The other day my Facebook friend Hamid Ala shared the following article with me, How to Evaluate Disabled Characters in Pop Culture, for Non-disabled Viewers. I really found the piece an insightful read. Specifically the question regarding whether characters play into disability tropes or not intrigued me. The following words in particular left a lasting impression and triggered further thought.
“Analysis of disability tropes can fill up pages and pages and pages, and the Internet has a lot of discussions of common ones; off the top of my head, I’d say the common ones to watch out for in pop culture are disability as inspiration…”
Now I encountered a little mental tug of war about disability as inspiration while writing Off Balanced. Honestly, I started to second guess whether my story proved worthwhile enough to share. I mean I only have a mild case of cerebral palsy and compared to others my life appears mundane. How might I hold up to John W. Quinn who overcame cerebral palsy and enjoyed a 20-year naval career or Dr. Darrell Pone who became a M.D. despite his CP?
I wondered to myself, am I whoring out my disability by writing a book intended to inspire? Growing up I didn’t look at myself as an inspiration. At 14 years old when I needed to learn to walk again, thanks to my right leg suffering temporary paralysis, I didn’t view the endeavor as an inspirational one. Nah, that was just life. What else could I do? Sitting around in a wheelchair and sulking in my misfortune didn’t appeal to me.
Like I mention in multiple media interviews, I failed to associate the term “inspiration” with my personal life journey until a college professor told me my senior year, “Zach, you are an inspiration to anyone who has to overcome obstacles in life.” This memory motivated me to silence my hesitations and keep writing Off Balanced, a good decision based off the book’s feedback.
Still, getting referred to as an inspiration feels a little odd. I know others in the disability community agree. Perhaps Mike Berkson, lead actor in the stage show Handicap This, puts everything into perspective best. Recently I interviewed Berkson along with fellow Handicap This lead Tim Wambach for The Mobility Resource (article currently a work in progress). When asked if the two consider themselves inspirations, Berkson stated “I look at it more as we give them (others) the tools to inspire growth.”
What do you think? Sound off by leaving a comment below! Don’t be shy. 🙂