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Washington state launches new work program for disabled

'Adult baby' sparks serious dialog concerning soundness of SSI/SSDI disability programs

Almost simultaneous with a break-through compromise regarding its workers' comp system, the state of Washington has launched a new effort for state residents with disabilities who would like to do at least part-time work.

Goal of new Web site: provide tools for job seekers with disabilities

According to a May 25 press release from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), "The Medicaid Purchasing Administration of the Department of Social and Health Services has launched a new website designed to give job seekers with disabilities some new tools to help them find employment without worrying about losing health care benefits in the process. " 'Many Washingtonians with a disability want to work,' said Stephen Kozak, who led the DSHS team that developed the new site under a $416,305 federal grant. 'But these job seekers may fear if they go to work, they'll lose their health care and Social Security disability benefits, such as SSI or SSDI cash.' "

Features of the new site

The new website, which includes information on health coverage, benefits and employment, will help job seekers with disabilities to:
  • Make informed decisions on work by using a benefits estimator (this feature includes allowing users to save what is entered for sharing with others, such as Benefits Planners or other professional helpers).
  • Use an online resume builder.
  • Watch video success stories of individuals with disabilities who choose work and hear what they have to say about the value it adds to their lives.
  • View information about and when and how best to disclose a disability to an employer or potential employer.
  • Access an "employer proximity locator," which enables a person to obtain names, addresses and telephone numbers of businesses located near his or her home.
Pathways to Employment has other features that encourage employment. Overall, the site creates an environment that shows employment as a natural process for persons with disabilities.

Infantilism: 'not a sexual fetish'

We've covered some odd and bizarre situations--even unique--in these SSI/SSDI Disability pages. But now along comes one of the more odd cases, that of a man who contends that he suffers from infantalism, and that it's not a sexual fetish. From the San Francisco Chronicle via "Stanley Thornton is a 29-year-old man who wakes up in the morning and puts on typical clothing before going to work. But when he returns home he slips into a diaper and fuzzy pajamas with feet. He also sucks on a pacifier, drinks from a bottle, and sleeps in a giant customized crib. "Stanley likes to pretend he's a baby and his unusual lifestyle, referred to as infantalism, was featured on National Geographic's "Taboo," a show that explores the line where fantasy and reality blur. "Stanley's roommate enjoys playing the role of Stanley's mother, even though the two aren't related."

Each role player receives disability payments

So what's the controversy? Well, says Web site
According to SFGate, Thornton and his roommate both collect disability payments from the federal government. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma thinks that Thornton should be able to hold down a job as he's shown he can work: Since 2000, Thornton has run an online adult baby support group, He also has carpentry skills. On the National Geographic segment, he is shown building baby furniture big enough for an adult. Coburn has asked the Social Security Administration to investigate Thornton's benefits:

In a letter to Inspector General Patrick O'Carroll, Coburn wrote, "Given that Mr. Thornton is able to determine what is appropriate attire and actions in public, drive himself to complete errands, design and custom make baby furniture to support a 350-pound adult and run an Internet support group, it is possible that he has been improperly collecting disability benefits for a period of time."

Man-baby's response: All I did was 'drill six holes'

Thornton responded in another letter, saying his Web duties take only four hours a month and that his "craftsman skills" were overrated because the crib was pre-assembled the day before the shoot and all he did "was drill six holes." The writer at says, "On his biography on his website, Thornton says that he worked as a security guard for a year and a half but trauma resulting from childhood abuse and other mental problems left him unable to work. He has been receiving SSI payments for most of the last 10 years."

Like Palin's gaffe, news oddity may fuel serious debate

Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson says it's a case of the absurd serving as a doorway to serious dialog.
Whether Stanley is actually disabled is a question for doctors and judges to decide. But as long as we're talking about denying disability insurance to an adult baby, let's talk about fixing disability insurance for everybody else. That's right folks, we're using an 350-lb adult baby to start a conversation about disability insurance reform. (We'll have more serious news pegs, but none more felicitous than a conservative senator taking on a 30-year old in diapers.) Call it the Palin Peg. When Sarah Palin referred to the independent Medicare panel as a "death panel," it was a wild exaggeration that manged to inspire a real debate about health care.

Why should those able to work be forced into disability system?

Following are a couple of excerpts from Thompson's piece:
In Supporting Work: A Proposal for Modernizing the U.S. Disability Insurance System, David H. Autor and Mark Duggan argue that by paying the disabled not to work, we're both wasting money and taking productivity out of the workforce by compelling disabled people who can nonetheless work nonphysical jobs to become dependent on government checks.
Then he quotes James Ledbetter, writing in Slate:
"Of course, many SSDI recipients are truly incapacitated," James Ledbetter wrote out in a takedown of SSDI in Slate. But many are employable. We need an insurance system that encourages the disabled to work rather than pay them under the condition that they don't. It's time to have this debate. And if we have it this month, you can thank Stanley Thornton, Jr., and the Palin Peg.