Individuals with disabilities have intellectual and physical issues that can make their daily lives quite challenging in significant ways. However, no matter what type of conditions they are required to deal with, they are just human beings who are doing the best they can to live in a way that has meaning for them.
They are not trying to inspire anyone. They are not attempting to be heroic. They are not making a conscious effort to be courageous. They are not being anything other than themselves. They just happen to have Down syndrome, epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy or any number of other diagnoses that people live with.
You only have to spend a small amount of time with them to realize that they do not focus on their circumstances. They consider themselves to be sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, employees, co-workers, citizens – just about anything other than a person with a disability. We are the ones who limit them by focusing exclusively on their challenges. We are the ones who think their IQ score defines them. We are the ones who see the diagnosis instead of the person.
We are the problem.
Adults with disabilities spend their lives dealing with the myths and misconceptions that many people continue to embrace concerning intellectual and physical challenges. The erroneous belief that they can’t learn, can’t work or can’t lead full lives, creates significant stumbling blocks to achieving those very things.
So, when someone encounters a person with a disability being successful, they see a man or woman who has exceeded the low expectations of society. Therefore, they feel inspired as they appreciate an accomplishment that was wrongly assumed to be impossible.
Obviously, living with a disability is something an individual has no choice in. However, it is just one aspect of their life among many others. But when we make it the focal point of their existence, it adds an unnecessary burden that causes misunderstanding and bias. This happens, not because of the person’s disability, but rather because of our response to it. Our behavior towards them is a result of our failure to accept them as a person. We choose instead to only consider them in terms of their diagnosis. But what they want, and deserve, is to be understood and accepted for who they are.
Fortunately, when we learn to think of men and women with disabilities as complete human beings, we no longer expect them to inspire us.
It is a fact that each of us is a complex mixture of intellect and emotion that combine to create the individual personalities that make us unique. We are not one-dimensional beings. We are not defined by a single facet of our humanity. Therefore, it is not right to judge people based solely on their disabilities. They are far more than their particular challenges.
The fact that we need to find them inspiring is a reflection of our thinking. Either our feelings are couched in a sense of guilt because we perceive our lives to be easier and to require less effort, or we believe these individuals are bravely trying to be like those who do not have challenges. That assumption, whether we will admit it or not, is based on our opinion that we are superior to them and that they should strive to raise themselves to our level. Such a demeaning attitude is unacceptable.
While it is true that people with disabilities want the same things in life that everyone else does, that does not mean they are comparing themselves to others. So why do we feel like we have the right to engage in comparisons?
No one expects you to be inspiring, so it is not fair to expect inspiration from someone with a disability. They are human beings, which means they will sometimes fail. They will make mistakes, and they will behave in ways that are not appropriate for a particular situation. That is what we all do. Why should they be held to a higher standard than the rest of us? Why should they be expected to move us emotionally, when we often struggle to make it through our day?
Feeling inspired is fleeting and it only makes us feel temporarily good. But when we treat a person with a disability the way we should, it makes everyone involved feel great, and it provides long-lasting benefits.
The undeniable truth is that no one is superior or inferior. That is why it would be so much better for all of us if we would accept each other as we are, no matter what our challenges.
A person with a disability does not want us to be inspired by the fact they are living their life. They want us to treat them as an equal so they can live the life they deserve.