Inspiration by Ashley Thomas

Inspiration is a hot word of irritation for people with disability.  It is often said within our community, “I am so tired of being called an inspiration when I am just doing my grocery shopping”.  Why?
Many feel that they are doing the same mundane things that all must do, only, using a wheelchair, without sight or on a prosthetic leg.  Our “normal” wants to respond with, “You are walking on the trail, so why am I an inspiration to be “walking” on the trail in my wheelchair?”

The scene can be played out in many ways.  But the conclusion is often the same from the perspective of the person with a disability.  I am not an inspiration; I am working like everyone else.  I am cooking my dinner like everyone else.  I am getting exercise like everyone else.  I often wonder if the idea of trying to “be” like everyone else, we, as people with disabilities, lose the concept behind the word, inspiration.  A word that I believe is spoken to be a compliment. 

When searching Google for the definitions of “Inspiration” I found several.  The Merriam Webster gives an interpretation of ‘Sainthood’, ‘a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation’.  Okay, let me clear the air here.  I do personally believe that anyone born with a disability or anyone who acquires a disability has value, purpose, and a unique gift.  However, I do not believe we were touched by a divine finger that now qualifies us to give sacred revelation.

The next definition I found that came up on Google is: ‘the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative’.  Hmm, this sounds a little more grounded.  No, it does not make me feel like I was sainted by disability. Let me keep looking.  Third times a charm.

My final search took me to Urban Dictionary.  They always have a little different twist on words and phrases that morphed into something different over time and with culture.  This is what the Urban Dictionary had to say about Inspiration:  ‘That feeling inside you that makes you want to try new things. It gives you hope inside and makes you see the world differently. If it’s powerful enough, it can persuade you to do anything’.

I think I like the definition from the Urban Dictionary the best.  Let’s break this down.
When someone tells me that I inspired them they are saying that I, through my “normal” action, deed, or being, created a feeling inside them that makes them want to try new things.
Wow!  If being a wheelchair user creates in someone else’s mind the motivation to be open and to see or act differently, that is an honor.  Let’s keep going along this line.
The next part of the definition is that inspiration gives one hope inside and MAKES one see the world differently!  Can I hear an Amen?  The chair, someone who is blind, someone who uses a power-chair, someone who is missing a limb, absolutely causes the world we call “Able-Body” the ability to see the world differently!  If my Inspiration is powerful enough to impact a person to be persuaded to do something, boy, I can make a difference in the part of the world that I live.

My dear friends with disability I would like to challenge our attitudes when someone shares with us the words: “You Inspire Me”.
Can we own it? 
What do I mean by this?  Yes, I am shopping for a family of 5, like many others.  However, pushing a cart at Costco that weighs 300 pounds, navigating between the crowds, not hitting or running over anyone, in a wheelchair IS different.  I am doing a common skill that is not too difficult when all the body parts are working, but with grace and skill in a chair.
Can I hear a, “Well yes, I guess that is an inspiration- a new perspective, a skill, and ability!”
Likewise, often when I am at the gym, I will hear the phrase, “You inspire me”.  Well, yes, I am working out, I am busting my body like all the other folks at the gym at 5 am… or am I?  Did I jump out of bed, run into the bathroom, shift clothes quickly, dash to the car, jump in, drive to the gym, hop out?…  No the energy that I spent to just get to the gym, one could qualify as a small workout.  Did I inspire someone’s perspective to be challenged to do a little harder workout at the gym because my workout took a lot more effort?  For the new person who is learning the gym for the first time, feeling uncomfortable with the whole gym scene, did I persuade them to not be afraid to try because I did?
Wow, that is powerful.  What an honor to have someone say you inspired them to change a perspective, motivate to action, and influence change. 

I decided to get beyond it, and say, “thank you”.  The spirit of which it was given is for good.  I will show humble thanks to the compliment, because I had the great privilege to influence for good, just by me doing me, being in the community, as a regular Jo who uses a wheelchair.  Now if being “called out” in an ordinary circumstances makes you feel uncomfortable, that is another blog.  To that end, may I challenge all my friends with disabilities to say thank you when you get the privilege to be an inspiration?