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  • Writer's picturePeta

How do you overcome negative comments about disabilities?

When you have a disability you know what people think of you. Even if the person is trying to be nice it is clear when they don't believe the positive spin they are trying to express. I mean it's not really a compliment when they say "but you have a pretty face" is it. So how do I deal with other people's negativity towards my disability?

[Apologies for my voice this week. I was feeling under the weather after my first Covid vaccine]

You can ask Peta a question via:


You can also follow Peta's personal account on Instagram @petahooke


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast, answering your questions on what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta. I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy. I'm 30. I live in Melbourne. I'm single. This week. I had a question from Louisa. Louisa asked me, Peta, how do you overcome negative comments around disability? What a good question. OK, without any further ado, let's get into it.

[00:00:48] So how do I overcome those negative comments that I get in and around my disability? They happen quite a lot, most of the time. People don't even realise that they're saying a negative thing, they're thinking that they're being positive or being nice.

[00:01:08] I can't tell you how many times I've been told by old ladies that I have a pretty face. My body may be broken, but at least I have a pretty face, so there's always that silver lining. Am I right? But seriously, even though those little comments, even though I sort of think they're funny and I sort of blow them off, they do reconfirm to me how I'm seen in society.

[00:01:39] From the little old lady, the sort of comments and thinks, she's being nice by saying that, well, at least you have a pretty face. To her husband, I think he thinks he's hilarious, but unfortunately, it's not that original. What he says to me or what he asks me is if I have a license to drive my wheelchair. Yes, I probably should stick the P plates back on, so to speak when I've had a drink or two or three, but um no. No, I haven't got a license but just like you guys walking, none of you need a license to walk. So you all seem to do it so well and I'm exactly the same with my chair. I just simply small giggle and try and keep the interaction as positive as I can because it's better for the opinion of me to at least be positive, if not a little bit off base, at least it's positive. So I tend to just giggle and smile and say, Oh, you know what? I do have a license for my wheelchair. I've been driving it since I was five. Educating, but also being really nice at the same time.

[00:02:58] The ones that really annoy me when it comes to comments is people's assumption that I am not intelligent because I have a disability. I do not have an intellectual disability. I have a physical disability. When people assume that I'm not intelligent, I really struggle not to snark back at them. Say something overtly intelligent and put them back in their place. I mean, for example, I was at a hen's night once and it was a group of doctors. The bride was a doctor and well, one of her friends who is a doctor asked me whether I work. Now, to me, this was or more concerning when it comes from somebody that has a medical background that should understand that my intellectual capacity isn't dictated by my disability because in fact, all my disability affects is my balance and my ability to walk. That was sort of interesting because I was in a social setting and I didn't know this person and I didn't want to upset the host. I just sort of said 'Yeah cause I work, I do this and I work this many days a week and I've been doing it for this many years and blah, blah, blah".

[00:04:28] The you're not smart comments, though, have been pretty consistent in my life. I think the most damaging comment in regards to my intelligence came from a careers counsellor. I remember this day I was in my school uniform, blue and white, looked awful in it, hated it. Probably had a cold sore, like I do today, and I walk into this career counsellor feeling super positive, very buoyant, very determined, and find out what she thinks I should do with the rest of my life. So I'm really excited. I'm thinking, yes, this is the ticket to adulthood. I've of course sit down, she pulls the chair away from me and I sit in a spot. I look straight at her, she looks up from the papers and she says.

Career Counsellor [00:05:23] "Look, Peta, I think you're being really unrealistic to want to go to university.".

Peta [00:05:29] And I said. "Oh, look. I am a really stubborn and determined person, and I'm just planning on working my absolute butt off to get into university. I, I don't care how long it takes for me to get into university. How many back doors I have to go through to get to my first degree. I'm going to do it. She sort of looks at me gives me that. You know that look, that you get. Petty. She says,.

Career Counsellor [00:06:04] "Peta, you need to be more realistic with your life. You're not going to get into university".

A cartoon picture of a student's desk with a photo on the wall. The photo of Peta in her school uniform. The caption of the photo reads: "You're not smart enough to get into university"
A girl with all the determination to succeed but was worried that people were right

Peta [00:06:11] I really took her comments to heart because I felt like she was a professional and I should listen to someone who knows better than I do and she said,.

