Changing societal attitudes toward people with disability – An essay

Yulia Ostapenko

I live in Ukraine, where there is the word – “disabled”.
In any other developed country, this is defined as a “person with disabilities”, with the main part being “a person.”
If you are born here, then your entire life will be dedicated to survival, not development.

Unfortunately, a person in a wheelchair is not considered a fully-fledged member of society. Rather he/she is something that generates a sense of pity and/or fear. Even in a seemingly ideal situation, a person with a disability will experience significant inconvenience. He/she will most likely be received with pity. I am certain that most people react this way not from intolerance, but rather out of ignorance; being removed from today’s developed society, where it is still believed that a person with a disability is unable to live a normal life and be a contributing member of society.

One might ask, where does this opinion start?

One might ask, where does this opinion start? In the head of a healthy society or in the head of the person with a disability?

Personally, I think the problem is on both sides of the spectrum.

Firstly, it should start with creating motivation and by restoring a disturbed psychosocial balance. Unfortunately, in my country (Ukraine), this is being entirely overlooked. A disabled person simply does not believe that he/she is an equal member of society, like others without disabilities.

Many people with disability share some unique talent and are deserving of a life with a sense of normality, like others who were born without disabilities.

Yes, yes; dancing…

For an example, Spencer West climbed Kilimanjaro on his upper limbs. “The doctors told us when he was a child that he could not do anything significant in his life,” Spencer’s mother said, “They said that all he could do was read and write.”
Aaron Fotheringham was born with a disease of the spine, and even after 23 operations did not give him the ability to walk. However at the age of 18, he became the first disabled athlete in the world who performed a double backflip on the springboard and entered the Guinness Book of Records. Luke “Lazylegz” Patuelli was born with arthrogryposis and walked with the assistance of crutches. He is admired by young people throughout when he is dancing (breakdance). Yes, yes; dancing…

The list of such achievements is endless. So what caused these accomplishments? I think this is the result of a high social level and tolerance of the citizens within their respective countries. A person with disability participates in social processes; free access to public transportation; public buildings etc etc. He/she is able to unilaterally choose and make decisions and to build plans for the future.

The low social level of citizens leads to the fact that a person with a disability is in a state of self-isolation, limited in contacts with others. Because of this, his/her activity is reduced, his/her initiative to work is lost with life difficulties seeming insurmountable.

When this is realised, I am certain that the attitude of society will be forever changed.

To summarise, it must be understood that the main difference between a healthy person and a person with a disability is social adaptation. Teach people with disability how to solve problems, develop skills in order to help him/her become involved in the social and professional sphere of interest to him/her. When this is realised, I am certain that the attitude of society will be forever changed.


This essay has been shared by Yulia Ostapenko (Ukraine) as part of EFNA’s #BrainLifeGoals campaign.
Yulia is a patient advocate living with SMA III Muscular Atrophy and Juvenile Kugelburg-Welander Syndrome.

You can find out more about the #BrainLifeGoals awareness campaign here.