Most able-bodied people (and even some disabled people who have become such later in life) have no idea why calling any and all achievements of disabled people “inspirational” are offensive. I want to lay out a clear explanation as best I can for all of you but I can only speak from my own experience so if anyone would like to add their own stories or arguments, please do.
I want to begin with something more easily relatable, so I’ll begin by using feminism as an example.
I grew up in the 80’s with a strong influence of feminism; it was after women had fought for my right to wear pants and eventually vote and grow up to be a doctor or an astronaut, but before the hyper-PC-marketing drones started creating a pink-mutant versions of every toy and tool in the major downward shift we are dealing with now. I was dressed in gender-neutral clothes since infancy, played with army men and fashion dolls effortlessly with playmates of all genders, and was raised by a working mom and stay at home dad. Given all this it was quite a shock when I went to school and was told “girls can do anything boys can do!”
Well…No shit, Sherlock. I was living the progressive equality the staff preached to us and so instead of giving me strength and self-worth it did almost the opposite; I came to realize that the revolutions of the 70s were but a handful of years ago and not from some ancient time I had dubbed “before-I-was-born” I realized those oppressive biggots my parent’s and their peers fought against were much like my parents…old, but still alive and very much in charge of my life. It was about that time my class stopped playing inclusively and we were separating ourselves by binary genders. Not that this was the result of history lessons headlined as Girl Power, but it reinforced the animosity that was growing among us. The girls were being constantly reminded of how able and equal they were, pressuring us to achieved based not on our natural talents or vigilant studied but based on the performances of our male peers, and the boys were constantly being reminded and held responsible for oppression THEY had brought upon us whether they had actually done so yet or not.
I could go on and on at the implications of the society and culture this cultivated but I’ll leave the feminism to my Live Journal, this is about cripples.
Do you see how this relates?
This “You can do it!” teaching style soon became old hat and so when I was told by teachers, doctors, physical therapists, inspirational, and total strangers that I was inspiring I knew what they meant; the act of being born disabled and yet still showing my face in public was abnormal behavior and the world didn’t expect normality out of me for the simple fact I sit in a chair with wheels.
I am not nor have ever been mentally impaired and so I attended what was called “mainstream school” with the normal kids. I got no special treatment and was able to maintain a position in honor-roll from K-12 based on my grades. Aside from my final four years I was required to attend inspirational speaker events every few months by the county who decided I needed to go despite it taking place during school hours. My classmates, suspicions of my privilege given my good grades and my always coming in late (they didn’t know I rode on a short bus because it usually picked me up well after school started due to lack of funds and alcoholic drivers), grew worse when I was “allowed” to leave class for these special events. This resulting in MORE bullying and shunning. No one listened to me when I said I had to make up for the work by doing extra homework despite being there for less of the lessons to learn how to do it. I not only had to go to these events I was forced to stay afterward to meet the speakers who were ALWAYS men who were paralyzed in sports accidents (I believed until my 20’s that all paraplegics were solely employed as inspirational speakers) who said nothing I could relate to. When I asked to stop attending (or skip even one, for the love of God) I was lectured for being bitter and needing to hear these speakers all the more.
Add in the fact that as annoyed as this made me I was also told my mood better change or I would be pulled from mainstream to be put in a disabled class which meant I would not get a regular education, stay in grade school until I was 18, and kept separate and out of sight from the normal kids. You can understand why I became enraged at the word inspirational, I’m sure.
I understood even as a child no one outside of my situation would understand this, so I always bit my lip and smiled when strangers came up to me to tell me I was an inspiration. It was (is) always when I was at a restaurant, grocery shopping, waiting outside a bathroom for a friend; always something mundane and un-inspirational. They said “you are such an inspiration” and I heard “I’ve never seen a cripple in public” “I want people to see me talking to you” “doing things I take for granted must be the highlight of your life.” It seems (I hate this word too…) bitter, but put into context that every other time someone approaches me it is to say something rude, hurt me, or molest me. The only time a normal question or comment is intended for me it is directed to someone I am with and more often or not I am referred to as “wheelchair.”
So, you see a photo of an athlete with a disability and use your Tumblr to express the warmth that comes over you at the sight, but in doing so you bring back a life time of abuse and isolation for me with one word: inspirational. Now I’ve said my peace and shared the tip of the iceberg of history that has me and my disabled peers calling you an asshole, the ball is in your court. Either stop dehumanizing us like this or start putting a trigger warning on these things, at least then you can be respectful as well as showing off your able-boner.