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  • Writer's picturePeta

What is the most surprising thing about having a disability?

Growing up Peta was presented with three representations of disability. Based on the media representations in the 90’s she could either be a cute kid with a disability, a sports person with a disability or a person in a car crash ad.

She knew instinctively that she wasn’t going to fit into any of these as she grew up.

Afterall the public was only prepared for her not fit into one of those three groups; so why was she so surprised to go from being considered cute to purely inconvenient.


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions about what life is like when you have a disability. This week's question might surprise you. I know it did me. I really had to think about this one. So I hope you enjoy it.

Peta [00:00:21] If you'd like to ask me a question. There are three ways to get in contact with me. One by Instagram @icantstandpodcast. Two by email and three via the website OK, let's go.

Peta [00:00:52] So Ahrari asked me, what's the most surprising thing about having a disability?

Peta [00:00:59] So for me, the most surprising thing was the change of perception of me as a child with a disability versus me becoming a teenager and then an adult with a disability. It was a very big shift and I felt it acutely.

Peta [00:01:17] So before I go on, I want to ask you a question, what do you picture when I say the word disability?

Peta [00:01:26] For me, I see the picture a sports person with a disability like a Dylan Alcott.

Dylan Alcott book cover for 'Able'
Dylan Alcott book cover for 'Able'

The second one is one that I actually was. A child at the Royal Children's Hospital. These kids are presented pretty conventionally, pretty positively as being brave, being cute despite their disability.

Child advertising charity
Ollie – the face of the 2019 Good Friday Appeal

The third one that comes to mind that I was exposed to as a 90s child was a person in a TAC ad. Which is the Transport Accident Commission, for those of you not in Victoria. [The ad was] trying to illustrate the dangers of driving on the road and the outcomes if something goes wrong. In that circumstance, they use disability as a deterrent, as a negative, that your life would be over if you repeated the behaviour that that person did in the ad.

{wraning possibly distressing image below}

Road accident
90's TAC ad

Peta [00:02:34] Not exactly the best representation to me growing up trying to figure out what it would be like as an adult with a disability when that really was the only examples I had when I turned on the TV.

Peta [00:02:51] It became clear very quickly as I got older that I was not going to be the sportsperson excelling in this sport despite a disability. The second option, of course, I grew out of I was not cute and God knows disability is not seen as attractive. So I couldn't grow into my cuteness even if I wanted to. The third option was a definite no, not only did it not really relate to me because I had a disability from birth, but I wasn't going to be a victim or survivor of my disability. My life didn't revolve around my disability. I didn't want it to define who I was.

Peta [00:03:38] The most surprising thing about getting older and having a disability is the amount of negativity that I am faced with on a day to day basis.

Peta [00:03:49] I personally wasn't expecting how jarring it would be from being considered cute to then not even really being considered at all. It does really affect me when society as a whole thinks disability is a negative. Yes, it's not something you would desire to have. You don't hope to have a disability, but if it does happen, it's not the end of the world.

Peta [00:04:18] Unfortunately, though, the positive attributes to having a disability isn't really expressed in our society. The clearest example I can give you to the impact of society not having a true representation of disability throughout the media and what it's like to be an adult with a disability is an experience I had when I was going through year 12 exams. It was almost mid-year exams and I was completely stressed out. My mum thought I needed a break, so she wondered whether I would like to come dress shopping with her.

Peta [00:04:57] We walked into this very, very fancy dress shop. The sales assistant clearly was not expecting someone to walk in with someone like me. She had no frame of reference, of really how to serve me, but she was at least polite enough to try and make conversation.

Peta [00:05:16] What she said stuck with me.

Sales assistant [00:05:20] She said to me, "gee, you're lucky to have been taken out for the day."

Peta [00:05:28] For those of you who don't understand why that comment really affected me, because, let's face it, it was just a comment she was trying to make conversation, but the context of it is important.

Peta [00:05:44] So it's quite common, particularly in the past, when a family has a child with a disability, it gets to a point where they can't cope. They have gotten to an age where they can't look after them. So [the person with a disability were] sent to an assisted living facility to live with other people with disabilities.

Shopping scene in the movie Pretty Woman
Shopping scene in the movie Pretty Woman

Peta [00:06:03] But that doesn't quite fit me. I'm a very independent person, even way back when I was 18. I was determined to get my car licence, for example. To have that characterisation is really difficult. Not only did I find it condescending and a little bit like Pretty Woman, but it just really confirmed to me that the expectation people had of me, in general, was very low.

Peta [00:06:40] So really, one of the reasons why that comment stuck with me was it was a true marker, a bookmark of how people's perception of me had changed. I was no longer cute. I was now inconvenient. Or at the very least, an anomaly, because I'm not what they expect.

Peta [00:07:04] It feels like no matter how much I work hard to be an independent feminist, a strong female, I'll always have those connotations put on my head because I have a disability that happened when I was born. I have no control of how other people perceive me. And unfortunately, it's not really how I want to be perceived.

Peta [00:07:30] So for me, if you can't tell, I'm quite determined to try and make sure people's perception of me is a true reflection of who I am, or at least positive. I constantly feel like I'm trying to prove that, in fact, my life isn't depressing. I'm not the person in the TAC ad, I don't have any ambition to do anything sporty, and yet my life is inherently positive. Society better catch up quick.

Peta [00:08:11] Thank you so much for listening to this week's podcast. I hope you enjoyed it if you'd like to ask me a question.

Peta [00:08:18] There are three ways you can get in contact with me. By Instagram @icantstandpodcast, by email, or via the website If you could also rate and review the podcast. I really appreciate it. OK. I hope to have you again next week. Thanks so much.


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