Friday, March 1, 2013

Man Fakes Disability for Profit

I recently read an article about a man in Lexington, Kentucky who was charged with two counts of theft by deception after pretending to be mentally disabled in order to increase his panhandling profits, and it got me thinking about a few things. What else is new?

The man, Gary Thompson, claims to make $60,000 to $100,000 a year thanks to people's donations, and he admits that while he does have trouble walking and uses a wheelchair, his mental disability is entirely made up. How does Thompson convince people he has a mental handicap? According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, he uses “slurred, slowed speech, contorting his face and holding one hand close to his body 'as if he doesn't have use of it'.” And if you take a look at the video below, you'll see that he appears to feel no remorse or guilt about his act.

Surely that is offensive enough. First of all, this man has turned people with disabilities into devices for manipulation and profit. Suddenly, they go from being real people with faces and lives and legitimate challenges to being tools, potentially useful archetypes characterized by a series of stereotypical gestures. And it's upsetting. What gives this man the right to capitalize on disability? Moreover, what gives him the right to capitalize on a disability he doesn't even have? Some people don't realize that what is an easy, convenient, and sometimes profitable role for them to slip in and out of at their leisure is actually somebody's life, but that somebody doesn't have the benefit of taking off the mask, of switching roles, when it is convenient. (I think this adds a bit of concreteness to what I was trying to relay in the post a couple weeks back about the film “The Idiots”.)

What may be at least equally offensive is the way the strangers who gave money to Thompson reacted after they found out he was not mentally disabled. Many people were offended themselves because they felt they had been deceived. This made me wonder whether these people would have given Thompson money if he had acted otherwise, and if so, why or why not? Does it make a difference? Should it? I'm curious why, assuming that the donors were giving money out of a genuine desire to help a fellow human in need and not just out of perceived moral obligation, it would make a difference whether that human had any sort of disability or not. Don't get me wrong, I would have been upset were I in their position, too, but I think it would be more out of anger and frustration at Thompson's insolence. Something about their reactions peeves me. There seems to be an implication that people were upset not by the offensive nature of the trick, but that somebody had succeeded in tricking them. They felt “deceived,” not alarmed or angered. Does anybody else get that sense?

Click here to read the original article, and let me know what you think about this. Do you think disabled panhandlers, either mentally or physically, get treated differently? Do you think they should? How do you feel about the way the strangers reacted? I am so curious what people think about this. Do share!


  1. I am angry that he is scamming disabled
    people who can't make a living wage when he obviously could if he wanted to. Since it is all
    cash he won't pay any income tax on it either.
    He is a slimey SOB!

  2. I appreciate the anger of the poster above and second it!