Mike ErvinWhen I was a much younger man, lord knows that the state of Illinois tried its level best to rehabilitate me, in the vocational sense. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation paid to put me through college and purchased my first motorized wheelchair.

But did it work? Was I rehabilitated, vocationally? Here I am more than 40 years later and I still don’t know the answer to that probing question. But maybe rehabilitation isn’t the right word for the process of helping cripples get jobs, because when you rehabilitate something, like an old house, you restore it to its previous grandeur. So if I apply that definition, I can say for sure that I wasn’t rehabilitated because there was no previous grandeur to restore me to. I was just a teenaged crippled kid.

And when you rehabilitate a person, like a prisoner or a political dissident, you correct them. You show them the folly of the path they were pursuing. You get them to repent and change course and go straight. So according to that definition, I guess I wasn’t vocationally rehabilitated, either, because I didn’t become a social worker. That was about the only career DVR would pay for a cripple like me to embark upon in those days because we had to play it safe and major in something that would make us employable.

The idea was that if we became social workers, we could go to work for DVR and then push the next generation of cripples to become social workers so that they could go to work for DVR and push the next generation of cripples to become social workers so that they could go to work for DVR, and so on into perpetuity. It was a drag, but if you said screw it and didn’t go to college, your job prospects were even more dismal. Being a store greeter at Walmart wasn’t even an option because that was before there were any Walmarts.

But DVR still covered me even though my only career goal ever was to get paid to write. And since that’s what I’m doing as we speak, could it be that I actually was vocationally rehabilitated? Maybe this is a cripple success story with a happy ending after all! But I don’t know. If the state of Illinois could read this, would it feel satisfied that it got its money’s worth on me? Probably not. So I’ll just have to say I’m sorry, state of Illinois. You gave it your best shot, and so did I. It just wasn’t meant to be. No hard feelings.

I wonder if it’s easier for the cripples of today to get themselves vocationally rehabilitated. It might be, in a way, because I imagine that there could be a career option or two besides social work that DVR would deem acceptable. They may say it’s OK to study computer sciences. Back when I was in college, computers were the size of a Buick and only NASA had them.

But nevertheless, I fear that future generations of cripples will have a harder time than any of us getting themselves vocationally rehabilitated. Future cripples won’t just be competing for jobs with verts. They’ll also be competing with robots for jobs. Even the cripples who play it safe and become social workers and go to work for DVR and push the next generation of cripples to become social workers and go to work for DVR will probably be laid off and replaced by robots. And then what will they do? They’ll have to make an appointment with DVR to help them find another job. And when they get to the DVR office they’ll meet with a robot social worker that speaks with a cyborg voice like Stephen Hawking. And if they don’t like it when the robot social worker tells them there are no jobs, they can go over the robot social worker’s head and appeal to the supervisor, which will also be a robot.

So all the future cripples who become social workers and go to work for DVR and get replaced by robots will be trying to get jobs as store greeters at Walmart. But those jobs will probably also be done by robots.