Common Disability Stereotypes and How to Reframe Them

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on August 04, 2021 # Lifestyle

Living with paralysis – or caring for a loved one with paralysis – might increase your awareness of disability stereotypes that were less noticeable prior to the injury. At the onset of injury, you may learn that the world was not historically designed for individuals with disabilities, meaning this community was misunderstood and often isolated before the disability rights movement brought awareness to social injustices. Thankfully, we have made tremendous progress over the past several decades as communities have become more accessible and the voices of those with disabilities have been amplified. Yet, there are still many disability stereotypes in society, and we must continue educating those around us to foster greater understanding. After a spinal cord injury, it’s okay to feel frustrated, confused, sad, anxious, or angry when facing a stereotype. As you adjust to your “new normal” and build a fulfilling life with paralysis, it is important to reject stereotypes and remember that you absolutely do not need to be defined by them.

Let’s review some common disability-related stereotypes. Although most stereotypes are imposed on us by other people who misunderstand us, it’s also possible that some of these stereotypes below have crossed your own mind. Internalizing stereotypes that are certainly NOT TRUE can lead to feeling depressed, anxious, or ashamed. That’s why it’s important to counter any negative self-talk that you may have inside. The key is to reframe the negative thought into a positive affirmation that more accurately reflects reality. For each of the stereotypes below, I’ll include an example of how to reframe these negative thoughts:

“People with disabilities are inferior or ‘less than’ non-disabled people.” How to reframe: “People with disabilities have unique challenges, but they are 100% worthy and valuable just like anyone else without a disability.”

“People with disabilities are heroes, brave, special, or inspirational simply for existing.” How to reframe: “People with disabilities are doing the best they can to lead fulfilling lives, just like everyone else. They may exercise bravery or courage in overcoming obstacles, but they should not be objectified as inspirational heroes expected to be strong all the time. People with disabilities are human, just like everyone else.”

“People with disabilities are constantly sad, angry, or bitter because of their disabilities.” How to reframe: “Just like all humans, people with disabilities may experience sadness or anger from time to time, which is normal. They are not ‘constantly’ in a state of these emotions. Importantly, people with disabilities experience the same full range of emotional expression as anybody else without a disability.”

“The quality of life for people with disabilities is very low.” How to reframe: “Many people with disabilities, including those living with paralysis, often have incredibly fulfilling lives. There is no reason they cannot have a very high quality of life with the right support and resources.”

“Accommodating people with disabilities is very inconvenient and not justified.” How to reframe: “People with disabilities have the right to accommodations and should be granted accommodations whenever they are needed. Accommodations are not an inconvenience, and they are 100% justified because they allow people with disabilities to access equal experiences.”

“People with disabilities are not sexual beings. They don’t have relationships, they cannot get married, or have children.” How to reframe: “Many people with disabilities, including those living with paralysis, have normal sexual experiences, engage in normal relationships, get married, and have children. There is no reason that people with disabilities should not do these things.”

“Most people with disabilities are all the same. People with disabilities all identify the same way.” How to reframe: “All people with disabilities are unique with their own personalities, lifestyles, philosophies, preferences, values, beliefs, interests, and experiences. Different people living with paralysis may have very different outlooks on life. Varied opinions and styles of thinking are completely normal and we cannot assume that all people living with paralysis will think alike.”

If you have questions or if I can be a resource for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out—your mental health matters.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Lauren Presutti, founder of River Oaks Psychology, is a psychotherapist and advocate for individuals and families affected by disabilities of all types. Born with Muscular Dystrophy and using a wheelchair throughout her life, Lauren is passionate about helping others overcome barriers and reach their fullest potential. Lauren also enjoys writing, speaking, and providing education on subjects relating to mental health and empowerment.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.