Inspiration- A Third Person Concept?

Over the past six plus years I delved deeper into a word which can stir controversy amongst the disability community, “inspiration.” Prior to the past six years I probably like most people did not give much thought to the concept. I found wrestler Tommy Dreamer inspirational for his loyalty to Extreme Championship Wrestling. Additionally I found Cleveland Indians pitcher Charles Nagy inspirational for fighting his way back to the Majors after bone chips in his pitching arm’s elbow sidelined him during the 2000 season.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

What started the deeper exploration six years ago? My college professor Sister Karita telling me “Zach, you are an inspiration to anyone who has to overcome adversity.” I never considered myself an inspiration before. No, I just do what I need to do to get through each day.

However Sister Karita’s comment weighed on me. In fact they helped me decide to pen my teen memoir Off Balanced. If Sister Karita could find inspiration from my story, maybe others could too.

A few years later I published Off Balanced (buy for your Kindle or Nook) and yes, inspiration remained among the words readers used to describe the book. Interestingly enough publishing Off Balanced led me to write more about disabilities. Doing so introduced me to individuals in the disability community who rejected the praise “You’re an inspiration.”

Seems funny, right? There exist so many more worst descriptive words to object. Yet a closer look reveals valid points. Foremost, what criteria led the speaking party to utilize the I-word? If the reason entails simply living with a disability that will typically sit wrong with the “inspirational” person.

Why so? Consider the implications. Alternatives to inspiring by just living mean sulking over limitations or taking drastic life-ending action. Should the metaphorical bar for achievement in the disability community stand at smiling and possessing a will to live? I say no.

Honestly I felt hesitant typing “disability community” in the above paragraph because this topic transcends the disability community to multiple demographics. The catalyst for today’s post provides evidence, a conversation with my recently departed Aunt Ellen. My aunt died indirectly from cancer last month. I share her story in the video below.

Back in January when I went to Arizona to visit Aunt Ellen we ended up enjoying a conversation about inspiration. Said conversation went something like this.

Me: I think you’re inspirational.

Aunt Ellen: My friend said the same thing but I don’t get why.

Me: To me it’s because you are not letting the cancer and grim prognosis change your personality.

Aunt Ellen: I’m just doing what I can.

During the conversation Aunt Ellen also told me she considers me an inspiration to which I replied similarly “I just do what I need to do.” Reflecting back 10 months later I see a theme. Inspiration remains a third person concept. We see inspirations in others but we do not in ourselves.

Do you agree? Sound off in the comments section below!

P.S. If enjoyed today’s post, you may also like my video “Calling Someone with a Disability ‘Inspirational.'”


Disability and Asking for Help

A subject reoccurred last weekend spent at my alma mater Notre Dame College (NDC) for their Homecoming & Alumni Reunion weekend, asking for help. Friday evening the topic arose while talking to a face from the past. Saturday during tailgating and at the homecoming football game asking for help surfaced through actions.

On Friday I saw Mrs. Clemson, who happened to teach my graphic arts and fiber design classes back in high school. Turns out Mrs. Clemson graduated NDC in 1970. While talking to her I mentioned a specific part from my memoir Off Balanced (buy for your Kindle or Nook) about a time in high school I faced a physical challenge, three step without a rail. Rather than ask a nearby classmate for help I struggled down these steps on my own. Why? I felt too embarrassed to ask for assistance.

HelpMoving forward to Saturday walking over from the tailgate area to the football field I asked my friend to carry my drink since we needed to go across a grassy area. No big deal. I’m so use to asking friends for a helping hand the task remains second nature, a second nature I still appreciate very much and I try not to take for granted.

Anyways the real interesting asking for help came later on. I stayed outside to eat my hamburger and finish my drink. However, my friend went ahead and found seats. After I finished eating and drinking I headed inside Mueller Field. To sit next to my friend I asked four current female college students if I could get past them on the bleachers. They stood up to let me through.

Tentatively I made my way across, but I found the space still too tight to maneuver around comfortably. So without much thinking I asked “Do you mind if I use your hand?” Basically I asked strangers “Could I hold your hands?,” totally a premise to power an awkward moment. Yet I didn’t even think about the potential awkwardness until after I sat down and settled in. Emphasize potential since the girls obliged without a problem.

No I didn’t think about the potential awkwardness because I remained focused on what I needed. Really the situation speaks to a sentiment I blogged about for Handicap This Productions earlier in the year, eliminating “embarrassment” from your vocabulary. One thought I shared in said post echoes today’s point very well.

