Can we please retire calling disabled people inspirational just for living?
In college I was sitting in my speech class with students two years younger than me because I failed my first time around because I have a fear of public speaking / I enjoyed drinking beer with the guys more than attending class, when we received an assignment. As a eager and seasoned junior, I felt more confident expressing my feelings in my writing, rather than conforming to the “cookie-cutter” writing style. I started experimenting and turning in papers that conformed less to the dry ass writing style we see in academic journals and started writing, kinda like this. Maybe a little more structured and swear words were omitted. I still never proof-read - like the time I turned in a paper that said ass instead of said and the teacher throughly enjoyed pointing that out. I guess it’s my writer’s arrogance. I’m less concerned with grammatical errors and spend most of my time jamming down my thoughts that flow at the speed of Mach 5 like a fighter jet in top gun, like right now.
All this to say, the assignment was to write about something / someone that is inspirational to you. I instantly was annoyed at this assignment because I’ve had such a negative association with the word “inspirational” that I never took time to acknowledge who or what inspires me. I took this opportunity to write an essay about why I had a distaste for the word inspirational, therefore I didn’t really know what to write about.
I explained that as a disabled person, I’d often be called inspirational by people who didn’t even know me, purely on the basis of me living with a disability. I also pointed out that being called inspirational just for living negates the idea of inspiration. Inspiration has many definitions but modern society has defined it as, “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” (Taken from Oxford dictionary)
How is me doing everyday activities inspirational? I feel as though being called inspirational for being disabled (something we really don’t have a say in) is a total injustice to people who actually are inspiring and disabled people who actually do inspirational things that doesn’t include eating & sleeping. Calling disabled people inspirational for sipping their morning coffee at a Starbucks while checking out that hottie with the body (something I enjoy doing) is shit & further stigmatizes our community. We’re much more capable than doing things everyone else does. We’re WORTHY of inspiration because of our TALENTS and our unique outlook on the world, not because we live. Sure, living with a disability can be more challenging at times and we do need to be innovative when handling life’s trials and tribulations. Let’s not confuse living with inspiration - living our lives the way we do is the norm for us. Drinking warm beer because it’s less fizzy, making it easier for my weak throat to swallow is just one way I adapt. While it might be way out of your scope, you praising us for living is damaging. We’re trying to normalize disability, not keep it in a glittery fun box full of confetti.
I’m finally starting to accept being called inspirational because I’m doing something outside of just living. I blog openly about my life, share intimate details of my life, write poetry, sell cool merch, design things, share my journey with body positivity, and so on. I’m called inspirational on a daily basis which makes me happy, when it’s for the right reason. Everyone who calls me inspirational sees and appreciates the work I do, so it’s comforting to know that I’m actually doing something worthy of inspiration. I see people post body positive posts, saying I inspired them to feel more confident and comfortable in their body, and I can’t help but have a huge ass smile on my face. I’m inspiring people because of the work I do and the content I create, not just because I exist. I want to share this message I got the other day, because this wraps it up perfectly.
“My little 7 year old niece has spina bifida and I was round at her house the other day and we were reading a book about princesses. All of sudden she started crying a bit and I asked her what was wrong. She said she was sad because girls in wheelchairs can’t be princesses! I said of course they can! And she said “no they can’t I’ve never seen a princess in a wheelchair” so I said “I know a princess in a wheelchair!” And i showed her your page and told her that you were rapunzel but that you were also in a wheelchair. Now shes insisting on growing her hair long and won’t stop wheeling round the house singing “I’m going to be a princess when I’m older!” So I just wanted to thank you for showing girls (and boys!) young and old that they can be whoever they want to be, no matter what disabilities they have! ❤️❤️❤️ so grateful for the hope you have given Sadie!”
Did I tear up after reading that? Yes!
I consider myself be a creative, so I’m constantly inspired by things. I’m inspired by: fashion, someone’s personality, a unique perspective, a landscape, an artist or song, a mood, the way someone writes, a poem, the list goes on. These are the same things I wish that people are inspired by me from.
Writing that essay back in college got such a huge brick off my chest, as my educated professor read it and gave me an A. I felt vindicated in sharing my raw thoughts on an academic level, something I didn’t always do. Writing is power, power to release your thoughts and let them float out into the world to be absorbed. I’m not your “cookie-cutter” disabled person, just like my writing style. Coloring outside the lines to explore my deep-seeded emotions on inspiration was the best thing I’ve ever done.
I enjoyed the hell out of writing this and hope some of it resonated with you, but it was a blatant self promotion tactic to promo my thank you, next tees. Be sure to check them out :)