Why “Inspirational” Stories Don’t Inspire The Disabled

Every year, they hit without fail. You can count on them every prom season, every homecoming game, every holiday. At every one of these moments, there will be some story about a disabled person being invited to the dance or even better crowned queen of the event. They’re stories that touch us because the disabled person is celebrated despite their disability. The stories catch fire around the internet and touch us all deeply because wow, how sweet of these abled people to treat the disabled person like a normal person. These stories all have one thing in common.

They give the disabled community online rage nosebleeds.

Oh, to the abled they’re touching, beautiful stories but to the disabled community, which includes HFA, they’re stories that highlight how wonderful the abled person is while turning the disabled soul into a mere prop. The idea that the disabled friend might get invited because they’re actually a dear friend? It never even seems to come up. They’re what Snopes.com calls “Glurge” and no better word exists to describe them.

I’ve been tempted to write on these at least a few times before but two events forced my hand. First, the story of the woman who had a poorly lettered cake made by an autistic person hit the net. Second, the disabled community responded with a hashtag topic of #soinspired, sarcastically praising able bodied people for doing ordinary things the same way many of us get praised for simply living. These two moments made me realize I had to put the revisions on hold to speak up on this topic.

See, as I noted, we tend to read the same stories circulating around the internet that the abled share.  Often these are shared by people without a single bone of conscious prejudice in their body. I know a few who shared the cake story and I know for a fact they’re not prejudiced against the community. I mean, they all know at least one autistic clearly!  Their intention was to celebrate people being kind and decent to the community.

And that’s admirable. Trust me I’d prefer that to stories about how autism destroys families that good old Autism $peak$ spreads. I don’t believe the people who praise the disabled for trying to live normal lives despite their handicaps mean ill even in the slightest. They’re trying to be nice and supportive. It’s definitely not easy to stop these people an explain why their intentions have an unintentional effect.

But we have to speak up because that’s kind of the fundamental issue with these stories. They’re not from our perspective. This is something I’ve griped about in the arts. I’m still frustrated by it in this form which might be the most annoying because it’s not coming from a media system I already know to be every form of prejudiced. These are, face it often heavily fictionalized at best, tales designed to highlight the goodness of people who take pity on the less fortunate. And we’re tired of it.

In truth many of us have friends who are “normal.” We have to since there’s more of them than us. We’re also by and large a very cynical and witty group since humor gives us a great defense mechanism. We’re driven precisely because others are in awe that we try to live in a world that’s unfavorable to us. No wonder we’re popular dates. We’re highly entertaining to be around.

We’re also extremely vocal. Stop to think about it. Does it make sense someone who can’t walk would be any different mentally if that was their only affliction? People with autism are often extremely verbal, even on the “lower” end. (BTW, we actually don’t accept functioning labels to be clear. It’s not how the disorder works unless you’re discussing severe cases. Most of us just need decent therapy. Trust me, I’ve had “lower” friends and they’re much easier to connect with than you think.) I’ve even had a few friends with cerebral palsy who could carry on a solid chat.

Ultimately, and most importantly, we’re not trying to inspire you with our lives. Think about it pragmatically. We’ve been dealt an unfavorable hand. We have two options. On one hand we quit and be miserable, depending on others for help and retreating into a hole. On the other, we can fight on because we’ve still got to live. The vast majority of us do the latter. It’s hard. But what else do we do?

And that’s why we’re mad. That’s why we stormed Twitter to mock ableism. Because we’ve got the same goals the abled have in their lives. We’re just trying to get by. If you want to be nice to us, and we’re humans so you should, do it because we’re people and not because we’re lesser creatures.

But is there a time that it’s ok to call us inspiring?

Yes, there is. If you’re a parent of a disabled child, it’s fine to be inspired by the sight of others with the disability doing fine. You need to know they’ll be ok since that’s not always clear. Also, if we do something legitimately impressive, applaud away. After all when one of us crosses the state under our own power, we want you to be impressed. It’s why we do it.

But when we’re just living our lives, spare us. And when you see the stories, make sure you’re not just celebrating someone expressing basic human decency. We’re better than that.

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