“You’re an inspiration” is a common saying many people with disabilities hear and let’s just say it’s not always a compliment. This post is probably not as light-hearted as some of my other posts, but it’s a topic that needs to be talked about in order to break down barriers, hence it is a great topic to start my new series #theressomethingweneedtotalkabout.
If you haven’t watched Stella Young’s TED talk “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much”, then that’s probably a good place to start (link here). As a disability advocate, she sums up this topic very well and in a light-hearted manner. However, I’ll give you a quick rundown myself.
Let’s start with the definition of inspirational. Cambridge dictionary defines it as “making you feel full of hope or encouraged.” So, if we apply this to calling a person with a disability inspirational, it’s like saying that they fill you with hope.
The reason that people with disabilities hate (and hate is a very strong word) this term is because it’s often used in the wrong context and/or people don’t think before they speak. For example, I’m not inspiring because I got out of bed this morning or because I’m at the shops, etc, I’m just living my life like any other person.
With being inspirational comes the term “disabled/inspiration porn”. Abled bodied people may not be familiar with this term, but it’s basically when stories about people with disabilities are used to make abled bodied people feel better about themselves. Common examples that make the news include a “normal” person asking a disabled person to prom or a “normal” person helping their disabled friend. If the person with a disability was “normal” in these situations, then there’s no way it would make the news.
So why do people say this or click through on inspiration/disabled porn? Well as someone with a disability I don’t really know, but I have a few guesses.
The main one is that people don’t realise that people with disabilities are just living their lives. We don’t know any different, like in cases who like me were born with their condition, and we just making things work. Abled bodied people certainly don’t always make it easy (inclusion 101) but there’s usually a way around it. They just think that having a disability must be so hard and therefore anything we do is amazing. As Stella Young said:
“A member of my local community approached my parents and wanted to nominate me for a community achievement award. And my parents said, “Hm, that’s really nice, but there’s kind of one glaring problem with that. She hasn’t actually achieved anything.” … I wasn’t doing anything that could be considered an achievement if you took disability out of the equation.”
It’s not only hurtful because I’m just trying to live life but also because it objectifies someone with a disability; I’m not here to make you feel better about yourself. It’s also not helpful for the many disabled advocates who are trying to make the world more accessible and accepting. If inspiration porn continues, then how can we teach future generations that one, everyone is different and two, people with disabilities shouldn’t be treated like this. “The only disability is a bad attitude” quote is a prime example of not accepting or acknowledging as if we don’t acknowledge that people have disabilities than how can we improve society? My good attitude isn’t going to turn those stairs into a ramp!
However, while my life isn’t always inspirational, there are a few correct situations where saying this would be appropriate. For example, I do very well academically (even though I don’t have anything to focus on e.g. working, living out of home, etc). I’m also very good at picking racehorses (if I say so myself). People like Dylan Alcott are also inspiring because of their sporting achievements.
In summary, if you wouldn’t say it to a “normal” person, then don’t say it to a person with a disability!