What is an inspiration?
I’ve been told my entire life that I’m an inspiration. When I am frequently out and about, strangers come up to me to tell me they find me inspiring. Frankly, it can be a bit exhausting to try to live up to the ideal of being an inspiration.
Being told you are an inspiration is often considered one of the worst things to be told by many disability advocates, and in most cases, I agree.
It is the implication that we are somehow special angel baby snowflakes that angers most activists. The idea we are inspiring just by getting out of bed can be irksome.
For some people with disabilities, we cannot ignore that it does take a lot to get out of bed. For those dealing with chronic pain, such as myself, sometimes we have to force ourselves out of bed. Does this make us inspiring? Not really. It makes us human.
What activists are really attacking is the idea that people with disabilities are not extraordinary simply by doing mundane tasks. When strangers come up to me, they do not know me. Then make the assumption that I do something extraordinary every time I get out of bed or go out and about in my community. Perhaps, to them, this is extraordinary, but to those of us with disabilities, it is a normal everyday occurrence. It is nothing special. It should not be inspiring.
In order to change people’s perceptions of this, we are going to have to change their perceptions of disability. A lot of people still don’t see disability on a regular basis. We are not on television. We are not around enough on the streets, in stores, or in other places of public access. We need to change the way people think about disability, but until people with disabilities have better access to public spaces, and until it is universally recognized that disabled people need to be shown in the media regularly, it is going to be very hard to change these perceptions.
That being said, is it ever okay to be an inspiration?
I am not just told I am inspiration by strangers. I’m told this regularly by my friends and other acquaintances. I know a lot of them follow my advocacy work, so they know that most people with disabilities do not see themselves as an inspiration. Still, people feel compelled to tell me something I have done or said has inspired them.
I am inspired constantly by those around me. It is not because they have a disability, are transgender, are a woman, or some other aspect of their identity. It is because they are doing great work in film, in activism, or some other aspect of their life that makes me want to work harder. I am constantly inspired by leaders in the disability community. They make me want to work at disability activism on a greater level. They make may want to work for a better world for everyone.
I think that when you’re talking about people being inspirations, we should look at the context in which the term is used. If I am inspiring you because I get out of bed every day, because I brush my teeth and my hair, because I ride the bus or the train, or some other aspect of daily living, I find this to be condescending. It invokes the idea I am special, I am different in a bad way, or I should be commended for something everyone else on the planet does. If an able-bodied, hearing, or neurotypical person is not considered inspiring for doing something, people with disabilities should not be seen as inspirations either.
That being said, if you find my film work inspiring or my activism work inspiring, and it makes you want to be more involved in the world around you, I find that to be a compliment. I am thankful to those who truly are inspired by the work I am doing, and I hope that we can work together to make the world a much better place for everyone.
I must admit I have been overly sensitive about being called an inspiration. Now, if I have the time, and it is clear being called an inspiration is being said because I just happen to have a disability, I will explain to you why people with disabilities are not meant to be your inspiration. However, is you truly find the work I do inspiring, and it makes you want to get involved as well, I will tell you, “thank you” and hope that we can work together to make this world better for everyone.