Bad Attitudes, Platitudes, and Ignoring the Reality of Disability

It's a constant quote going around the disability community: Scott Hamilton's "The only disability is a bad attitude." Of course, it's usually coupled with the picture of an unnamed child with a disability, and it tends to get two reactions: passed around as a positive message or harangued as inspiration porn.

What bothers me most, though, is the quote itself. According to Cleveland Clinic, Hamilton said it before undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. You know, an able bodied person saying this. A cancer diagnosis does not make a person disabled in and of itself.

Whether Hamilton meant to suggest that non-able bodied people were only disabled because they had a no-can-do attitude or not is unclear, and the quote, uttered in 1997, has gone on to have a life of its own.

It's a comforting thought--that if we have a can-do attitude we can overcome disability, but it's bullshit and unfairly stigmatizes those individuals who are disabled, remain disabled, and for whom no amount of can-do attitude is going to overcome a hostile environment and serious, significant impairments.

It's also a platitude, a saying that means nothing at all and offers no real help to individuals who might be suffering. Say it to someone enduring unremitting depression. Go ahead. If the person isn't too down in the dumps to clock you, maybe one of his family members or friends who understands the chains depression puts on a person will. And then you can comfort yourself with that empty platitude. See where it gets you.

There is much we can do to mitigate disability. There is a lot, when given the opportunity, the support, the technology, and the education, that we can do as a society to lessen disabilities, even if impairments cannot be cured/removed.

And certainly, having an attitude that is positive will help (and that goes for everyone--we must believe that we can make a difference, can create a more inclusive, accepting society), but it isn't like clicking our heels three times and just wishing so.

Any meme that goes around objectifying unnamed disabled individuals while pushing platitudes, in the end, does an injustice to us all.


Anonymous said...

I find the ignorance surrounding hidden disabilities in particular to be quite profound. It actually angers me these days when people turn their back on disability as though it either doesn't really exist or is contagious. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to raise awareness for autism (my 13 yr old daughter is autistic) and so often my pleas to read just a short article are ignored.

I wish it was as simple of clicking heels together but society is ignorant as a whole.

CJ x

Socrates said...

Meanwhile in the UK we are pioneering Zero Services for autistics.

To summarize: how to make disabled people even more disabled.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is particularly noxious in regards to invisible disability, as, without an obvious external marker, all of our problems are ascribed to our "bad attitude" on a regular basis by people who either can't, or can't be bothered, to try to understand what's really going on.

The next person who says this to me, I am going to DARE them to deal with my auditory processing issues for a day, and then say it again. (Which I can't enforce or actually make them do in any way, obviously, but it'll still be satisfying.)