So, this is one of those blog posts I’ve been thinking about for the past several days and I think I’m finally in the right head-space to write about it. I think, in some sense, I’ve been part of the problem. “What do you mean?”, they ask. Well, if you folks follow me on the Book of Faces or Newfoundland’s beloved department of government communications Twitter then you’ll have seen this article by the Australian Broadcasting Company’s Stella Young called “We’re not here for your inspiration”. The article, if you haven’t read it, tackles the notion of inspiration porn which Young defines as “ is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”. Increasingly, they feature the Hamilton quote.”
And yeah, I complete 100% agree with the focus of this article: Disabled People* are not here for your enjoyment, amusement, swooping feeling of encouragement or utter and complete shame. We’re all regular folks and, frankly, most of us don’t really care that much about how special our everyday accomplishments appear – because, well, they are everyday accomplishments and that’s that. I know most folks don’t set out in their day to be walking-embodiments of sunshine and the presumption that folks with disabilities (visible and not) must conform to that ideal is really, really soul-crushing for a lot of people.
But, in thinking about all this, I had to stop and reflect. Have I, both purposefully or otherwise been part of this very problem? I mean, I’m an optimist by nature and do appear often as that guy who is – in fact – walking embodiment of sunshine, lollipops and all that other stuff. That’s just who I am a lot of the time – particularly in public, but most of the time outside of it. But, in saying that, have I been re-enforcing at times the very negative sentiments noted in this article (and elsewhere)?
The answer is a big yes.
Which kind of really threw me off. I mean, that’s why this article has taken me so long to write. I often tell folks, when they ask about the ‘challenges’ of my disability, that I simply don’t see ‘it’ as one. Never did, but that’s more because I feel its an intrinsic part of who I am, rather than as a problem – sure, there are issues here and there I have to face, but so do many in life. But in retrospect, I can see that people might not take what I’m saying that way. They might often see what I’m trying to say as just another form of inspiration porn – just another declaration that if I can feel this way, every other one of you is a lazy sack of somethin’. Which isn’t, I don’t think, what I ever meant… but it could easily, easily be thought of like that.
Moreover, in reading stuff I’ve said in the past, I often downplay my disability with adjectives like ‘mild’ to contrast with others’ whose circumstances are more ‘severe’. Which, I think, is part of that complex a few of us tend to have, at times, when identifying as a disabled person that we’re not ‘as disabled’ as others or other sorts of dividing monikers amongst our lot – which is hella frustrating and comes up in groups of us too, as anyone with a disability knows already.
But you know, that has to feel really bloody patronizing to read and while it comes from my own weird-feelings in the moment in identification – which is the fun part about identity, when we feel the need by design or otherwise to drop qualifiers on that identity – it sounds so awful. So, sorry about that.
I mean, what this comes down to is that we’ve all engrained in ourselves the culture that creates inspiration porn and all other such things which tends to divide us in ways which are unneeded and unhelpful. More and more, I’m convinced we need to actively adopt the tactics and stratagems which have been successful in race, sex, gender and orientation discussions – and that have actively succeeded in making noted change. And while this discussion has happened in the realm of disability studies and such disciplines, the reality is that such ideals have not really translated outward from the academy unlike these other currents of thought.
But that’s for another time, I think. Tonight, I just wanted to reflect on the personal and own up to my part in not really moving our collective cause forward at points in my life. Still, the more aware of this I am, the better I become at being able to – hopefully, aid in doing just that.
*Ok, for those of you who know me and heard me talk on this – which is rare – I really hate the term ‘person with a disability’. My cerebral palsy, folks, ain’t a sachel or handbag I carry about and am ever able to take off, it is simply part of my identity and the ‘with a’ distinction just drives a sense of separation from part of myself that just has never gelled with me. A lot of people like this wording and I admit, ‘disabied’ is often subbed for ‘inable’ in our society and its a term that carries its own set of baggage too… but, I like it more personally and I’m going to use it now more frequently, openly. I, funny enough, felt such relief in being able to discuss that fact openly with folks at OISE this year and felt quite validated by the whole chat. So, yeah. I know the community is pretty careful with language and the near-universally accepted term is ‘person with a disability’ but I’m not going to use it. So… there.
Photo By Karen Evoy.
(Yeah, I couldn’t find a good photo for here so heck I thought why not play it for the irony and have me mundanely climbing up a hill. BE INSPIRED, PEOPLE! But seriously, there be my father behind me (in case you were of the opinion I was born, fully-formed, from an egg) and my mother took the photo. T’was a nice day with them.)