When I took over the Inspired website, I struggled with the name. That struggle has led me to really reflect on what its use means to me and why. I have felt uncomfortable with the use of the word, as it has been applied to me, yet I have been inspired by others both with and without disability, in ways that have shaped who I am and my place in the world today.
Inspired is a word that often makes people with disability shudder. I believe the problem is that when used in relation to people with disability, it is often said with a sympathetic, condescending tone to which my response is to feel patronised and somewhat insulted.
How not to use the word Inspired
Once, I was leaving my workplace I stopped to say chat to some office colleagues. On saying goodbyes, I wheeled to the door, opened it and was just about to head out when I heard one woman say, “oh you are amazing”. I turned to see who she was talking to, and realised it was me. Confused, I replied, “sorry, what did you say?” her response was (and I kid you not) “Oh you are so inspiring, you just opened that door by yourself.” Stunned, and in disbelief, I was speechless, and just continued my exit.
I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between feeling outraged at how little expectation people had of me – so that opening a door was seen as inspirational – and amused at the irony of it all. Here I was, the Managing Director of an organisation, and this is what inspired someone.
For some, it’s use may be well intentioned, but I fear it doesn’t lead to any positive actions for change. Rather it compounds objectification and the ill-informed notion that for people with disability to live everyday lives, doing every day ordinary things is somehow miraculous or amazing. Perhaps people find it difficult to understand how I, and many people with disability, are totally comfortable and embrace all that life, and our unique situation, brings to us.
Examples of how to use it
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines Inspired as;
• to give somebody the desire, confidence or enthusiasm to do something well
If someone’s life or achievements encourage you to do something, to be something more, to step up, to be better, then those achievements are indeed inspiring. They’ve inspired you to act or make change.
As a young woman, new to the world of disability, I struggled to find kindred spirits, like-minded souls, relatable role models and champions. Basically, other women and girls with disability who were just living their lives like everybody else and disability was just part of who they were. Women whom I could talk to, share fears with, ask questions of, were few and far between. This changed when I travelled overseas and met other women from all over the world, living with disabilities.
Meeting them, and sharing their stories and experiences, I felt inspired by them, empowered and saw the world in front of me full of new possibility.
Fast forward to today, happy with who I am, where I am, and comfortable in my own skin. I have thought about what has helped make it somewhat easier for me navigate the world, what has inspired me to this point and place in time, and it comes back to finding and having a tribe of my own.
That tribe is women with disabilities who, although different and diverse, are still like me, who can “get” me and my disability experience without judgement, with a quiet understanding of the unspoken, and with whom the honesty is real because although disability is part of me, it is not the primary focus of who I am as a person.
That connection, and the confidence it gave me, has led me to live a life where I have been able to achieve many things, some ordinary and every day, and some out of the box. Ultimately it has led me to this forum.
So… back to Inspired….
It is a word I want to rightfully employ in what I feel most strongly about – sharing my own, and other women with disabilities’ experiences with others.
Stories to showcase what daily life is like for us, to shine a light on everyday women leading their everyday lives, for solidarity, awareness, to support a sense of belonging to a “tribe” of our own in a world that may not offer that and maybe, just maybe … for inspiration.
While the women we feature are everyday people, I hope their stories inspire other women to be their best selves. When we learn of others’ everyday struggles, their everyday hopes and fears, we don’t feel so alone. Hopefully, we feel inspired to make the most of all the wonderful possibilities life offers.