Dear Inspired,

You said you found me to be “such an inspiration” because I work with people who have special needs, and because I have to deal with so many things myself.

I’m not sure why you find me so damn “inspiring”, just because I do really mundane life activities like going to college, getting a job, or taking care of my spouse and kids. I vote in elections, give blood, pay taxes, get my pets neutered-spayed-vaccinated, make charitable donations, pick up random bits of trash I find blowing around, and do those kinds of things that good citizens do. Although doing these things is sometimes overwhelming, and there are aspects that I must to differently to accomplish similar ends, there’s nothing particularly amazing about the fact that “special” people like me have ordinary lives. Sure I have overcome a lot of hurdles. Most of those were not intrinsic to my particular disabilities — they were socially created, artificial handicaps. So please don’t go congratulating me for having overcome the hurdles that you and others have put in my way.

You also said that you could never do what I do for a job. Thank you for realising that, and not trying to do what I do. I have encountered plenty of people who also couldn’t do what I do, but even if they realised it, they kept on trying, year after year. They were indeed, very trying.

I don’t do this job because I have a Calling in the seminary sense, but because I enjoy it, because I have an aptitude for it, and because I have a passion for social justice. I do not personally feel that I ended up in these jobs because some deity deemed it necessary. But regardless of what kind of pretty little fiction you have painted in your imagination, I have not undertaken a Holy Calling, nor have I taken a vow of poverty. I have a graduate degree and for some silly reason would actually like to earn something reflecting that, rather than the $11/hr I currently earn. A newspaper editor with whom I worked once commented that the socially important jobs never paid well, and I have seen little to refute that assertion. On the other hand, history is not destiny; if you think that people like me are doing God’s Important Work, then for God’s sake and ours, help us earn a living wage!

Please don’t feel the need to regale me with your earnest-but-clueless story about how your sister’s brother-in-law’s son was “cured” of “A” by doing “X” and “Y” and giving him “Z”. If everyone with “A” really could be “cured”, the whole world would know about it and would be using it, and I wouldn’t be working with all those “A” kids, now would I?

By the way, “A”, “B” and “C” are not caused by bad parenting, food dyes, video games, or other horrors of the modern age. The reason that you didn’t have fellow students in your classrooms diagnosed with “A”, “B” and “C” when you were a kid, was because “B” and “C” didn’t even exist as diagnoses, and “A” was frequently misdiagnosed or just not recognised. Some of those “A” kids weren’t allowed to go to school, and the rest of the “A”, “B” and “C” kids just struggled along, including me. Remember, back then our science textbooks also didn’t have the all the moons and planetoids that we know about nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that those celestial bodies weren’t orbiting the sun, just outside of our scanning range. Likewise, what we used to call the Brontosaurus actually turned out to be the Apatosaurus. (If you don’t believe me, go find some Aspie kid whose special interest is astronomy or dinosaurs, and I’m sure they will tell you all about it.) The same kinds of things are true about diagnoses.

When you say that you are “inspired” I feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to be put upon some teetery pedestal to be gawked at and talked about, rather than talked with. That’s objectifying. It makes me something exotic and not-quite-human, a kind of angel that will be re-cast as a kind of devil at the first sign of failure.

Nor do I want to be some kind of free, walking textbook about my disabilities, available 24/7. I will be glad to discuss things with you on occasion, but they will always be from my perspective. Just because you have met one person with “A”, “B” or “C” doesn’t mean that every other person with “A”, “B” or “C” will be just like them. That’s partly because you are actually meeting AB1, AC2+, and BDFQ people. In real life, real people don’t fit into neat little categories. I also cannot tell you for absolutely sure why your sister’s brother-in-law’s son does this or that, or what the guaranteed solution is to the difficulties he faces. Rather, I would suggest that you ask him.

I don’t know how to break this to you, so I’ll be blunt: people were yanking you around when they appealed to your heart and pocketbook by staging telethons and other pity-party fundraisers. When they lay on all that pity, they put alienation and fear and distance between everyone. Sending money to charities doesn’t create a good luck charm that will keep the weirdos away, so you don’t have to deal with your discomfort. Those charity people taught you the wrong things. Having a disability isn’t horrible. Facing attitudes like those, and having to deal with handicapping social systems is what’s terrible.

If you really want to be inspired, then get to know me as a real person. I’m sure that eventually you will find something about my life that you find inspirational. But you know what? That’s true for most anyone you get to know. All but the worst wastrel has had to overcome challenges in their life.

Yours truly,

andrea

7 Comments

  1. qw88nb88 said,

    29 December 2007 at 21:42

    Wheelchair Dancer has an exquisite post along these lines: Getting Up In the Morning.

    andrea

  2. misscripchick said,

    8 August 2007 at 22:32

    i LOVE this. one of the biggest barriers we face is that everyone sees as “inspirational”, how patronizing.

  3. qw88nb88 said,

    28 July 2007 at 17:53

    Certainly Sally, quote away! Kindly include links when you do.
    andrea

  4. Sally said,

    28 July 2007 at 17:16

    Excellently, powerfully, said; again. May I quote you, again ?

  5. wheelchairdancer said,

    28 July 2007 at 5:17

    right on

    WCD

  6. 28 July 2007 at 3:16

    Essentially, this is speaking the same message I’d like to get across: I’m a trained professional, and currently – because of the way in which Finnish employers regard foreign professionals (i.e., badly) – I’m on internships in order to ‘prove my skills’, despite that I have already done precisely that during my training.

    I’d like a wage, too; a proper month’s salary for a proper month’s work. I’d like my experience as an autistic person AND as a trained professional educational psychologist to be factored into an equation that doesn’t have me working my arse off for a shitty benefits package that is hardly any use. Finland isn’t a country where fair employment rights are actually respected.

    My time is, according to my contract with my alma mater – for which I act as a tutor/supervisor – about 50 GBP per hour. I’m getting less than 10% of that just now.

    Because Finland has no clue on fair and reasonable employment practice.

  7. Dave Hingsburger said,

    28 July 2007 at 0:47

    Amen to that. I inspire myself sometimes but never because of my disability – when I manage to look past my prejudices, give up on hopelessness, hold tight to convictions, THEN my life becomes a bit inspirational, and none of it has much to do with the wheelchair.


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