In the disabled community, many people discuss the negative implications of being called “inspiring.” Some have said it’s objectifying, reduces our humanness, or congratulates us just for being disabled.
I agree with many of those statements; however, if I am helping a person work past their own challenges, then I’m all for being inspiring. Hearing positive remarks from people also improves my own self-worth.
One argument is that being called inspiring is a vain attempt to make up for the guilt of not having a disability. But I wholeheartedly believe that you can see past someone’s words. If, as Stella Young said in her TED talk, they’re saying it only because you are disabled, then Houston, we have a problem.
I’ve spoken at events for CureDuchenne where people have repeated, “That was so inspiring.” Rather than blaming that person for the language, I take in the praise. Going up on stage in a wheelchair, delivering remarks calmly, without any visible stress, and looking inward at the awfulness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy is not easy. I hope that’s why they say the phrase that may be taboo to some.
It’s also helpful to hear feedback that I was inspiring. I believe that’s part of my purpose, as I’ve already mentioned in other columns. To know that I made an impact on someone’s life validates part of who I am.
And I appreciate the people who say “you’re an inspiration” because verbal confirmation helps me make sense of the disease I live with. I may not be able to carry a baby out of a burning building, but I can help carry someone through their next challenge.
For those of you who are familiar with my columns, I tend to take a positive approach to the issues I face with my disability. Words like “hero,” “warrior,” and ”inspiring” are positive in my mind. While it may be uncomfortable to be on the receiving end, a person who is taking their time to compliment me is spreading the positive energy I espouse to do myself.
Even without my disability, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot: graduating from the University of Southern California, working at The Washington Post, and building incredible friendships along the way. Add the disability and the social and physical constraints, and I’d say I’m doing well. Having someone reinforce that with “you inspire me” makes all the work I put in so much more worthwhile.
I respect whatever views you might have on the language people use around disabilities, but to inspire people is an incredible blessing and an important part of my life.
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.
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