Are your disabilities an automatic ticket to “Inspirationland?”
Australian comedienne Stella Young has made a living off of raising awareness about the difficulties faced by those with disabilities or who are short in stature with humor, wit and candor. In a recent TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk, she addressed these issues in her story, told with her characteristic honesty and frankness.
At the age of 15, a member of her neighborhood asked Young’s parents if she could be nominated for an achievement award, yet all she had done to that point was the things every kid does—hanging out with friends, “watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek,” and working at “a very low-key job in my mum’s hairdressing salon.”
But because of Young’s short height and the fact that she uses a wheelchair, somehow these mundane activities were considered a major accomplishment, a situation that baffles her to this day.
She points out that the biggest problem faced by people with disabilities on a daily basis is that of awareness. The point really hit home for Young when a young man in a high school course she was teaching asked when she was going to launch into a motivational speech, and she realized that he had never encountered a person with a disability outside of “inspirational stuff…in the big hall.”
Young wants people to know and understand, above all, that people with disabilities are not there to be an inspiration to able-bodied people, and that we have all been taken in by what she calls “the lie that disability is a Bad Thing, capital ‘B,’ capital’T,'” and that living with a disability somehow makes one exceptional.
She believes that the best thing we can do to raise disability awareness is to first come to the understanding that this is flat-out untrue. People with disabilities are here for the same reason as others: to enjoy life, to make ends meet, to go about their daily business without fear of discrimination or special treatment. She points to many images of people with disabilities “overcoming obstacles” by doing normal, daily things like running or drawing pictures, with supposedly inspirational phrases like, “your excuse is invalid.” Stella refers to these images as “Inspiration Porn.”
Young acknowledges that, yes, people with disabilities do encounter more difficulties with certain daily tasks than people who don’t have disabilities, but she feels that using these disabilities as fodder for inspiration objectifies the person with a disability instead of being truly inspirational.
“I really want to live in a world where disability is not an exception, but the norm,” she says. “I want to live in a world where a 15-year-old sitting in her bedroom watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t referred to as achieving anything because she’s doing it sitting down. I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning.”
Watch Stella Young’s TED Talk, recently presented at TEDxSydney. Meanwhile, some individuals with disabilities are honored to be an inspiration to others. What do YOU think?