Nikki Frittmann has Spina Bifida and lives in Auckland with her husband and two cats. Every second month she shares her musings with DPSN.
You’re probably familiar with this saying. It’s a popular one on social media. Of course, you’re not supposed to take it literally. We all know there are many forms of disability, and “bad attitude” hasn’t yet, and never will, make it into the medical handbooks. The words really mean that having a bad outlook on life is so much more disabling than physical impairment. But is it?
First of all, what is meant by a “bad attitude”? One person may explain it, or perceive it, very differently than another would. A person who is being very direct may be just trying to receive what they are entitled to, but be accused of having a bad attitude in the process. Some people are louder than others when they’re irritated, and this can be taken to be a bad attitude in action, rather than merely a personal difference. Yet either of these situations may get someone what they are needing in life – so, rather than a barrier, that “bad attitude” of theirs at least played a part in helping them. It all depends on your point of view.
Secondly, this saying suggests that the only thing that is holding back someone who has a disability is their outlook on a situation. This, I feel, is very wrong. Many things hold back those of us with disability in our everyday lives. While it’s true that sometimes our way of relating to people, or dealing with certain frustrating situations, doesn’t always do us many favours, the same can be said for anyone, with a disability or without. If I have a “good attitude”, this doesn’t remove a flight of stairs which are in between me in my wheelchair, and the place I want to get to. If I’m calm in my complaints to a business which doesn’t have a disabled friendly environment my calmness won’t make access to their premises any easier. The “disability”, in both these cases, comes from the built environment, and putting the responsibility on me to “have a good attitude” to change these things isn’t fair, nor is it useful. Sometimes, it takes activism to change these things. Sometimes they don’t change at all, no matter how “good” an attitude I may have in bringing them to the right people’s attention.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that while it’s great when we can get through life with a smile on our face, sometimes that’s not possible or practical, and blaming our attitude for any lack of forward progress we may be making in life is basically a cop-out. Many things contribute daily to the difficulties faced by those with disabilities in everyday life, just as many things also contribute to the difficulties faced by everyone else. Some of those barriers, like the built environment, Government policies, inaccessible information, or just plain thoughtlessness on the part of people we deal with daily, aren’t going to change by those who are disadvantaged by them being nice, although niceness is often helpful. But to say “the only”, or even “the biggest”, disability in life stems from someone’s personal take on life excuses the people in power in these areas, who could change them, from any responsibility to do so. And that’s not helping to achieve an equal society.