Did you see this? “S**t People Say to People with Disabilities”? My super “inspirational” friend Rachel posted it on facebook and I had a great laugh.
It would be more aptly titled, “S**t People Say to Wheelchair Users” since they weren’t really talking about anything other than that.
But the “inspirational” came up a lot in the video and it makes me chuckle in that groaning, wincing chuckle-y sort of way. I personally have only been told a few times that I am an “inspiration” because I’m deaf and by golly, I live my life! (One person’s actual words were, “wow….you have a job!“). I tend to avoid being an inspiration by virtue of my non-inspirational, crass personality and by virtue of the fact that a lot of people don’t even know how deaf I really am.
That someone who has the typical number of chromosomes – or body parts and senses, working in a typical way – would need to look over and see those of us that hear/see/walk/think/act/talk differently (or not all), and would need to hold us up in order to be motivated to be more, do more, appreciate more, is just…beyond my ken.
But, I shrug my shoulders. To each his own, right? I mean, if my world of muted sound and full silence helps you live your life better, you are welcome to think about it. Or if my daughter’s difference in appearance and her likely difference in development and thinking sets flares of can-do will under some people, well, that’s great. I don’t get it, I think it’s pretty silly, but there you go. Whatever floats your boat.
We all need to find what moves and shakes us into positive action, don’t we.
I just think it makes more sense to be inspired when you actually know that someone has genuinely overcome something that was difficult for them – in which they challenged themselves to a more positive way of experiencing this reality, this life, this world. A challenge that may very well have nothing to do with disability, that is everything about spirit. About forgiving, about letting go of things that hold us down. About challenging ourselves to be and do what we feel is right is true, even when it’s not comfortable and even when we face opposition, mockery and even when it seems to be illogical. About pushing through while running when all we want to do is stop.
To assume that someone’s life is a challenge simply because they have a disability is an assumption based on stereotypes related to disability: that people with disabilities are sexless, miserable, lacking creatures whose lives are incomplete, lonely, impoverished and altogether undesirable. Who would want that? And so, “inspiration” is born: you live this life that I would never, ever want (forget that I know nothing of how it actually is) and gosh, I’m so grateful I’m not you that I’m going to be “inspired” by you and try and live, be, think, love and do more!
My Dad had a photo of kid in a wheelchair with full ventilator and so forth, the photo was on the door in his 4th (or 5th?) grade class. Curious, I asked my Dad who the kid was, why his photo was on the door. Dad said that it was “inspirational”, “look! he’s smiling!” and I was struck dumb: my own Dad had put a photo of a kid on his classroom door merely because the kid – in full disabled, wheelchair-riding glory – was smiling.
I thought about the message that was sending to the kids in his classroom, the kids coming from broken homes. With parents gone, working long hours, With violence, abuse – people screaming at them, molestation. That those kids, kids like them, would feel the need to somehow look at this photo of kid in a wheelchair and be “inspired” because that kid was smiling, never knowing the full story. That the kid in the wheelchair could very well be completely, utterly loved by two doting parents, that the kid would grow up receiving the best of education, fly right into a lovely job, find the love of his/her love and have kids – an enviable life on many counts. All done without walking, all done while using breathing equipment.
My question is this: who is to say whose life is less, undesirable? Who knows another that well? Who has the right, really, to judge another’s life as one worthy of “inspiration”?
Sprinkles McGillicuddy says it best in their piece:
It’s also funny to me in that groaning, wincing, chuckle-y sort of way that if and when those of us with disabilities say this sort of thing, many of us feel like the wet blanket that doused someone’s good time party. It’s no fun, after all, to be told by the “broken” people that they are not actually broken, don’t need fixing, are doing just fine, thank you very much. Just the way we are.
Now, don’t go telling me I just inspired you here….