Here in the disability community there is nothing that irks an advocate with a disability more than seeing a poster that says this… “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
The slogan is almost always accompanied with a finely tuned athlete on runner’s blades or a beaming child in a wheelchair.
Hmmm… It’s compelling, no doubt about it! It’s tempting to believe it.
“Gosh, if only I smiled more, perhaps my life with a disability wouldn’t be so darn hard.” Or “Seriously, those people with disabilities, just need to try harder.”
I recently watched a fantastic TED talk by Stella Young, a comedian and journalist with a disability.
She said “We are learning from each others’ strength and endurance…but against a world that exceptionalizes and objectifies us… And that quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” …it’s just not true… No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never… No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into Braille. It’s just not going to happen.”
But then, just the other day, I came across a photo on Humans of New York (HONY). If you don’t know HONY, look it up – a truly fantastic depiction of humanity. Anyways, in this picture, here was this man, standing semi-stoically, holding a large (and seemingly heavy) sack on his shoulder. The man was missing the bottom portion of his arm. The question “What is your greatest struggle?” The man replied simply “No struggle.”
I stopped. I contemplated. How profound I thought. I was taken by this man. I’ve gone back to study his face, his stance, his attitude. He wasn’t radiating positivity, it was something else entirely. It was determination; determination to do, despite (or perhaps in spite of), his incomplete arm.
I struggled with the juxtaposition of these opposing ideas presented by Stella and this man. In the end, I determined that attitude may not be the only thing, but it is something. And it’s a pretty important something.
The truth is life is hard, disability or no. Nobody is given a free pass on struggle; each and every one of us struggles at some point in our lives and we all have limitations. Life is about doing the best we can with what we have available to us. We have choices. We can choose to stare at an obstacle with disdain and contempt or we can attempt to change it. We can stay put or we can keep moving.
The anonymous man with one arm certainly didn’t stop moving. And Stella, in her wheelchair, is taking the world by storm with her wit and charm. They are both doing the best they can with what they have available. And that, my friends, is something.
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford