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Inspire, the definition:

“Fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something,
esp. to do something creative.”

How, exactly, does that work when people encounter someone with a disability – in person, or in a story on the news or Facebook, etc.?

Many people describe their experience of these as “inspirational.” I’m accustomed to that; I often hear that my life on wheels due to paralysis is “inspirational.”

Then they say, “…but I could never do what you do.”

Doesn’t that contradict the definition? Instead of being “filled with the urge” to do (or believe they could do) something (like successfully adapt to a disability), they say they can’t.

This seems to fit a different definition; Intimidate:

“Frighten or overawe.”

It begs the question: If you say you’re inspired, are you really?

There are indeed people with a notable capacity to persevere, to not be stopped by doubts, to endure frustration and setbacks, and to be so driven to reach their potential that they accomplish clearly great things. I confess to being a little intimidated by these kinds of people, myself.

It’s just not the same standard for living with a disability.

You can see proof of how doable this is by looking at the number of people with disabilities of all kinds who are out there doing what they do, in a world that is increasingly free of artificial obstacles.

Honestly, it USED to take an heroic effort to thrive with a disability, but that was becuase there was so much in the way. I had to be carried up and down stairs in college for five years. I suppose I’m entitled to some bonus points for that one, but frankly, I had to, or else I wasn’t going to get my degrees.

That wasn’t an option.

Our society really needs to get over the “Inspirational Model” of disability. It causes real trouble.

If you think it takes a rare person to adapt and thrive, then what if it happens to you? That frame is a setup for a lot of unnecessary pressure. “Can I be an inspirational figure?” If that’s what you think it takes, you’re a lot less likely to get to the other side where your life is – or at least take a lot longer to get there.

The same is true in the workplace. If you have to be “inspirational” to be seen as a productive employee, then an interviewer or hiring manager is going to believe that you would have to have some extra force of will to be able to perform well on the job. That ends up unrealistically raising the bar for plenty of qualified people.

When it comes down to it, the Inspirational Model really represents an epidemic of self-doubt. It’s a mass expression of people not believing they have what it takes to cope and adjust to change.

We really all have the internal wiring for it. People no more special than most have done it many, many times over. Myself included.

The difference is that I got the support and resources I needed. And I had people around me operating on the assumption that I was going to have a full life. These are what it takes, not some heroic power.

So it’s time to get over the inspirational thing when someone is just doing what’s possible and getting on with their lives. When you get the disability frame straight, it’s clear that it shouldn’t be such a surprise to see someone who is well-adapted. Save the “heroic” label for people who are actually doing extraordinary things.

That said, you SHOULD be inspired. People with disabilities are models of what you yourself are capable of — and you should be prepared to fight for what you need to succeed if you have to. Are you willing to open up and feel the urge to do it if your life asked you to?

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