It occurred to me the other day to add a slideshow of disability-related quotes to spruce up the Home Page of Disabilitythinking.com. So, I Googled "disability quotes" and started reading. The results were disappointing.
I found six or seven different quotation collection sites that produced disability-related quotes, but the collections are so similar that I suspect that most of the sites did the same thing I did and just copied all the quotes they found. They're all the same. That would be okay, if the quotes were good, but to my mind the collections are … lame. I found a few interesting quotes … funny, provocative, offering fresh insights or perspectives on disability … but most of them were either blandly uplifting, just plain wrong, and often. For example:
"The only disability in life is a bad attitude." - Scott Hamilton
Far be it from me to question the philosophy of a retired figure skater, but this is wrong both literally and conceptually. I get it. Having a "bad attitude" can limit your own possibilities, and other peoples' bad attitudes can have a limiting effect on you. But real disabilities create real barriers that although worsened by bad attitudes, can't be completely undone by "positive" attitudes. And that's the point of this quote, isn't it? You can't change your inability to walk, hear, or see, but you can change your "attitude", so it is empowering to think that if you just adopt the right mindset, your disabilities won't matter … won't really be disabilities anymore. It's a nice idea, but most people with disabilities know that it doesn't work that way. A positive attitude helps, but it doesn't cure.
Statements like this bother me because they minimize and trivialize disabilities. Not that I want to view my disabilities as all-powerful or insurmountable, but like it or not they exist and they will always have an effect. It subtly encourages people to conclude that if you have a disability and are having a hard time, that it's your fault because you must have a "bad attitude". What constitutes a "bad" attitude anyway? If you complain about inaccessible restaurants or poorly-run transportation services, are you displaying a "bad attitude", or are you being a pro-active advocate? If you are always cheerful and passive in the face of discrimination and neglect, isn't that a "bad attitude" of sorts?
The other thing that bothered me about so many of the quotes I found is that like the Scott Hamilton quote, they are almost completely abstract. They are nearly meaningless collections of words in which one fuzzy, debatable concept is used to bolster another. I read them, and the only thing I can say to them is "Yup," and "So what?"
I'll keep looking, though. Maybe I need to collect some quotes that aren't explicitly about disability, but speak to some concrete truths about the disability experience.
If you have a favorite disability quote, please share it in the Comments.
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.