Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inspirational or demeaning?

I do not have a disability and cannot speak for those who do. I speak as the parent of a person with multiple disabilities and share her world of which I am a keen observer. Sometimes I forget because disability is so much a part of my life, but the difference between being a disabled person and caring for a disabled person is vast.

Lately I have read numerous posts, articles etc written by people with varying disabilities and have noticed a very common theme. These writers, and I suspect they speak for many, find it objectionable to be considered inspirational because of their disabilities. This post is probably the one I've seen most.  They are not on earth to inspire others or to have their ability to meet real day to day challenges attributed to a good attitude.

The following picture is fantastic, but the caption is not. Captions on a picture like this one suggest that attitude is the key to overcoming challenges.

If that quote were true, Maggie would be a ballet dancer today because no one has a better attitude than she does. Obviously that's not happening.  A good attitude will not make disabilities go away and this "abelist" way of thinking is disrespecting people as individuals. ("Abelism", I am learning, is the continued marginalization of disabled individuals by those who do not have disabilities)

 Respect, accommodation where needed, recognition of challenges are welcome, but people are working hard to live their lives as well as they can and don't want to be inspiring simply because they have a disability. Frankly it simply adds to the pressure. In addition to meeting their challenges, they have to balance on a pedestal. These are human beings with strengths and weaknesses -- and by weaknesses, I am NOT referring to their disabilities. The disability does not define humanity, but it seems to be how others define persons with disabilities all the time.

I get that. I really do. I have written many times about how uncomfortable I feel when strangers make comments about how wonderful I am, or how blessed we are, or what a gift Maggie is. I appreciate it, but it makes me squirm. Strangers don't know anything about us and they are automatically impressed, inspired, or ready to canonize Maggie or me.

 But I have to be honest. I understand why people are inspired by Maggie. I am inspired by her every day. I am inspired by many of her peers as well. The kids I see in the hospital who are smiling and joking while hooked up to countless machines also inspire me. And anyone who wasn't inspired by or in awe of Oscar Pistorius (Olympic runner pictured above) is made of stone.

I am inspired to quit whining about what ever has me down. I am inspired to try harder. I am inspired to be happier and more thankful for the things I have in life, including an able body.

I really don't know how to reconcile these things. I get that there is a risk of further marginalizing disabled individuals by touting those dealing with disabilities as inspirational, but I remain inspired.

Perhaps the lesson is to be inspired by individuals instead of by disability.

I welcome any thoughts here.....


  1. I think being inspired by individuals rather than by disability is spot on. There are people who have disabilities who have a better than average attitude or put forth greater than average effort and accomplish amazing things (from breathing to competing in the Olympics), and there are people who have disabilities who don't - just like there are average people who are and aren't inspiring.

    I love that photo because people who take the time to mentor are inspiring (and the little girl is cute as a button).

  2. I, too, have been inspired by Maggie for her delightful and delighted smile and her obvious love of life---and by the connection you two have. It is lovely to watch you two.
    And, yes, you did hit it right on the head---being inspired by an individual not the disability. What a wise mama Maggie has!

  3. I read the same things you do, I think, and I can never articulate what you did so beautifully here. Just when I think I "know it all," and have very strong opinions to boot, I learn something knew, my perceptions shift and I am different. Thank you, again.


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