What it means to be inspirational. And why disability has nothing to do with it. 2

It is no secret that society has a tendency to put people into categories that in the long run end up defining them. Science students are geeks, successful career-driven women are bossy and alternative people are hippies. But what about: disabled people…. are inspirational?

Surely enough, this is not new to you. At some point or another, we have all seen people overcoming certain obstacles in life as inspiring. But what does a disabled person think about that? In her funny and honest talk, Stella Young touches upon the topic of inspiration, using her own disability as an example to demonstrate how disabled people are being objectified by today’s society. Stella Young was an Australian comedian, journalist and disability advocate and ultimately, a wheelchair user born with osteogenesis imperfecta.

In her TED Talk, she points out that inspiration has been “sold” to society as a means to make people feel lucky and fortunate about their own life and make their own problems seem smaller – for this, she coins the term “inspiration porn”. Her definition: Disabled people are being objectified for the benefit of non disabled people. The role of social media has had a tremendous influence on promoting this phenomenon even further. Viral pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Co.  nearly glorify disability as something that makes a person exceptional.  Stella explains that she and others with a disability have drifted into a role that has been invented by society. “For many, disabled people are not our teachers, our doctors or our manicurists”, she says, “We are not real people. We are there to inspire”.

But then what is inspiration really?

It so becomes apparent that the term “inspiration” has been somewhat abused by associating it so strongly with disability. And vice versa: disability has been branded with inspiration, leaving little room for people to interpret what disability really means and that it is not necessarily always a bad thing.

Of course, this does not mean that disabled people cannot also be inspirational. But the criteria for being seen as inspirational should remain the same – regardless of being disabled or not. Inspiration should simply always be based on genuine achievements.  Stella herself admits that she has been inspired by her fellow wheelchair users. “but I don’t learn that I am luckier than them though.” Instead, Stella learns tricks that make daily life easier in a society that has not made space for disability.

“I really want to live in a world where disability is not the exception, but the norm. I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning. I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for disabled people, and I want to live in a world where a kid in year 11 in a Melbourne high school is not one bit surprised that his new teacher is a wheelchair user.”

Sadly, only a few months after giving her TED Talk, Stella Young unexpectedly passed away in December 2014.We will not remember her as an inspiration but instead as someone who spoke out successfully against “inspiration porn”. Listen for yourself to what Stella had to say:

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About Olivia List

Olivia is doing her Master's in Business studies and has specialized in marketing before. She is interested in health topics, innovations in the health industry, psychology as well as digital marketing and media and loves to eat, think, talk and write about food ;)

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2 thoughts on “What it means to be inspirational. And why disability has nothing to do with it.

  • Insprirational Life

    Seriously, just stop. I know making a statement like can kill the message, but disabled people that go beyond expectations (right or wrong expectations) are often inspirational. As a “disabled” person I often turn to my peers that are willing to try something difficult, such as Noah Galloway running a tough mudder, and I am inspired. It gets me going. This faction of people telling us to remove the label of inspiration from certain aspects of the disability community are part of a culture that doesn’t speak for the disability community. I love the memes showing an amputee attempting to walk/run/tryout their new prosthetic and then a message is below. This is awesome. Don’t try to take that away. Not long ago, disabled people were not often seen as an inspiration but more as a burden. I am pumped western culture is turning towards a more positive message.

    • Alina Nikolaou

      Finding inspiration, energy and motivation in the lives and accomplishments of others is human, and also lovely. Thanks to this we are able to inspire each other to become stronger, more lovable beings. However, I can also understand the point of view that Stella Young tries to make, her TEDTalk is, undoubtedly, eye-opening.
      Maybe, in the end, it is all about throwing light on the topic from different angles.