The gift of disability

I think one of the “steps” to coming to terms with your disability is inevitably to dwell on what you’ve lost. The future we had envisioned for ourselves. The experiences. Maybe even relationships.

I’m pretty sure this is true across the board from the deeply faithful to the clinically optimistic—these are the people who are the stuff of inspirational tales that are constantly shared. And then there are the people that go beyond inspiring…

Ali StokerI remember Ali Stroker speaking at the Abilities Expo this year. She was introducing her wheelchair dance team, Team Hotwheelz, and she said something kind of shocking: she is grateful for her disability because of the opportunities it has opened to her, one of which is getting the chance to inspire other people like her.

To me, Ali is beyond inspiring. Let me explain. I came across this video a while ago titled “Shit People Say to the Disabled”–it’s a parody of another video and all in good humor. Still, it covers a lot of what some other people with disabilities have said about their experiences with able bodied people that they’ve just met or don’t know at all. For example, (shown at 0:51) people tell him that he’s an inspiration. I’ve heard some people say this bothers them because they are just living their lives with the hand they were dealt, just like everyone else. Sometimes “You’re an inspiration” (perhaps followed by “I could never do what you do”) has an implied negative or pity for the person they are complimenting. Ali’s speech, however, was so empowering! It went beyond inspirational, past any negativity, and straight to motivational.

I think what it comes down to is that “inspirational” is often used to describe people who survive their misfortunes. “Motivational” is a person that achieves and thrives at a level that is impressive regardless of their abilities. You can’t feel sorry for the person who motivates you, if anything they should feel sorry for you for needing them. Ali is one of those people for me because she showed me that some good can come from your disability. And when you stop to think about it, it is so true. Whether it made you more courageous, more compassionate, more tough, feel special, opened a door…

I got a little off topic, but what I was hoping to demonstrate is how Ali saw her disability as, in short, a gift. And as remarkable as she is, she is not alone in this sentiment. What is really cool is that another site took the time to seek out the testimonies of disabled travelers and see how they felt they enjoyed their travels more than their able bodied peers (check it out for yourself here, it’s a great read!). This was my favorite story:

On a safari trip in Zambia a few years ago the rest of the passengers were miserable because we hadn’t seen any lions or cheetahs. For me however, the sensation of heat, isolation, quietude and hearing just the hiss of the cicadas and the groan of the insects was enough to leave me feeling absolutely blissful — a state of mind I don’t think any of my fellow travelers had, as they were so preoccupied with what they could or couldn’t see rather than the other sensual elements that make the African bush so special. –Tom Hart (blind traveler)

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