Early last month, I went with a couple co-workers to a work related convention in Traverse City, Michigan. This was my first conference in a few years, and I usually end up having issues on work related trips, so I was not excited to go. Butas my co-worker needed some support and technical assistance, I took one for the team. I have to say, as far as conferences go, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had; at least as far as physical accessibility was concerned. The conference was held in the same hotel we were staying in, so there was no walking on cracked sidewalks and uneven surfaces; no rushed taxi ride where I worry about how my chair is being handled and no getting lost due to bad or incomplete directions or addresses. Everything was right there. It was easy and it was accessible.
However, it gave me a weird vibe. There is a saying in the Independent Living Community, “Nothing about us, without us.” This conference was very much about people with disabilities;specifically in the field of employment. But the majority of the conference attendees and presenters were people that served people with disabilities, and not people with disabilities themselves. Throughout the conference, people with disabilities were described as “inspirations,” as people who “never give up,” who are “always” happy. I kept hearing the same phrase over and over again. “When I am having a bad day, when I am feeling down and out and just want to give up I think of (insert the name of someone they know with a disability here) and I don’t feel so terrible anymore”.
I wondered how that was supposed to make me feel. I mean, I know they intended it to have a positive meaning, but all they were really saying was, “At least I don’t have a disability, because then my life would totally suck and I would have a real reason to bitch.”
Being an inspiration to others is a great thing, there is no doubt about that.I know I have inspired several people in the past; maybe they are inspired because I do always try to see the humor in everything, or because I figured out how to sew with one hand, or because I have completed National Novel Writing Month twice. I certainly hope it’s not because I dragged my ass out of bed this morning and went to work, because there was nothing inspiring about that scene.And if you don’t believe me, you can ask my husband.
Let me be clear. My life is not horrible. It is not a tragedy. I do not spend each and every day struggling. The act of getting out of bed and going to work should not be inspiring. Some people assume that my life must be inherently harder than yours but it is not, because humans adapt and because I don’t know any other way, but my way.
If I inspire you, that’s great; but please let it be for the right reasons. Getting out of bed? Easy. Writing a novel in a month? Hard as hell. Please don’t compare my life you your worst day. My life is amazing. I have the world’s most supportive and amazing friends, a husband who loves me, a dog that ADORES me, a good job that I enjoy, a number of talents, and an amazing family that would do anything for me. So I have a disability. It’s not such a tragedy. That being said, I am not always happy, I am not always positive. Sometimes, I am pissed off that I have to live with a disability while so many others get a free pass. Sometimes, I am tired and some days literally hurt. These days happen. They do not make my life any less amazing or any more inspiring. They just make it real.
I hope that if you have someone with a disability in your life that you remember: They are not an inspiration. They are a person. Sometimes, they might do things that you think that you couldn't do. Sometimes they might do something pretty amazing, but mostly they are just people. Try not to put us up on a pedestal, we're apt to fall off.