Career Counsellor [00:06:23] "I'm going to put a note to your Head House, so she can talk you through, get you to be ready to accept going to Tafe".

Peta [00:06:35] And look, Tafe isn't that bad, but that's just not what I wanted and none of my family had ever been to Tafe, they'd all been to university. So I didn't want to be different. My Head of House pulled me out of class later that day and she said,.

Head of House [00:06:51] "I got this weird note from our career counsellor, she says that you want to go to Tafe. Is that right? That doesn't feel right".

Peta [00:07:00] And I said, "No, I don't want to go to Tafe. I want to go to university".

[00:07:07] Not only did I get into university. I've got a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Me overcoming that comment, the fact that I'm just very stubborn and refuse to take no as an answer. Um, that stems from the fact that, as I said in the previous episode, a doctor told my parents that I wouldn't have the ability to write my own name and because I proved that expert wrong. By the time I was, what, seven, I just thought, OK, this is another example where I have to prove the experts wrong.

A cartoon room with a photo on the wall. The photo is of Peta graduating with her bachelors degree. The caption reads: With your disability, you will never pass the exams"
A woman pleased that she ignored other people's negativity

[00:07:49] Even though the comments that I've talked about so far, are personal. I found them pretty easy to overcome, to be frank. I just knew that I was right. I know Taurus. I can't help it,

but of course, there's always some comments that sort of blindside you. I have had some awful comments said to me by so-called friends, and while I've never been bullied. These, uh, probably the most concrete example that I can bring to bullied.

[00:08:28] The first one, was from an adult. I was 16. They're in their 40s. They'd come out for dinner with my parents and I. And they wanted to see what my equipment was like at home, so they came home, had a look at my equipment. Was amazed by the fact that these machines could lift me from the shower to the toilet to the bed, and I'll never forget them, they bent down and sort of whispered to me.

A family friend [00:09:03] "This is great, Peta, but. Doesn't just mean you'll never live independently away from home. Come on, you've got to be a bit more realistic".

Peta [00:09:15] I worried for a long time that person was right. I was only 16. What 16 year old feels ready to move out of home? Again. With my stubbornness, I just wanted to move out of home because that's what's normal and that's what I wanted. So I did.

[00:09:40] So you can probably say that there's a bit of a pattern here, a negative comment pushes me forward to achieve something to prove them wrong. Maybe negative comments are always a bad thing? They are at the time, but in retrospect, they're probably not.

[00:09:59] OK, so the last two comments I can't put a positive spin on. They were awful. Both at the time and looking back now. They're pretty awful. They said by two different people, and I dealt with these comments by cutting these people out of my life. Hash I know. Without a doubt, the two most awful things that have ever been said to me are:

A former friend [00:10:35] "You'll die as a virgin".

Peta [00:10:39] Yeah, yep, she actually said that.

A former friend [00:10:43] "Peta, you'll die as a virgin".

Peta [00:10:46] And the second one.

Another former friend. [00:10:49] "Peta, I'm sorry, I don't want you to be a bridesmaid. We both feel like you're going to ruin the photos by being in your wheelchair".

Peta [00:11:00] Both of those are really harsh comments. The only positive spin I can have is it gave me the ability to know when to cut toxic people out of my life. They answer the question for me. Should these people be my friends? Clearly not. I pride myself on now having the ability to pick really good friends. I can see through bullshit very quickly and I can see when people are uncomfortable. And when they're going to be able to adapt. And grow and see the positives in having me as a friend. Just like I do for them.

A blue square with the following stated: How I cope with negativity. 1. I am stubborn 2. I want to prove people wrong 3. The only person that can determine my happiness and success is myself
My three golden rules when coping with negativity

Peta [00:11:43] So, yes. Life's not all daisies and roses when you have a disability, there will always be negativity in life. It's just about how you choose to deal with it and I choose to deal with it by getting on with life. Thinking positive and striving to do better. And maybe proving a few people wrong in the process.

Peta [00:12:15] I hope you enjoyed that episode this week if you'd like to ask me a question. You can always send me a message via Instagram @petahooke or @icantstandpodcast, via email at or via my website, Please write and review the episode or tell a friend that this exists. I really appreciate all the sharing that you do. Until next time, have a good week.


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