Ervin: Cub Scout Disability Awareness

Mike ErvinWhat I remember most about being a Boy Scout is that I really sucked at it. I don’t think I made it past tenderfoot because I was too damn lazy. I fantasized about having my own sash adorned with merit badges. But I couldn’t figure out how to get merit badges without having to work to earn them. I carry that same attitude today. I’m trying to win the lottery without buying a ticket.

Earning merit badges was too much like doing homework. You had to read books and write reports and put together displays. And they didn’t give out badges for endeavors in which I had an interest and aptitude, like sleeping, watching baseball and being a smart ass.

I don’t remember much about being a Cub Scout. But today, if I were a Cub Scout, I could earn what they call an academics pin for disability awareness. One of the tasks a scout must complete to earn the pin is to “go about your normal routine” for two hours with a simulated disability. The Cub Scout can wear a blindfold or earplugs or sit in a wheelchair. Hell, I could’ve done that. I could’ve earned a pin for watching baseball and being a smart ass while sitting in a wheelchair.

At least the Cub Scout brass thinks gimps are worthy of awareness. They sure don’t think the same about gay people. They kick scout masters out for being gay. They don’t give out pins for hanging around gay people. They must not think that gimps are intellectually contagious, like gay people are. Hanging around us apparently won’t fill a young scout’s head with uncubscoutlike ideas. I think that shows how badly the Cub Scout brass could use some disability awareness lessons of their own.

The problem with most disability awareness exercises is that they don’t nearly go far enough. They’re just an appetizer. It’s never the real deal.

The first requirement for earning the Cub Scout disability awareness pin is to “visit with a child or adult with special needs. Find out what they enjoy and what they find difficult.” But if we’re really going to start from scratch, number one ought to be changed to: “Ask your parents to quit their jobs and go on Social Security. Write a report about how it feels to live on $500 a month.”

The second requirement is to “attend a special needs event such as Easter Seals, Special Olympics, a performance with sign language interpretation … or a wheelchair race.” That’s all well and good, but if a scout was shadowing me for a day, I’d go to the Social Security or Voc Rehab office. I’d tell him to bring plenty of puzzles and games to entertain himself through the hours and hours of sitting around waiting.

Another requirement is to “look at three different wheelchairs. Explain their differences. With an adult’s help and permission, try to operate one.” And there’s also: “Look at a catalog and find three items that could help a person with special needs in their daily life. Explain how each item would help the individual.”

And while you’re at it, young scout, be sure to ask the special needs person how much that wheelchair or indispensable gadget costs. When you recover from the shock, find out what sort of degrading contortions they had to perform to get a bureaucracy or private insurer to pay for it. Find out what astronomical co-payments and deductibles the special needs person was left to absorb even after all that. Oh, and also learn how incessant bureaucratic BS such as the current Medicare policy’s misclassification of complex rehabilitation items under the broader category of durable medical equipment makes it even more damn difficult and expensive for a special needs person to get the stuff they need!

Sorry. Where was I?

Disability simulations are always pretty superficial. They never cover psychiatric disabilities, for instance. Maybe it’s because they can’t figure out how to simulate stuff like schizophrenia. Maybe the scout should be required to do something like “go about your normal routine” for two hours while wearing headphones and listening to a recording of random, taunting voices.

I don’t mean to burst your balloon, scouts. I just want you to have the full disability awareness experience. If you can complete that obstacle course, you have really earned your pin, although you may not want it any more.

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