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Deaf Peddler: Chapter Three

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I was eligible for quite a nice benefit because I had worked a great deal during college, and SSDI benefits are based on what one has paid into the system and on one’s salary at the last place of employment. Some may consider it unfair that deaf people who are able to work can receive Social Security benefits, but the fact is that the government labels deafness as a “disability,” and deaf people are legally entitled to them.

Of course, the SSDI program includes other disabilities, but the label “deaf” carries power in the SSDI system. It almost always assures instant access to benefits. All that is required is an audiogram to prove that one is deaf. For some reason, an individual in a wheelchair is subject to far more evaluation, documentation, and red tape to determine if a real handicap to employment is present. When I first learned about the Social Security system, I was surprised at the “respect” being labeled deaf provoked. (At least in the government’s eyes!)

The SSDI program sounded ideal, and I was soon receiving about $600 each month, double what I had received on SSI before I started working. Although I recognized how addictive that kind of income can be, it seemed like free money! I remember asking myself, why work? But I had always worked, and I wasn’t about to stop.

In June, I was anxious to get going. I decided to peddle on my own, leaving Don to the bliss of his newfound love. I set off eagerly towards New Orleans, planning to travel and peddle for a while before working on my master’s degree.

Some independent deaf peddlers starting out are lucky enough to get advice from more experienced peddlers, who can help them avoid wasting their time and their effort. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a mentor, and began my peddling career in a pretty disorganized manner. I was weary most of the time from the constant travel and from sleeping in the van in all kinds of weather, including some nights when I had to plug in a space heater just to keep warm.

Because I had no training and no real mentor, I did things the hard way. I traveled like crazy, jumping around to different places willy-nilly. I occasionally left the airport to try my luck in a different environment. Small towns are often a good choice because the people there are friendlier and less sophisticated, more apt to make a purchase. Still, even with prior experience, it would be difficult to know how long I could work there. Perhaps a manager of a restaurant might begin to recognize me after a week or two and report my presence. Or the police themselves might notice me. Police attitudes vary considerably. Some will escort you straight to jail. Others will simply ask you to move on. In either case, you’re back on the road.

One of the first things I learned is that to be successful, a peddler has to keep track of all the locations he or she has worked, which were successful, which were not, what the earnings were and how they varied at specific times and places. Many peddlers use memo books, calendars, and ledgers. Since I have a degree in computer science, I started to log this information on my computer using spreadsheet software, noting dates, locations, earnings, and hours worked.

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