“Why is the question embarrassing? I need help and I’m mature enough to realize that.”

The same principal applies to awkwardness. Bottom line and the lesson I learned over the past 10 years, do not allow your needs to make you feel embarrassed or awkward. Ask for help if you need help and do so proudly.

*Above image courtesy of Simon Howden at

Disability Portrayal in Guardians of the Galaxy

Groot and Rocket Guardians of the Galaxy Poster

Guardians of the Galaxy promotional poster featuring Groot and Rocket. Photo:

This past week I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, with absolutely no expectation the movie might give me a subject to blog about. Yet talking to a friend afterwards I wound up drawing a parallel between individuals nonverbal or low verbal due to a disability and the character Groot. While I’ll refrain from any major movie spoilers, beware the following will contain minor ones.

Groot’s vocabulary remains limited to one phrase, “I am Groot.” Certainly this qualifies him as low verbal. Due to Groot’s lacking vocabulary, his companions often call him words like “stupid” and “idiot.” Basically they assume ignorance, an assumption commonly made in society towards low verbal and nonverbal people.

However all movie Groot comprehends the events going on around him. His actions prove that. Minus one scene where Groot acts impulsively, he makes no choices demonstrating poor intelligence. Actually even his impulsive act does not portray poor intelligence, just little patience.

Groot’s closest companion Rocket naturally treats him the fairest. Unlike the others Rocket turns to nonverbal communication cues, mainly tone of voice, to define the meaning behind each “I am Groot.” In a way Rocket and Groot’s relationship holds similarities to someone nonverbal or low verbal and those close to the person.

Probably to anyone besides a disability advocate, Groot comes across as comic relief. Personally though I believe the character provides much more. Please consider this post a challenge. I challenge you to go beyond the basics when watching Guardians of the Galaxy. Compare Groot to nonverbal or low verbal individuals. Allow the comparison to identify the unfairness to assuming ignorance, and remember that next time you feel tempted to assume ignorance.

Guest Post: Keeping Up with Medical Safety Alerts

After reading Kathleen Statham’s memoir Warrior Woman (my review here) and witnessing my aunt’s continual battle with leukemia I recognize the impact a patient makes in his or her medical case. With that said I want to introduce a special guest post from Mario Trucillo. Mario gives insights on one way you can stay informed about medical safety as a patient.

If you find it difficult to keep up with every aspect of your personal health, including information about medication and medical devices, you aren’t alone. Millions take prescription drugs on a regular basis. Others have found new opportunities to remain active through artificial joints and other prosthetics. With the large number of people now seeking medical attention and the great strides being taken in medical science today, many medical professionals don’t have the time to provide proper one-on-one consultation with individual patients.

prescription drugs

Become more knowledgeable about your prescriptions at Photo: Bmramon at en.wikipedia

If you’ve struggled to understand your medical options or have questions about drug interactions, dietary restrictions, and/or treatment options, you need a place where you can turn for accurate, personalized information. The American Recall Center is here to help. Their website provides up-to-the-minute information on a full range of medical treatments and medications from hip replacement to dangerous drugs. Patients can access this information before an appointment in order to prepare. You can also use the website to acquire supplemental information following appointments or between checkups.

The American Recall Center focuses on empowering patients. They provide easy-to-understand information about prescriptions, medical procedures, and other medical treatments. Their website steers clear of medical jargon and carefully defines terminology in order to help patients comprehend each concept and medical warning. With plain language explanations of medical procedures, you can be full armed with facts at all times.

In order to best arm patients with important medical facts, the American Recall Center provides exclusive Patient Safety Alerts. These personalized messages help keep registered patients informed whenever an FDA message affecting them is released.

To take advantage of Patient Safety Alerts, simply go to the online database listing drugs and medical devices. Select those that affect you. Once this is done, you will receive an email alert anytime the FDA issues a safety update concerning the products you have selected. As long as you keep your selections up-to-date, you’ll never have to worry about missing an important FDA update again.

Follow Friday on Twitter- October 2013

You may recall last month I decided to start a new monthly tradition on this blog. Every fourth Friday in the given month I will take Twitter’s #FF  to another level, sharing a few individuals in the cerebral palsy/disability community who prove worthwhile to follow.

