Disability, Mavericks and Fodder for Inspiration Porn

This is Part Two in my mini series exploring the question that blogger Ellen Stumbo raised, “Are People With Disabilities Contributing Members of Society?”

To recap, she delved into the question on her blog and stated that people with intellectual disabilities “offer unconditional love, the kind that has no strings attached, it is pure, strong, real. They radiate joy as they celebrate the simple things in life. They cheer, celebrate, and encourage. They teach us compassion, acceptance, and humility. They remind us to be thankful for the many blessing that we have. They show us, in a profound way, what it means to be whole.”

She went on to say, “people with disabilities are contributing members of society. They show us what really matters in life, what it means to be human, what it means to be loved and accepted simply for being, not because of what we can or cannot do.”

I would like to address her question myself and am  breaking this question up into smaller pieces – bite sized chunks. 

I also want to be clear about the fact that I am not attacking Ellen or anything – I am springboarding from her post because I think she is just saying what a lot of people really think and agree with.

Right? So that’s clear. Okay, let’s move on.

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Yesterday I asked who are people talking about exactly, when they lump up “people with disabilities”? Is it me they are talking about? Moxie? The guy who works at my local Safeway who has Cerebral Palsy? Or is it really about Dave Hingsburger , Stephen Hawking, or the kid in my friend’s classroom who is non verbal and autistic?

Try and be as specific as possible because we really are not a one size fits all kind of group, most especially when you are talking about things like the ways in which we contribute to society.

That’s my first point.

My second is about the matter of societal contribution.

I get the sense that it’s great to be all warm and fuzzy about disability and inspiration. Commendable, even.

Mainstream USA loves people with disabilities serving as inspiration!

Like Ellen says, they see that we’ll show everyone without a disability what really matters in life! What it means to be human, and loved and accepted!

How do you think this really sounds for those of us with a disability? That somehow we will show you what it means to be human, loved and accepted? Step into my shoes for a minute and feel this. That somehow because of an absence of something, you are expected to be more…noble. Righteous and pure; sweet, true and good!

But I wasn’t born to be some inspiration any more than my daughter was.

We were born for the same reason as everyone else:

to live our lives, to have the experience (s) that we want.

I hate to break it to all the well meaning types out there, but people with disabilities – any of us, all of us – are not here to help anyone else be all that YOU can be.

We are here to be all that WE can be. Us. Ourselves.

And our lives have worth above and beyond the passive contributing virtue of making you or anyone else  feel better about yourself because we remind you to be thankful for the many blessing that you have..or that we show you in a profound way what it means to be whole.

That word also gives me pause – “whole”.

“Whole” because we are… broken?

And we are broken because some part of our body/mind functions in a way that is not mainstream?

Work with me here in exploring another way to look at it.

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If some part of our body/mind functions in a way that is not mainstream – but which mainstream will eventually  join, doesn’t that make us possibly… trend setters? And if we can think a myriad of alternative ways, find solutions to problems outside the box, well, isn’t that also called “innovative” and “cutting edge“?

Because let me tell you: we can go outside the box in ways that people without disabilities can only dream of.

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This is because when you have a disability – and I’ll generalize here because it’s safe to say any disability – you are often forced to think outside the box.

To get what you need and want in a world that is usually not accessible, you have to think outside the box. But the framework that you are thinking out of in the first place is different from the mainstream framework. So what you are looking at is a collective group of people that have an astounding array of skills and talents that, unique to begin with, have been honed by trying to adapt and relate TO THE BOX.

Does that make sense? 

Okay, back to the question: Are People with Disabilities Contributing Members of Society? How about we  just take a step back and look at some of the contributing members of society who had/have a disability:

  • Albert Einstein
  • John Milton
  • Halle Berry
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Tom Cruise
  • Walt Disney
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Lucille Ball
  • Michael J Fox
  • Cher
  • Chris Burke
  • Woody Harrelson
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Dennis Rodman
  • James Earl Jones
  • John Hockenberry
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Jay Leno
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Mary Tyler Moore
  • Jamie Oliver
  • Richard Pryor
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Ray Charles
  • Bruce Jenner
  • Arthur Ashe
  • Alice Cooper
  • Jewel
  • Brian Wilson
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Terry Bradshaw
  • Clay Walker
  • Christy Brown
  • Hans Christian Anderson
  • Agatha Christie
  • Charles Dickens
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • HG Wells
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt

These were/are people that thought outside the box.

