Friday, 31 August 2012

When Is It Right To Be Inspirational?

Some of my disabled friends dislike the word “Inspirational” in connection with the Paralympics.

I will attempt to paraphrase why they think like this in a few sentences: 
People will look at those whose disabilities prevent them ever being able to achieve what the paralympians do, and say “They can do it - why can’t you? They can run 100m, and you can’t even get a job.” Comments like this are rarely made to an out of work twenty something who doesn’t want a job. There is disparity, and my friends believe the word “inspirational” compounds the problem.

I am not getting at those saying this. It is a very valid opinion. It probably needs saying! I know that this word is often used in a patronizing way, seeing the Paralympics as a bit of a freak show, and look - the freaks are doing amazing things…. Isn’t that nice for them. I find THIS attitude far more worrying!

No - I’m not getting at those with this view - I appreciate it…. But the topic is a gift to a writer, and I am going to use it as a launch pad to make some other comments that follow on nicely!!

Yes - I can see where my disabled friends are coming from, but I am hoping (probably naively) that our nation will see that just like able bodied people, disabled people come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. There are able bodied AND disabled people who will never get a gold medal at the olympics/paralympics, never get a Phd in astrophysics or never be able to hold down a long term job, in the same way there will be both disabled and non-disabled people who will do what those looking on describe as inspirational. 

What I am hoping for is the people of this nation seeing there is a person beyond the disability, the only difference between us is…... the disability. We all have the ability to be happy, sad, grumpy and intolerant. All of us can both struggle and achieve.

People in my world (of kids and family work, and advising on disability) often use the word “Inspiring” of me. I don’t mind. I am not in the least offended by people saying “If you can do it, I can do it”.  I want to inspire those who are non-disabled and disabled to be all that God wants them to be. That might be the person who makes the drinks for the kids at their club or the well known kids evangelist. If both are inspired to do what they do to the best of their ability in service to God, then that’s great…. And it’s also worship. I’m happy to inspire. I don’t set out to inspire people to do my particular job, but God uses me to inspire them where they are. I am disabled - I will never run 100m (Although I did get the high school record for that - the fastest, not the slowest!) But I can be inspirational where I am. 

I am inspired by Amy Carmichael - she had a disability and I am inspired by the way she dealt with it. But I don’t expect all other Christians who have disabilities out there to be the same as her…. or me. Amy was Amy, and I am….Kay.

I have had the “I” word used in a patronizing way too, using the word brave along side it. I’m not brave - I haven’t chosen to have permanent pain and uncooperative muscles, Bravery is choosing to do something in spite of your fear. But what I do choose to do is to respond in a gracious way……

When people are intolerant or patronising with me, I refuse to sink to the same level - I will choose be tolerant with them (although I’m often tempted to be patronsing straight back at them!)

On the other side of the coin, I’ve also been shouted at by people who think I am treating those with disabilities in an unfair way and by those who think those with disabilities are getting an unfair preference, all on the same night in the same venue when working as a disability consultant. I’ve even had both of these complaints from within two different areas of disability! 

In my role I see both sides of the argument - it is a unique view!

On Sky news, on the night of the opening ceremony to the olympics, there was a gentleman who is blind being interviewed. He was great! He said many quotable things that mirror some of my own sayings: “Many disabled people are now throwing things at their TVs because you [the interviewer] described yourself as ‘normal’. Well people - get over it….!” His view was to comment, and move on.

Many folk will find Channel 4’s Paralympic programme “The Last Leg” offensive - but I found it hilarious!! Their humour refreshing.

I too have many pet hates - I don’t like being lumped into the phrase “The Disabled”, I hate people talking over my head. I don’t like people in airport queues saying as I’m wheeled past them “I’m going to feign my own disability to jump the queue” (They don’t see how long I have to wait to get OFF the plane!) I hate people assuming that I can’t do my job because my muscles won’t cooperate, and I REALLY hate being patronized.


I am not the centre of the universe. If I am to function - I have to let it go…. I have to “get over it”. Unfair things are said to people who don’t have a disability too. If I am to change the world’s view of disability I have to move on.

I have achieved far more in changing things for those who have disabilities by being pleasant (and possibly ‘inspirational’!) than I have by stamping my foot and being grumpy about the world’s attitude.

*Disclaimer! There is a time to be angry and to shout - what is happening with changes to DLA is just one of those things. But I believe we have to reserve that anger for the big things - and deal graciously with the others. It will have a much greater impact that way :)

1 comment:

  1. Yep hear hear! Someone said to me once ' you are such a sweet deaf lady!' I was like 'what do you mean?' 'well you are really sweet and your hearing aids are so cute'. I just had to smile as otherwise might have said something a bit sarky! I have learnt over the years though when someone starts talking to me with big lips movements and treating me like I am thick to just respond in the same way, funny how they soon stop. People often call me the 'I' word I just see me as me and trying to be what God calls me to be. As for the red headed fiery nature definitely emerges!!!!


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