Recently, I’ve seen a series of articles, posts, stories and the like circulating about people with disabilities and how they don’t want to be an inspiration to others. I’d like to speak to this, and relate to you why I, myself, don’t mind being an inspiration.
First, I’d like to clearly state that this post is not meant to offend any of my peers or the online community as a whole that feel otherwise. You are entitled to your opinion in the same way that I am entitled to mine, and I respect that.
So why don’t people want to be an inspiration? Based off my own observations, folks, especially those with a visible disability like myself, are already in the spotlight. I can’t hide that I have a guide dog, others can’t hide their canes, wheelchairs, walkers, and the like, and I guarantee that even though people with visible disabilities can’t help but stick out, all of us want to blend into the crowd just like the next person. People with disabilities are just trying to live normal lives, like the person next to them. It can be hard to rise above the low expectations that society generally places on the disabled population, and many times it’s annoying to be applauded for accomplishing a menial task, when you’d rather be applauded for accomplishing something big, like a job promotion, earning a degree, or inventing a breakthrough technology.
I’ve had my own share of these situations. For example, I’ll never forget the time I was at a holiday gathering, and an instance like this occurred. I had only recently moved to New York, and was just then starting to come to terms with the fact that I would have to start doing things in life differently than other people. Without a job for the first time since I was 16, I spent many of my days at home, depressed and restless. Well, everyone around the dinner table was relating recent adventures, world travels, big time jobs, and family raising, then the story was told about how I had recently taken my cane out, walked 2 blocks to the subway, and met my husband. Now, this was actually a really big deal for me, as I’d never had orientation and mobility training, and never really gone out with my cane before, but when everyone began applauding me for doing this, I replied with some snarky remark about how it wasn’t a big deal and why don’t we all congratulate me for being able to put on my pants in the morning? Truth is, it was embarrassing, and entirely frustrating to have fallen so far from the independent young business person to the woman that sat at home and omigosh! was able to walk 2 blocks on her own. So, I completely understand why people do not want to be an inspiration for living their lives.
That being said, here’s why I don’t mind.
First, let me ask you, who inspires you? I know we all have our heroes who changed the world in some way or another, but let’s take a step back and focus on who, on a local level, inspires you? Got someone? Great.
Maybe it’s your neighbor, who is dealing with stage 4 cancer, but still gets up every day with a smile. Maybe it’s the single mom who is working 2 jobs to feed her 4 kids. Maybe it’s the recent immigrant who speaks English as a second language, but is working long hours and going to school at night to achieve the American dream. Perhaps it’s someone who has intense social anxiety, but gets up in front of a classroom every day and shares their knowledge with their students. Or, maybe it’s the mother who gave up her own desires for a traditional career to stay home with her kids. Perhaps it’s the person who is living in deep poverty, but is always ready to give whatever they have to help someone else, or maybe it’s the person who sacrificed the comfort of home to go abroad and help people in a third world country.
Point is this – all those people I just listed, are just living their lives. They are doing what they have to do, in spite of their challenges. They are not trying to show off, but somehow, their existence inspires others to go further, to realize that the situation at hand isn’t so bad, or maybe it is, but it can be overcome, because others have proven it’s possible.
So, who has inspired me? Here’s a couple examples. My husband has a friend who just happens to be in a wheelchair. A couple of years ago, when I was really struggling with accepting the fact that I am now different than others and can’t always be truly independent and under the radar, he told my husband this: “I don’t need help a lot of times, but people offer to help, and I’ve found that if I let them help me, it helps them, and that is why I let them.” I’m paraphrasing here, but that statement really inspired me. I hated people asking if I needed help, hated needing help in the first place, but I often think of those words. At times, letting folks help me when I really don’t need it, helps them. They feel good, and that makes me feel good. Plus, being appreciative will perpetuate acts of kindness. Maybe they’ll offer help to someone who really needs it, instead of being burned by a sarcastic remark by me, or maybe someone else letting someone help them will help me in the future when I really need it.
I have several friends who are blind, and they do so much! I don’t know what their perspective is on being an inspiration, but I do know this: when I am scared, struggling, frustrated with something I have to do, talking to them, or reading their posts makes me want to do more. It makes me realize that, hey, I CAN do this- they did, why not me? Because of these people in my life, I limit myself less every day. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there dealing with what I deal with. There are doctors, lawyers, athletes, leaders, travelers, artists, motivational speakers, all who are blind – and that is the tip of the iceberg. So, why can’t I accomplish those same things? I can, and thanks to people like them, I will. (Well, maybe not the doctor or lawyer thing, that’s just too much school haha),
So, now back to my situation. I have had so many people tell me I am an inspiration to them. From people who struggle with intense pain every day and can’t walk, to people who are cancer survivors. Regular people with no visible problems (I say visible because everyone has challenges) to people going through tough divorces. Random people on the subway, who are going through things that I will never know. Immigrants from other countries working countless hours to get by. The list goes on. And for me, when one of these people, who have so much more to deal with than I do, tell me I’m an inspiration to them, it is the highest compliment I could receive. Because in me just living my life, I somehow encourage others to go further in theirs, or just as importantly, keep going in spite of their own challenges.
This is why I do not, and never will, mind being an inspiration.