Trendsetting mavericks. People that lived their lives not as an inspiration to YOU because they were/are broken or not “whole”, but rather people that simply lived their lives doing what they wanted to do.

Which is exactly what we all need to do.

With or without disability.

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Yesterday’s post, Are People With Disabilities Contributing Members of Society?” Let’s Talk: Part One

…and more food for thought: Disability and the Individual Achiever, from Feminist Philosphers

Meriah
Meriah Nichols is teacher and artist who lives in a yurt off the grid. She is deaf, has 3 kids (one with Down syndrome) and a lot of chickens. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done. She likes her tea Earl Grey and hot.
Meriah

@meriahnichols

#deaf mom, teacher & #disability activist, living in a yurt #offthegrid. 3 kids (1 with #downsyndrome), a camera and a lot of chickens. Never a dull moment
A comprehensive collection of resources for new parents of children with Down syndrome - https://t.co/WfzGfpmWm6 - 2 days ago
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9 Comments

  • Greetings!

    A friend who has worked as a caretaker in a residential group home for more than a decade put it well, some years ago: Stacy..They’re people. People with disabilities can be nice and they can be assholes. Just like everyone else. A disability doesn’t make you a loving angel. It makes you human. Like everyone else.

    I agree with the post..but would like to add one more person (and one of my personal favorites)to your brilliant people with disabilities: Nikolai Tesla is believed to have had severe autism. Much of what we have today in out daily lives is because of his inventions, patents and work.

    Speaking of…keep up the good work, yourself!

    Cheers~

  • I am enjoying this series, Meriah. I am on the Board of Directors for a big, non-profit service provider, and one of my main goals is to tear apart how they talk about (and raise funds for)disability. Your posts would be a nice addition to our conversation, I think.

  • “Do the disabled contribute to society?”

    You’re asking the wrong question. Human worth does not derive from social contribution.

    Try this question:

    Are we all imperfect creatures created in God’s image, fallen but with inherent worth simply because we’re human, regardless of how well our bodies function?

    Yes.

    • I’m with this perspective without the god part. In other words we all have “intrinsic” value even the assholes who aren’t ” disabled “. Now I’m actually wondering if assholes are contributing members? ( just tongue in cheek).
      Who says anyone has to contribute to be in the “club”? This is an able-ist position.

  • “I hate to break it to all the well meaning types out there, but people with disabilities – any of us, all of us – are not here to help anyone else be all that YOU can be.

    “We are here to be all that WE can be. Us. Ourselves.
    “WE ARE HERE TO LIVE OUR OWN LIVES!

    “And our lives have worth above and beyond the passive contributing virtue of making you or anyone else feel better about yourself because we remind you to be thankful for the many blessing that you have..or that we show you in a profound way what it means to be whole.”

    Preach it! You are AWESOME, Meriah.

    It’s always rubbed me the wrong way, this insinuation that Finn was “given” to us for a “purpose.” No, he wasn’t. He was born because I got pregnant. His life is about him finding his own purpose, not to give my life purpose.

    Thank you for this.

  • Hi Meriah — I agree that people with disabilities have a unique perspective that can result in adaptations that are beneficial for everyone.

    But I think we run into trouble when we defined contribution by economic production, artistic, political, athletic and academic success.

    My son is not going to be the next Stevie Wonder or Charles Dickens.

    Most of the people you’ve listed have achieved success by conventional measures. They have talents for which they are highly paid. I number of them have isolated learning disabilities that can be compensated for in a way that is impossible for people with multiple disabilities.

    The only person with intellectual disability I see is Chris Burke. Is being a TV actor the only way a person with intellectual disability can contribute?

    I want to know why it is that my son’s presence is so valuable to me and brings so much to my life and yes, who has changed me as a person because of his differences and how that could be translated so that someone who doesn’t have exposure to disability could understand that.

    Right now our only measure of contribution appears to be the ability to make money and purchase goods (this is how rich donovan describes the power of the diability market –as potential talent to employers or consumers)

    I would be much more interested in reading a list of unknown people who have really challenging disabilities but who have found a way to have a meaningful life where they feel they’re contributing.

    The people you’ve listed above are super achievers and celebrities, whether they have a disability or not. I don’t see them as a model for my son with significant disability or for my other typical children.

    I hope there will be a part three where you look more closely at the way we define contribution. Maybe the word contribution is the problem itself. As always, thanks for making me think!

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