Why disabled people live in poverty

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Well, the obvious point is my disabilities prevent me from working full time.  Right now, I can’t even work part time.  At times in the past, when my disability and illness was not so severe, I was able to keep regular part time hours.  As I’ve gotten less able, I’ve tried for casual work, and ad-hoc gig work.  I need to work from home because having to travel would sap all my energy and I wouldn’t be able to work when I got there. 

I have skills in web development, web design,  information design, content management, copy writing, search engine optimisation, graphic design, photography…there are plenty of things I can do given the opportunity.  The problem is there aren’t a lot of people out there who want to give me an opportunity. 

Full time work

Is now, and likely always will be, impossible for me. 

Part time work.

I could probably commit to eight hours per week. The problem is finding someone who wants to hire someone for eight hours a week only.  Most jobs demand more hours than that.  I’ve applied for many jobs, but I need to disclose my disability.  Why would anyone hire a sick person when they could get a healthy person? 

Also, the competition for these roles is HUGE.  Everyone wants to work at home, in their own time, a few hours a week.  Not only are there other disabled people, but mothers of young children, students, pretty much everyone wants a job like this. 

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Casual work

Casual work is out there, but people take advantage of my need and they pay illegal wages, well under the award. 

A few years ago a “friend” introduced me to her boss, who gave me some writing work in the IT area.  It was complicated stuff requiring in depth knowledge of information technology, lots of research and the ability to write in plain English.  She paid a flat rate per article, rather than an hourly rate.

My “friend” took all the simple jobs, like writing about window coverings and carpets and sent the technically complicated jobs to me.  My friend  could make a good hourly rate because her articles were simple, required little research and were quick to write.  The articles I was given, if I were to do them properly, meant that I was earning less than $10 an hour. 

My friend and her boss, knew I was in dire straits financially, and they took advantage of that.  My friend received a tail commission as well, on my work.  On top of that, once the article was finished, the boss expected me to write the SEO summaries and keywords, synonyms and all the rest of it.   I refused.  It was not worth the pittance I was being paid. 

I knew I was being exploited and I refused to let these assholes benefit from my hard work.  There is a special place in hell for people who take advantage of people living with significant illness and disability and pay them low ball rates.  She was making very good money off of me, selling my work at $100 per hour and paying me less than $10 per hour.  Good deal, right?  She could have made a very healthy profit AND paid me a fair wage.  But no. She wanted all the money for herself.

And she’s far from the only one.  She exploited me and I hope that her shady practices have caught up with her. 

Start your own business

People say this all the time, as if it’s a simple thing to do.  Starting a small business is hard if you’re an abled bodied health person.  Starting a successful small business when you’re disabled is about as easy as me running the Boston Marathon. 

Firstly, I’m going to exclude all the “business in a box” opportunities, the multi-level marketing crap that people will try to push on you. Those businesses depend on you selling to all your friends and families (of which I have none) and getting out there and “networking” and pushing very expensive products on everyone you meet.  In short, you have to be kinda an asshole to be successful, or an extremely charming extrovert.  I am neither. 

Oh and there’s usually a significant buy in cost – some kit you need to buy, or stock of products.  THAt’s where the company makes money, on selling starter kits to desperate people looking for a way to make money.  So there’s no way I was touching any of that stuff.

What’s really involved in starting your own business?

A lot.

And when you’re a micro business, a disabled person on your own, you have to do EVERYTHING.   Not only is there an incredible volume of work to do, it also requires a long list of skills.  If you have no money, you can’t pay for these skills, so you have to do it yourself.

I settled on an Etsy business.

The upside Etsy is its free to start up, and it’s a huge marketplace. 

The downside of Etsy is that it’s free to start up and its a huge marketplace. 

The upside of being free is that there are very low barriers to entry.  Anyone can get up and running in about an hour.  But these low barriers to entry means that there’s a huge amount of competition and the market is saturated.  Its very hard to stand out on Etsy.

I came up with a concept and a product I believed in – awareness bracelets.  Obviously raising awareness is something very close to my heart, as I have multiple illnesses and two kids on the autism spectrum. 

