I feel like I have written this piece before. I have, yet it seems that people have either missed the point, ignored it, or laughed it off. So here I go yet again. My body does not make me inspiring. I am not inspiring because I am a spazzy human being. I am not inspiring because I am spazzy and love running or because I am a spazzy college student. I am not inspiring because I use a wheelchair or a crutch or because speaking is difficult for me. These are aspects of my being that I have little to no control of, but these are also aspects of my being that make able-bodies feel better about themselves.
Able-bodies will deny that their admiration of me is to make them feel better about their own lives; maybe they do not realize it on a conscious level or maybe they do not want to think of themselves as exploitive. Nevertheless, I am not here to coddle people. I am here to educate, here to explain my experiences and perspective, and here to tell people that they cannot speak on my behalf; no one gets to tell me how to think or feel. I am unraveling some of the most rudimentary ableist beliefs in modern society whether that makes able-bodies comfortable or squirm in their seats. That is how I feel everyday, especially when strangers call me inspirational.
A stranger called me inspirational at the gym yesterday. Unfortunately, this was not the first time. She does not know my name, my story, or what I do, but she saw me working out from a seated position. Apparently, that is inspirational. I was shocked, humiliated, and rendered speechless. She knew nothing about me, yet decided to put me into a box. Able-bodies tend to do this; they tend to decide what disabled people are in relation to themselves.
Disabled people are supposed to be positive, inspirational, and cute, but they cannot be human. Disabled people cannot get into fights, have meaningful relationships, have sex, or be parents according to the inspiration paradigm. We are pretty pictures of smiling cripples overcoming life’s worst obstacle: a seemingly broken body. How dare we love our bodies. How dare we be actual human beings and have flaws. How dare we question ableist misconceptions.
I spent a few hours in Barnes and Noble a few days ago, looking for a book about ableism from a disabled perspective. I initially walked by the social issues section only to find books on gender issues and racial issues. I then walked by the motivational section and found two or three books that seemed too sugar coated and inspirational for my taste. I immediately wondered why it is socially acceptable to put disability books into the motivational section, but gender and racial issues into a social issues section. This communicated to me that disabled people exist to inspire, motivate, and make able-bodied people feel all warm and fuzzy while race and gender issues should be discussed and taken seriously.
This reminds me of the “You run faster than me” or “Wow, you can run with your legs?” Responses from able-bodies, while “You’re smart for a black person” is rightfully unacceptable. Historically racist assumptions and misconceptions are condemned today by many people, while ableist assumptions are so embedded into our culture that very few people question or even notice them. Similarly Always tackled sexist beliefs with their “Run like a girl” ad. I can only hope that one day ableists will see that their beliefs are just as harmful as sexism and racism.
I did not ask to be compared to able-bodies. I did not ask to be patronized or exist to cheer up able-bodies. I am not a parameter for able-bodied abilities. Stop with the “If you can do it, I can.” That is putting me down. That is saying that my disability makes me incapable, which it does not. I do not exist to serve able-bodies and I never will.