Nicole Eredics (@Inclusive_Class)

Nicole Eredics hosts the weekly podcast The Inclusive Class, airing at 9:00am EST every Friday. Along with her co-host Terri Mauro (@mamatude) Nicole engages guests to develop insightful discussions about special education. By following @Inclusive_Class you will find the links to each podcast in your Twitter feed.

Disability in Sport (@DisinSport)

Disability in Sport and I connected on Twitter this week. Guess what they like to tweet about? 🙂 Through tweeting positive sports stories involving disabilities Disability in Sport sets an encouraging and uplifting presence, a presence we could all benefit from in our lives.

If You Have a Body (@ifyouhaveabody)

Like Disability in Sport and I, If You Have a Body and I connected on Twitter earlier in the week. Also like Disability in Sport, If You Have a Body spotlights sports. Specifically If You Have a Body shines their metaphorical light on athletes with disabilities. The basic premise standing if you have a body, you possess athletic potential.

Follow Friday On Twitter

If you belong on the social networking site Twitter, you most likely recognize the hash tag FF (follow Friday). A user tweets “#FF” and then Twitter handles for who he or she recommends you follow. In the writing realm a similar hash tag exists, WW (writer Wednesday). Back when I maintained a writing blog at my website I took #WW to the next level by every Wednesday picking two writers and explaining why others should follow them.

TwitterFrom this point forward I’ve decided here to use the fourth Friday every month to recommend a few Twitter users deserving the #FF treatment. Given the cerebral palsy theme my blog carries, I will stay within the disability community.

Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau)

Disability rights advocate Emily Ladau carries a conversational presence on Twitter. Just last night we enjoyed a brief chat about Michael J. Fox’s new television show, The Michael J. Fox Show. Beyond Twitter Emily exhibits her writing talents blogging at Words I Wheel By. I advise taking a look.

Anita Cameron (@adaptanita)

Anita Cameron does much retweeting, turning her Twitter profile into a comprehensive resource on disability related issues.  Ironically I usually don’t follow individuals who retweet more than posting original thoughts. However, like I said Anita retweets in a way that makes her profile a comprehensive resource on disability related issues.

Disability Horizons (@DHorizons)

Co-editors Martyn Sibley (@martynsibley) and Srin Madipalli (@srinmadipalli) run Disability Horizons. Under the Disability Horizons banner the two individuals admirably advocate for disabilities, efforts you can keep tabs on by following @DHorizons.

*Side note: Speaking of Disability Horizons, I invite you to read their Off Balanced book review written last year by Sarah Ismail (@samedifference1). 

TMR Interview Extras: Susan Goodman

On August 5th the interview I did with art therapist Susan Goodman went live at The Mobility Resource website, “Does Art Therapy Offer Healing Power?” Considering our phone interview came close to two hours in length, naturally certain insights from Goodman did not undergo publication. That changes today with this “TMR Interview Extras” Off Balanced blog post.

Word choice proved a talking point throughout our discussion, initially brought up when Goodman shared her thoughts on the term “disability.” “I don’t like the word ‘disability.’ I like to say ‘people who face challenges’ because that includes I’d say anyone. I think in life, we all face challenges.”

She continued, “A lot of them (individuals she works with) are in wheelchairs, have traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or have had strokes. Physically they’re more impaired, but I have my challenges too.” She gives an example “One of my big challenges is technological.”

Art Therapy

Veterans with PTSD created the above works in art therapy. Susan Goodman didn’t council these individuals.

A little later Goodman used the word “normal,” leading me to pronounce my dislike for that term. She recognized my exact reasoning saying “I didn’t want to use that word either. It’s funny because what is normal?”

Going a step further Goodman offered her definition. “Whatever normal is for that person or what is it that, that person needs to do for themselves? That would be what I define normal as.”

That dialogue developed from Goodman speaking about utilizing adaptive devices in art therapy. “I don’t use any adaptive devices because what I found with the guys I work with now (TBIs, developmental disabilities) is they want to be as normal as possible. They like to use the materials the way they use to be able to use the materials.”

What I found so profound regarding the aforementioned comments, deals with the desire to be normal. As I document in my teen memoir Off Balanced (available on the Kindle and Nook), I maintained the same desire growing up with cerebral palsy.

Now to Susan Goodman art therapy extends beyond commonalities amongst people within the disability community. Ultimately she learned a core life principal. “Art therapy taught me so much just about human spirit and the human being and how to treat people like human beings. See people for who they are and not based on a diagnosis. ” I think that merits repeating.

“See people for who they are and not based on a diagnosis.”