Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome A Disability?
Well, talk about a loaded question! The very word disability has different meanings and connotations to different people. It also has different definitions depending on whether you’re talking medically or legally. Some Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) sufferers believe their illness is a disability, but that they are not disabled themselves. Others feel that CFS impairs their daily life, but is not actually a disability.
South Africa signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities over 20 years ago. It recognises disability as an “evolving concept,” and states that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
So what does that actually mean? A person may have an impairment, but does that make them disabled? That depends on the barriers they face within society. Not all people with impairments are disabled. Someone with impaired vision that is improved with the wearing of glasses, for example, is not disabled.
So what, then, do we mean when we talk about an impairment? In December 2015, the South African Cabinet approved the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This paper states an impairment “is a perceived or actual feature in a person’s body or functioning that may result in limitation or loss of activity or restricted participation of the person in society with a consequential difference of physiological and/or psychological experience of life.”
How Do We Assess Disability Due To Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
The Life Offices Association of South Africa recently introduced a new policy for assessing levels of disability caused by CFS. It provides guidelines to help doctors better diagnose CFS, and objectively assess how severe are the symptoms of the illness. It also helps identify which patients have genuinely disabling illnesses, and which are simply trying their luck to get benefits.
When assessing disability caused by CFS, doctors must follow the criteria for the illness as laid out by the Centre of Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Rheumatology in the US. Part of this means eliminating other causes of symptoms, including depression, psychiatric disorders, stress, inappropriate medication or poor lifestyle habits.To qualify for eligibility for a disability grant, or insurance payout, your CFS must disable you to the point that you cannot lead a normal life, and are unable to work. So how disabled is disabled? CFS sufferers have good days and bad days, and the pain and fatigue associated with the illness vary. Most people with CFS manage to work around their symptoms. However, there are tests to determine whether those patients claiming disability can actually perform their jobs, or alternate jobs, properly.
If you’re claiming from disability insurance, you should be eligible for a lump sum payout. This might be as much as up to five times your annual salary. However, it’s important to remember that once you’ve been declared legally and medically disabled, it’s almost impossible to find employment. You need to think about what happens after the lump sum payout has been spent.
A Little Understanding Goes A Long Way
Most CFS sufferers don’t actually want their illness recognised as a disability for the insurance or social security benefits. They simply want to receive the same consideration as anyone with a more obvious, visible disability. Just because CFS is not usually visible from the outside doesn’t make its symptoms affect your life any less.
A recent article in the Huffington Post featured 31-year-old CFS sufferer Hannah Gibson. She says the general public’s lack of sympathy and understanding about her condition actually make her feel ashamed of her illness. “I sometimes wish my pain and fatigue were visible because explaining myself takes up more energy and causes distress,” she says. “I do not know how people will react when I explain I am sick, or require assistance.”