This American Life's report on kids and disability claims riddled with factual errors


A couple weeks ago, I listened to Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America an interesting program on the supposed rise in disability claims produced by Planet Money and aired on This American Life (where I heard it). The program raised some interesting points about the inaccessibility of certain kinds of less-physical jobs to large numbers of people, but it also aired a lot of supposed facts about the way that parents and teachers conspired to create and perpetuate disability classifications for kids.

Many of the claims in the report are debatable, and many, many more and simply not true. A Media Matters report called This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children systematically debunks many of the claims in the story, which NPR has modified slightly since posting online (though NPR and Ira Glass continue to stand behind the story).

FACT: Medical Evidence From Qualified Professionals Is Required To Determine Eligibility

Government Accountability Office: "Examiners Rely On A Combination Of Key Medical And Nonmedical Information Sources." A Government Accountability Office report found that disability determination services (DDS) examiners determined a child's medical eligibility for benefits based on a combination of school records and medical records, and that if medical records in particular were not available, they were able to order consultative exams to review medical evidence:

DDS examiners rely on a combination of key medical and nonmedical information sources -- such as medical records, effects of prescribed medications, school records, and teacher and parent assessments -- in determining a child's medical eligibility for benefits. Several DDS officials we interviewed said that when making a determination, they consider the totality of information related to the child's impairments, rather than one piece of information in isolation. Based on our case file review, we estimate that examiners generally cited four to five information sources as support for their decisions in fiscal year 2010 for the three most prevalent mental impairments.

[...]

If such evidence is not available or is inconclusive, DDS examiners may purchase a consultative exam to provide additional medical evidence and help them establish the severity of a child's impairment. [Government Accountability Office, 6/26/12]

The Media Matters report cites high-quality sources like the GAO throughout, and makes an excellent case for a general retraction of this report by NPR. I hope that they, and Glass, will reconsider their endorsement of this report.

This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children (via Naked Capitalism)