Taking Advantage of Disability Systems is Immoral and Unethical

Blake Milhoan, Features Editor

An infamous trend that has been gaining traction over the past few years has been the misuse of government systems. A few include masquerading a normal dog as a service dog to bring them into places they usually aren’t allowed, and more broadly, faking disabilities. This is something that obviously needs to be stopped, not only because people who do this are taking advantage of systems that have few resources to begin with, but also because it’s eroding the respect that these benefits deserve, causing people who legitimately need these programs to survive to be taken less seriously.

According to the Shouse California Law Group, disability fraud is “if you lie or otherwise provide false information to the government to obtain Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits you’re not entitled to.” This type of fraud became rampant during the peak of COVID-19: according to a Sacramento newspaper, there have been about 345,000 disability claims that have been flagged as suspicious since the pandemic began. These claims are from an unemployment agency that gives out disability benefits (shouselaw.com).

This agency has been giving out about 150 million dollars a week to these claimants. The money the agency has been giving out is finite, and people with false claims have made the agency waste money on them rather than those who truly need it. According to Senior Farzana Akhter, “disability benefits are very little, and faking a disability means you’re taking resources from disabled people who [may not be able to] get a job to support themselves” (sacbee.com).

Faking a disability and misusing the systems put in place not only takes away resources that people need to survive, but it also takes away the respect these systems deserve. Emotional support animals and their owners have gotten the brunt of this disrespect in recent years, getting diminished and discredited. According to the American Kennel Club, “to legally be considered an emotional support dog … The pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient” (akc.org).

Although they’re different from service animals, emotional support animals are still vital to many people’s ability to function in society. According to the Guardian, a multitude of faked emotional support animals regularly wreak havoc and even attack trained service animals (theguardian.com). These incidents continuously discredit actual service and emotional support animals and even give places like airports and apartment buildings a solid reason to disallow animals of any kind. According to Ms. Christine Bennoiger, president of Guide Dogs for the Blind, “Unfortunately, the title emotional support animal is losing the respect it deserves because it’s being abused by people who simply want to travel with their pets on board, free of charge” (usatoday.com).

Both of these issues contribute to the urgent need to hold people accountable for abusing the system and to get them to stop. The rampant existence of corruption leads many people to assume that people that are truly disabled are just “faking it.” This quickness that many people have to label someone (and their support animal) as fake is making it harder for people who have invisible disabilities to be taken seriously, reducing their needs to a joke. An example of this is two disabled airplane passengers who have fibromyalgia and sclerosis who were quoted in a USA Today article. They purposefully pay the early boarding fee even though they know they could get on without it. According to them, “…people think we are lying when they see us” (usatoday.com).

Another example of this is handicapped parking. People who don’t see someone using these spaces as “disabled enough” will actively harass them. According to Forbes, “These self-appointed parking monitors leave abusive notes on disabled people’s cars, or confront them in person…. They condemn anyone who looks young, seems to walk ‘normally,’ or otherwise doesn’t ‘look disabled’” (forbes.com). The qualifications of what is and isn’t “truly disabled” include many conditions that may not be visible to an outsider. This over-policing has more often than not hurt the people who need support the most.

Overall, the abuse of government systems harms those who actually need them. People who do this steal resources, take away the respect these systems deserve, and make people quick to label someone as fake, often catching people who need things like handicapped spaces or emotional support dogs in the crossfire. Things like disability fraud and faking a doctor’s note are illegal and condemned, but it’s hard to know for sure if a system is being abused or not. Although it is a difficult battle, holding people accountable for their actions and educating people about disabilities is a good place to start.