, feed himself, or do just about anything. My aunt and uncle had two boys after Randy before having another child named Anthony, who also had cerebral palsy. This case was much less intense than Randy’s, as this cousin has lived a fairly normal life. He has a college education and works a regular job. 

When Randy was born, the doctor informed his parents that he only had a few years to live due to his condition. Randy’s parents kept him alive until he was 19 years old through hard work, care, and love, greatly exceeding the doctor’s expectations. He never weighed more than 40 pounds, but he didn’t let that take away from his happiness. He was always smiling and laughing. Randy had to be the happiest person I have ever known. 

My grandmother was a fantastic pianist; when the family gathered on Sunday, she would play for hours. She wasn’t doing it for herself; she was doing it for Randy. She would pull Randy’s wheelchair right up to the piano and play for him while he smiled and laughed the entire time. My grandmother wasn’t in great health, as she was in her 70s at the time, but she didn’t let that stop her from trying to bring more enjoyment and happiness to Randy’s life. Whenever we gathered together, the entire family would shower Randy with love
Patrick Hartwig
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Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law
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