Inspiration: The fine line

Inspiration.  That word many disabled people don’t want to hear.

”Oh, you’re such an inspiration” we hear many people say.  For what?  Leaving the house?  Being out on our own?  Before I go any further, I just want to say that I DON’T always think that saying a disabled person is inspirational is a bad thing, so let me explain how I see it.

Yes, there have been many times where it has felt excruciatingly patronising when someone has said these words or similar to me, to the point where I’m dying to respond with something that’ll make them think, make them see that I’m no different to anybody else.  Some disabled people hate the term ‘inspirational’ altogether and to a point I do agree.

It can be very frustrating when someone just thinks you’re such an amaaaazing person when you’re doing no more than getting on with your life.  It makes us feel like people are setting us apart from the rest, like they’re using a much smaller measuring stick to gauge how successful we are in life compared to somebody who isn’t disabled.  Maybe even like we’re less of a person because if doing everyday things that everyone else does is inspirational then what have we to aspire to if we have already surpassed people’s expectations?

That said, I think there are plenty of times when it is genuinely meant as a compliment.  Maybe not even that, perhaps they are just in awe and are trying to express that with no intention of suggesting we are ‘less’ in any way.  If we make a fuss every time someone gives us a compliment we will only scare people into not saying anything for fear of getting it wrong!  Then how would we feel?

People have complimented me on my speaking progress in Toastmasters and have in some cases related it to my disability (see my first and second blogs about my experience at Toastmasters) and I don’t consider that to be patronising.  Let’s be honest, how many wobbly people to you see speaking in front of others by choice when they also have a speech impairment?  No, I don’t consider it patronising because I think it is a sign of genuine respect for what I’m doing and I appreciate the compliment.

Someone pointed out to me just last week that complimenting disabled people and saying we’re ‘inspirational’ may also be an expression of a lack of belief in themselves.  People may simply be thinking something along the lines of ‘how on earth do they do that?!  I couldn’t/wouldn’t possibly do that if I was disabled!’  I hadn’t seen it from this angle before, but I think it makes sense.  It’s the same as being inspired by, say, a trapeze artist.  Let’s face it, disability or not, most people are pretty impressed by what a trapeze artist can do because we can’t see ourselves being able to do that in a million years!

I hope, though, that times are changing.  Accessibility and disability awareness are improving all the time, which will mean that gradually seeing disabled people taking an active part in society, going to the gym, doing an adventure sport or driving a car (as long as you can see, please!) will become the norm.  Maybe it will increase people’s self-belief so that these things aren’t seen as inspirational because people can see themselves doing exactly the same thing if they were in our situation.


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