Yes, I'm Disabled. But Please Stop Calling Me an Inspiration
Along with the existence of our conditions, there is an ever-present commonality among those in the disabled community: Being called "an inspiration."
Inspirational is often used to describe disabled people. And I've heard the word so much, that It doesn't mean much to me anymore — I don't feel anything when I'm called inspirational. I've had a severe stutter for most of my life, and I've been called an inspiration without actually doing any inspiring at all. I've gathered that able-bodied people often call the disabled inspirational for simply existing with our disabilities. Thanks, I guess?
For many years, conversations about my stutter have often led to the word in one way or another. It is safe to say that "you are an inspiration" is the most common phrase I hear from able-bodied people regarding my stutter. And, I don't think I like it.
I've thought about this a lot, actually. And I've spoken with many disabled people about it, "Do we like when people call us inspirations? Is it okay?" Of course, our opinions on this differ. Some people don't mind being called "inspirations" because of their disability, and others find it pretentious.
Over time, I've begun to dislike it. I understand the sentiment, I do, but I can't help but feel a slight eye roll coming on when people simply hear me stutter and say, "Wow. You're such an inspiration."
I don't hate it, and I'm not always annoyed by it, though. Hear me out. Usually, when people call me an inspiration, it's usually after a simple conversation in which my stutter isn't the focus or after we finish talking about my career. It usually comes from people who I don't know too well. We could be talking about anything from television shows to food and, like clockwork, at the end of our conversation I'll hear, "You're such an inspiration."
Why? Why am I an inspiration? I just told you that I love Seinfeld and Chinese food. what's inspirational about that?
It seems that the only "inspirational" aspect of our conversation was that I managed to have the conversation with a stutter. I've learned that people are, in their own way, applauding me for simply functioning despite my stutter — for simply existing. And that's what is a bit annoying. It's like, "Oh, look at you! Still doing the things able-bodied people do, despite not being able-bodied! You're so brave."
And when it comes to my career, calling me an inspiration, to me, is usually an implication that the person is surprised that I've managed to maintain a talking-based career with a speech impediment. In short, it just seems pretty pretentious and annoying. And I don't usually view it as a compliment.
Side note: There are exceptions, of course. There have been many times when I've had deep, emotional conversations with my close family and friends about life with my stutter and/or my hardships. And when they call me an inspiration, I believe that they mean it. I believe that they have enough context and reason for calling me an inspiration in that moment. And it means a lot to me.
However, when having pretty shallow conversations with people that I barely know, I find being called an inspiration a bit insulting. I know they mean it as a compliment, but I find that these people who throw the word around are often simply praising themselves for acknowledging how hard life can be for a disabled person. And worse, they use me and my condition to comfort themselves and as a means by which to "count their blessings." When people call me an inspiration, it is clear that they believe that disabled people are usually incapable of living a happy, fulfilling life — and they're shocked that I've managed to do just that (so inspiring).
Also, when people call me an inspiration for no reason, I feel that I'm being reduced to my disability. It shows that the person I'm speaking with is fixated on my stutter, and views it as my defining characteristic. And that really, really sucks. I'd hate for the person's view of me to shift from who I am to how I speak. I'm a person before I am a stutterer, and there's nothing inspirational about simply existing.
I'm not reading or dragging anyone here. But I hope that we can all take a closer look at the words we use to describe disabled people, and address why we're using them. And please, please stop calling me an inspiration.