THE BLOG

The Power of My Palsy: What It Means to Be a Token of 'Inspiration' to a Person With a Disability

04/08/2014 12:11 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

As a person with a rather noticeable physical disability (cerebral palsy), I often get approached by individuals who want to express just how inspirational I am to them. Often times, any time you do something independently there will be someone out there who comments on just how inspiring, courageous, etc. it is. Many persons with disabilities have encountered this before -- so much so that many of us have begrudgingly labeled it as "inspiration porn." This is in part, I believe, to the way the media still discusses and frames disability: using words like "hero" and "defying odds," injected into human interest stories set to cheesy music bound to make anyone have all the feels.

I admit that kind of stuff makes me annoyed too. I could sit here and lament all the times that I have been called an inspiration. I'll briefly tell you a funny story. I was in a club once and I was making eyes at the sexiest guy ever. We did this for what felt like all night (okay, it was like five minutes), and he finally approached. I was all excited and thrilled. He gave me one of those hyper masculine "I wanna talk to you" nods, and I was thinking, "Yaaaaaas! I'm gonna get some." Then he said, "I was just wanna tell you how courageous and brave you are." While I appreciated the sentiment, this was not the place or time for this. This has also happened during my most intimate moments wherein I had a guy tell me how beautiful and different I was -- boner killers all around. There are certainly moments when one shouldn't express these feelings.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the power of my palsy (if you have a different disability try "mastery of MS" or make up your own and get back to me) and how being someone's inspiration is actually a really powerful tool we have at our disposal. Thanks to our disabilities, we have the opportunity to change someone's worldview. Consider that there are so many misconceptions about disability out there in the world that people with no background in disability misconstrue as fact. Our disabilities allow us to dispel those myths and give people a new perspective. Example: I was giving a talk on sex and disability a while back, and a student asked me, have you had sex? I said yes, and she was somewhat taken aback, "Oh. I didn't think you could." I asked her why she thought this. She said because she had seen my wheelchair and just assumed that I was paralyzed and thus unable. This is a very common misconception. I described my abilities and experiences to the group, and at the end of the talk she approached me and said, "Thank you so much! I have never thought about this before." Pretty powerful that just in that moment, I could inspire someone to reframe their ideology around disability just from my experiences. I have had others tell me that they've never heard someone speak so frankly about disability before and that it is so great to hear these stories told this way.

My point is that is has become so easy for persons with disabilities to lament our impairments or how we are continually oppressed. What we need to start doing as persons with disabilities is embracing this difference and realizing that (despite our knee jerk reactions to do otherwise) when someone calls us an inspiration, or told us how courageous we are, we need to start thanking them, because they are also reminding us just how powerful we in fact are. If my palsy helps to change your views, gives you the courage to talk to me, to go on a date with me or what have you, then it is the greatest gift that I can offer.