Coping with disability is something that every disabled person (including myself) will have to do on a daily basis. One thing all disabled people will also have to deal with throughout various points in our lives is the various attitudes that exist towards disability from an able-bodied society.
1. The easily identifiable/pitying
In terms of able-bodied attitudes (in my experience) the reaction of many able-bodied people is to immediately feel pity towards those with disabilities. The level of sympathy from the public depends on several factors but the most obvious one is whether that individual person’s image and personality come across as particularly "disabled" so to speak. Those that cannot speak and are cared for on an hourly basis are very much the easiest in terms of gaining sympathy from an able-bodied public. This is perfectly fine and this author will admit that as someone who spent much of his educational years in various special needs units, I was always grateful that I was not as badly affected by my disabilities as many of those around me.
2. Awkward situations/harder to "fit in"
There are two main subgroups when looking at this group/attitude. The first of these concerns potential awkwardness with trying to "fit in" to able-bodied society. On the one hand people may be more than willing to accept a disabled person into a friendship group. On the other hand a person with disabilities may struggle with what is expected of them at a certain age by their friends purely because of the culture that exists concerning people that age. As someone who struggled a lot with this concept growing up I firmly believe that it's perfectly okay for those with disabilities not to want to follow the crowd.
The other subgroup also fits under the broad theme of awkwardness but is taken from a slightly different angle. This has to do with encountering the sort of able-bodied person that is likely to ask him or her something along the lines of "do you ever wish you could walk." There’s a time and place for questions like this however, in this author's opinion it is not the sort of question that makes a good first impression on a disabled person. It is awkward and very unflattering. It shows that the first thing that able-bodied person sees is the wheelchair rather than the personality that could be sitting inside that chair.
3. Choose your own destiny.
The final group/attitude refers to those who believe disabled people cannot “choose their own destiny" so to speak. As someone with disabilities and a wheelchair user, there does come a point where those with disabilities will want to be taken as seriously as any able-bodied person and no longer have to field questions like "don't you wish you could walk". It could be argued that the able-bodied person will have already made up their mind and will be hoping against hope that the wheelchair user will just tell them what they want to hear. While it might seem less appealing to those who want to hear that people with disabilities crave the ability to walk, in my experience they are just trying their best to get on with life. People with disabilities can be well educated, get jobs and succeed in life just like any able-bodied person. As with all able-bodied people it simply depends on how much time and effort every individual person is willing to put in. Every successful person with disabilities exists as a counter argument to those that say we cannot make our own decisions.
Let's stop being negative.
I’m well aware that the tone of this post is somewhat negative. It is written by someone who struggled in terms of engaging with able-bodied culture for a very long time and his perspective on able-bodied attitudes to disability very much comes from that. However it's important to say that not all able-bodied people have the type of attitudes described in this piece. I've met plenty of disabled people with able-bodied friends who were able to see beyond whatever disability their friend may have and see the person that lies underneath said disability. At this point in my life I am lucky to have friendships with people that definitely fit into this category. It's only healthy in a modern society that all people with disabilities have friendships that fit into this category.
From sympathy to pigeon holing or outright pity and sometimes understanding, you meet with all sorts of attitudes. And it's not all doom and gloom. It's perfectly possible and healthy for people with disabilities to have able-bodied friends that support and care for them in a way that's appreciated on both sides. Do you agree with the groups above? Does this tally with your experiences? Let me know in the comments section below.
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