I did a google search to see what was already out there, and my initial inspiration was 4Ocean.  They sell cute bracelets the proceeds of which area used to clean up the ocean.  Great idea, I decided to do a whole range of awareness bracelets in the same colours as the awareness ribbons for each disease or disability. 

I looked around on Etsy and no one was doing this, except one business and their bracelet was clearly NOT hand-made and clearly mass produced and shipped in from China.  That’s another problem with Etsy, there are a lot of products that are mass produced that people buy on Alibaba and claim as hand-made and sell on Etsy.   These bracelets were cheap Pandora knockoffs, and honestly?  Not very nice. 

I figured I could out do them.    I came up with an original design.  That took much trial and error, and learning how to make bracelets.  Thank the gods for YouTube!

I invested a lot of money into supplies – I had to find out what was good and what was crap. there’s only one way to do that – buy it and see. That means investing money. 

After a few false starts, I settled on my design.  It was 100% original. You can see how the 4Ocean bracelet inspired the design, but no one would confuse the two or consider them even close to the same product.  So I was ready to go.  This is a list of all the things I had to do:

Market research on customers and price points.  Make test products, send them to friends for opinions.  Test raw materials for quality.  That involved shipping in a lot of stuff from overseas.  Finding reliable suppliers. Finding wholesale suppliers who could ship at a reasonable cost and in smaller quantities.  Quality control, I wanted my bracelets to be top quality, and wearable every day.  I needed durable supplies that wouldn’t stretch or fade or break.  Learn how to make the bracelets quickly enough so that I could make a profit.  It’s no use having a great design that takes all day to make.  Building a web presence.  I wanted my own website as well, but that has stalled, too much work to do.  I have skills in wordpress so I can build my own site, I just don’t have the energy.   Building the website involves setting up hosting, email addresses, finding a good theme and appropriate plugins, most of those cost money, doing seo (on page and off page), writing blog posts.   Creating social media accounts. Creating social media content.  Creating Etsy store, photographing products, adding listings, learning Etsy marketing and SEO, and store rules.  Writing product descriptions, answering customer enquires and always, but always being super polite and helpful, giving excellent customer service even when the Karen on the other end wants a top-quality hand made product for $10 and for it to be shipped from Australian to the US In two days “because Amazon’s can do it!  Then there’s the accounting side of things, adding up all the fees and. Incidental costs to make sure I am actually making a profit after all that.  Because if, at the end of the day, I’m not making much money, is it worth all that effort?

Honestly, I did make good money the first year, and then COVID hit.  I had to reship so many orders that I lost money.  I shut down my store for a while because it wasn’t viable while the international mail service was such a mess.  It’s not much better now, but customers are aware now, and fewer of them are as rude as they were in the early days. 

Running a small business will show you the absolute worst in human nature.  That’s a downside that’s hard to quantify, but it really gets you down when you’re getting abuse from multiple people a day, all of whom are complaining about things that are out of my control.  Many, many people take out their anger on a stranger on the internet.  Some people are just horrible people, and I hope karma comes for them.  But despite all of that, I was always polite.  You have to eat a lot of shit when you run a business.

Of course my suppliers were assholes too.  They’d promised that supplies would be here by a certain date.  I’d triple confirm and tell them it didn’t matter if it was longer, I just wanted an accurate date.  And they’d lie through their teeth. I’d pay for express shipping and they’d send it standard.  Then they’d abuse me for it. 

I had a shipping partner in the US with whom I had an agreement to reship my orders. I’d ship in bulk to him in Texas and he’d reship domestically within 24 hours.  He would sit on my orders for three or four days.  Nothing I could do about it.  I always had orders on their way to him.  Final straw was when he left them for five days.  I had three cases open against me, I messaged him constantly, told him he was destroying my business. He didn’t give a toss. He flat out didn’t do the job he was being paid for.  Etsy refunded ALL the orders that were in transit, and the customers still got my products.  Not ONE of them thought to pay me.  I lost over $600 that month, because he didn’t do his job.

Another downside of Etsy, you don’t have control over your own store.  Customers open facetious cases, and Etsy almost always sides with the customer to keep them happy.

