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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I was suffering from a bad case of writer's block over the last week which left me without creative energy to post anything here. Alright, I did write other things for my work - but unlike this blog, work gives me some financial return - enough to keep my web connection going. So, it is rather strange to be thought of as 'inspirational' to other people... of course, because you're disabled!

This was one of the reasons I had the block I guess. It was after I was caught up in a line of thought centering around the question of whether it was OK to be thought of as 'inspirational' ... again, when you're also disabled. I have discussed this on the BBC Ouch! message board, with friends, and looked over some writings on this subject. I have good reason to feel ill at ease when people describe disabled people, particularly ones who have done something deemed 'extraordinary' as inspirational:

1. Inspirational implies that disabled people who have made it are proof that those who haven't 'made it' in life are a lazy bunch of people.

2. Calling us 'inspirational' detracts society from taking responsibility of the changes it requires to make for our inclusion, such as providing accessible buildings/information/etc.

Of course, I cannot deny that when a news reporter interviewed me way back in 1997, he described me as an 'inspirational young man', I was flattered and felt sort of 'better' than other disabled people. However, what this did was nothing more than create in me a sense of false security in the sense that in order for me to be recognised as a worthy individual, I had to 'prove' myself all the time.

Needless to say, I am now convinced that being called 'inspirational' by people who do not know me personally often implies that they assume that the fact I'm working and studying with the many impairments I have involves a great act of courage and bravery. In other words, I am accepted because I am seen as trying to overcome my accredited impairments.

In fact, I concur with the many views that were expressed in the BBC Ouch board. Some noted that impairment wasn't a choice they made and they're just trying to get along in life like anyone else. Even if there are many obstacles that are not impairment-related which can make life harder than it has to be!

I am not saying that there haven't been disabled people in my life or in history that could be called 'inspirational'. Paul Hunt, for instance, springs to mind. Hunt had an insight into the way society was actively excluding him as a person with a physical impairment and he did something about it... He helped in the formation of what was the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) and provided the foundations of what was to become the 'social model' of disability.

Yet, Paul Hunt isn't an inspirational figure to me because he was a person with an impairment but because he had the vision of a more inclusive society and took steps to make it a reality. Extraordinary as they may be, accounts of disabled people who have climbed mountains or sailed around the world ... err... are 'irrelevant' to me as Tim, in the latest BBC ouch! close-up interview states when asked about disabled mountain climbers:

"Disabled mountain climbers are ... Exceptional people but they are as relevant to my experience as able-bodied mountain climbers are to the average non-disabled person."

Indeed, do I want to be thought of as 'inspirational' just because I seek a better quality of life? Do I want to be called fancy names and yet discover that, in all my assigned greatness, I can't still use public transport without problems? On the other hand, if I demand my rights to be respected, you get resistance from people and suddenly become a 'radical' or even a 'troublemaker'! No, neither of these things were used in my face but I can't discount having been referred to in this way behind my back ... um...

Finally, the word 'inspirational' is simply not telling us the whole story. Do you think I would have achieved my current status without the support of my family? Do you honestly think that friends, co-workers, etc. weren't involved in my current achievements? Do you think it simply requires a change of attitude or a strong will to get from A to B? This is not saying that some personal effort doesn't help, but that this is only a part of the truth.

The fact that some disabled seem, for certain non-disabled people, to have achieved a lot is only because there are still a lot of misinformation about what it is like to be disabled. It's not a matter of personal resolve or choice to get on in life but it's the only way to go. The alternative would be for me to either invest my time and energy into 'fixing' my body which i won't do because it isn't broken, or sulking at home because I come to believe I am afflicted by tragedy. And, even if that's sometimes tempting, it would be plain silly ...

Undeniably, it also depends on who is telling me that I'm inspirational - it is one thing to be told by a friend who has known you for years and it's another thing being told this by the postman you've just met. It also depends on the context and the way it has been put. This is so you don't run off with the impression that it's always a wrong thing to say. Indeed, disabled people who have achieved change for others - as I already stated - can be inspiring.

On the other hand, it's important to be aware of the biases that might be underlying your remark. Ask yourself, whether it would be equally inspirational of me to do the work I do if I had been non-disabled... and at that, what do you think is making it difficult for me ... if your answer to this is my impairment... read this post all over again, please.

I've noticed that all this talk of inspirational-ity has helped me unblock my writing ... that's a relief!