Attitude versus ability

Deanne Newton
A friend recently expressed surprise when I said I did most things myself, with a little help from family. She said she thought I should be getting more help. Some people with a disability, like Kurt Fearnley, have managed to succeed at many things on their own. If I believe in myself, I can do that too. I told my friend this and she said she thought I was amazing. I don't think it is amazing to do things on your own. It is just part of living your life the way you want.
Posted by: 
Deanne Newton on 04/01/2013
Abstract view of a wheelchair on an athletic track

Attitude can be everything.

Recently I had an experience which made me realise that for people with a disability, attitude determines our experiences and achievements much more than anything else.

During a discussion on disability issues with someone that I have known for a while, it occurred to me that many people make the automatic assumption that independent living support is something all people with a disability receive. I found this attitude surprising, as this person in particular knows that I am quite independent. I felt the need to correct her assumption which, at first, made her angry and incredulous on my behalf. The notion that I did not receive more government and community support seemed entirely shocking to her, not to mention affronting.

Questioning my support needs

I, however, have rarely questioned my support needs and this conversation made me wonder if I should be getting more practical support than I am. I have to admit that I can't manage around the house as well as other people probably can, but I have always been happy just to battle on to the best of my ability. I manage to get most things done and I have my husband to give me a hand when I really need it. So would I really want the extra help - at the cost of living independently? I'm not sure I would. I just want to be free to live as normal a life as possible, without constantly feeling that I must always be helped.

I have to admit that there are some services I used to receive that were helpful, like physiotherapy, but do I think I should be receiving this kind of physical support now? Possibly. But then I have also taken it upon myself to go to the gym and do similar exercises to the ones I used to do. I may not always get to the gym as often as I would like, but I am an adult and can make my own choices about my body and its capabilities. Why is it someone else's responsibility to ensure that I look after my physical health when I am more than capable of doing so myself?

I think getting extra help is definitely the best thing if you need it and it improves your quality of life. There may be a time in the future where I need more help, particularly if I ever have a child of my own. But right now, I think I'm managing well, despite the expectations of others.

Importance of attitude

After thinking about these things at some length, I saw an interview with Para Olympian Kurt Fearnley on the television. He was talking about how, at 17, he moved from a country town to the city and became a bouncer. This made me think that what you do and achieve is not tied to, or about, your disability. It is about your attitude and what you believe you can do. Disability or no disability, few people I know would be that independent, especially at 17. I'm sure there were friends and family who told Kurt that he shouldn't move out on his own, but he has made a success of his life because he hasn't let people influence his perception of his own abilities.

Choosing my own path

When I told my friend that I was happy right now managing on my own, she was very surprised and acted like I was some kind of hero. But I don't think it's heroic to try and do things for yourself, even if it is a bit of a struggle. That is part of living an independent life. Generally you feel a lot better about yourself when you try, than when you just decide that you can't do something. And, as Kurt Fearnley shows, sometimes what you can do is limited only by belief in yourself.

Readers comments (7)

This is interesting seeing the different points of view presented. I suppose it is so easy for people to make assumptions about other people: perhaps your friend may have been coming from the position of finding it enough of a drag to have to manage her life herself, and therefore thought that a person who struggles because of disability must welcome outside help, not realising that the dignity of being independent is more important for a lot of people. Probably it is especially common for these assumptions to be made about women when it relates to housekeeping: some people overlook the fact that husbands can help!

I think too, people can forget that the only difference between you and themselves is just needing to put a bit more time into what you do..... which could otherwise just be extra time you'd spend watching TV! (Would that mean better quality of life??)

Yes, that is quite right. Often with housework it is mostly finding an easier way like a hand held vac. I guess people do probably assume help is a relief but maintaining independence is valuable to your self-esteem; and husbands probably should help disability or not!

great article

thanks David.

Yes, well I don't know whether you work (or what hours) or whether you have kids..... not making any assumptions lol, but look at how many husbands nowadays do 50% of the housework and of looking after kids..... and some do more than 50% because it is the wife whose job has the longer hours!

That's true Katrina. However husband usually works more so things are more traditional. I am a postgrad student with no kids at this stage. There are days though, like today, when I am flat out with assignments and hubby cooked and did the dishes.

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