The last few months my sales have slowed down completely.  I am making less than a quarter of what I used to.  I did a few searches to figure out why and its because there are now several copycat stores.  They have taken my concept and copied it to varying degrees. There are now loads of cheap “awareness” bracelets.  Most look tacky to me, but people are buying. One only opened in May 2021 and they already have made more sales than me.  Because they are selling an item made of cheap supplies for $10 less than I can.  The customer will find that it will fade and fall apart within 3 months, but the store owner has their money by then.  One store owner has copied my listings almost word for word (have reported them), another has taken my packaging and design concept and copied it shamelessly.

So that’s the last disadvantage of Etsy – copycats.  If you find a niche that sells, other people will notice that you’re doing well and they will copy.  I don’t know how these people can live with themselves, but money brings out the worst in people.  I know my products are infinitely better, but the customer wants the cheapest price.  Well, they’ll get what they pay for, but we both lose out.  Only the cheap copycat wins…but they’ll burn the market for everyone.

Ultimately, skills I needed to open and run an Etsy store were product design and development, web design and development, branding, logo design, product photography, photo editing, copy writing, seo, social media marketing, accounting, bracelet making and the patience of a saint! 

The only reason I keep doing this is because I don’t have a better option.

I’d love a job.  Someone to give me ten hours of work to do, with flexible hours.  It’s not going to happen.  Oh and I’ve been to the disability employment services.  They told me I had “no requirement to work” and therefore they wouldn’t help me.

So that leaves me living on the Disability Support Pension.  Which is $800 per fortnight.  I also get a carer’s allowance for my disabled son.  That’s a whole $100 per fortnight.   And another $300 in a superannuation pension.   Can you survive on $1200 a fortnight?  With two young adult kids?

I worked for 20 years. I saved. I had retirement savings, and lots of savings. I have house that is almost paid off.  At this rate, I will lose it. 

I worked hard and saved, I never had holidays, I never ate out, went to the movies even. I have lived a very spartan life and I have spent ALL my money on raising my kids and my health.  Now my savings are gone, and my income does not cover my expenses.

I have paid for surgeries, scans, tests, procedures…I have private health insurance because the public system is useless for chronic illness. It’s great if you have an accident or trauma, but not for ongoing illness.  Waiting lists for rheumatologist are six months, pain management is over two years.   If you actually need care, the public system does not cut it. You need to go private and that costs money. So I have paid.

My marriage ended ten years ago.  Already under pressure from having a disabled child, he didn’t want to be further shackled to a sick wife.  I gave him a quick, sweetheart divorce because I wanted to move forward.  He did very well.  He has been free to move forward with his life, free to do exactly as he pleases and he chose to see his kids only rarely.  Certainly only when it was convenient for him. (They worship the ground he walks on, ofcourse). I have done all the hard yards, all the parenting, dealt with all the problems and worn all the “I fucking HATE you!”s.  For the sake of my children, I worked hard to keep everything amicable and friendly between us.  He benefited greatly from my generosity and love for my children. 

He pays no child support because the kids are over 18. But I still support them financial and emotionally.  I could take him to court, because our son has a disability. I could easily make a case that he still should pay child support.  But my son would hate me if I did that.  Absolutely HATE me.  And it would take years of drama and stress and I can’t deal with all of that.

So here I am.  With $3000 worth of bills to pay, and a credit card that is almost maxed out.  It took ten years to wind down my resources to where I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I have run a 20% off sale in my Etsy store and that’s bringing in a few orders.

I believe the disability support pension needs to be increased.  Much increased.  I did nothing wrong.  It is not my fault in any way that I can’t work and support myself.  I have worked hard and tried a great many things to make money. Its not that easy.

What kind of society do we want?  A compassionate society that takes care of those less fortunate?  That pays for their living expenses?  That pays enough so that they can have some quality of life?  Can afford to go to a movie?  Can afford to eat out once in a while?

Or what we have now, where the disabled are lucky if they have family or a partner who will support them.  And if they aren’t lucky, they live an isolated, desolate life well under the poverty line. 

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