Cody’s story will cause different reactions.
Many people will be appalled that teenagers could be allowed to play a game like rugby where such serious spinal injuries could occur.
Many people will be saddened about a young life they consider much diminished, and view Cody as a victim.
Many people will think that Cody and his family were heroes because of the positive approach they took in the face of such adversity.
Only a few of us will think, as I do, “I’m sorry that occurred. Disabilities requiring someone to use a wheelchair, just like other disabilities, are part of the human condition. How can we best support Cody to enjoy and contribute for the rest of his life.”
Cody shares my views. He says “I don’t want people to treat me any different. I’m sitting down all the time, but apart from that I’m still the same.” And his story, and the interaction with his family and mates, bear this out.
Negative attitudes towards people with disabilities do not come – in the main – from hatred, meanness or negative intentions. They come from lack of awareness and understanding.
Cody was sixteen when his accident occurred. His story, the first episode in the Attitude series on ABC television at 6 30 on Saturday nights, (and available on ABC iView) is one of many being experienced by people with disabilities. We are teenagers, sports players, mums, bankers, accountants, truck-drivers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, academics, etc etc etc. We just want to live our lives, not as victims or as heroes, but as agents of our own destiny.
And the biggest barrier we face in doing that is the Attitude barrier – we are prevented from living our lives by the limiting and negative assumptions made about us by people without disabilities.
Every day, on the train, in the street, in my work and in my leisure people assume that there are things that I cannot do because I cannot see. There are a few – but trust me not nearly as many as you think. I read, I write, I travel, I love, I parent, I pay the mortgage – ordinary things that ordinary Australians do, whether or not we have disabilities.
Cody’s story, and the six other episodes in the Attitude series currently going to air, are taken from “the vault” of Attitude Pictures in New Zealand. They have been making such programmes as these in New Zealand for the past ten years to change attitudes of people in New Zealand towards people with disabilities. And they are succeeding!
We want to do the same thing in Australia – change the attitudes of Australians towards Australians with disabilities. Because we know that changing attitudes changes lives. If an employer accepts that I can work as a lawyer, rather than assuming that I can’t, and gives me a job, that will change my life. If a fashion retailer assumes that people with disabilities buy fashionable clothes, and includes models with disabilities in its advertising, that will change our lives. If you use pictures as well as words in your signs, that will change our lives. If you don’t park in our accessible parking spaces, that will change our lives. And if you caption your advertisements on tv and in cinemas, so that people who are deaf or hearing impaired can follow the spoken word, that will change our lives.
Cody’s story is powerful because of his attitude. He says “I love challenges. i’m happy to come across something I can’t do, and go back to it later in the week or in a few years, until I can do it.”
And Cody’s dad says “He hasn’t thrown his lollies out of the cot. He’s got plans. He’s gonna be a Wheelchair Black.”
You can help Change Attitudes by supporting our Start Some Good campaign. We are crowd-funding our first Australian programme, and we’ll build to an Australian series. Join us today to help change attitudes towards people with disabilities.