I think sometimes people with disabilities get caught between a rock and a hard place regarding pride and inspiration porn.
When people without disabilities choose to do hard things, they usually feel proud of accomplishing them. And they usually have people in their lives who notice the hard things, and who respect them for doing them. Doing hard things is something that people generally respect.
People with disabilities are often totally excluded from that kind of respect, when the thing that’s hard is hard for reasons related to disability.
Sometimes the difficulty of being disabled is acknowledged, or at least referred to, but in a way that’s utterly devoid of respect. That can take the form of condescending and degrading praise, eg:
- “Wow, you are a person with a disability in public! You’re not even in your house! You are doing a thing! That is so inspiring!”, or:
- “Hello, fellow parents at the conference. This is my son. I never gave up on him, so he’s going to play the guitar badly for us. See what our special kids can accomplish if we believe in them?!”, or:
- “Wow, you sure are good at driving that wheelchair that you have been using every day for the past ten years.“
- “Wow, really, you’re autistic? I never would have known! I don’t see you that way at all. You even talk to people and everything.”
And then there’s the other side, where everyone just completely ignores difficult things that people with disabilities accomplish when the difficulty was disability-related, eg:
- Learning, through considerable focused effort, to speak in a way that others can understand (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of their communication skills)
- Preferring to walk and putting in a lot of effort to retain the ability (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of their ability to run)
- Bearing hate and breaking into a profession that’s hostile to people with disabilities
- Learning to read even though it’s cognitively difficult (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of learning to understand something difficult)
- Learning how to recognize facial expressions
- Figuring out a way to do calligraphy even though your motor skills are awful (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of mastering a difficult artistic skill)
- Explaining your reality to someone who you need to understand it
When people don’t acknowledge this kind of thing, it’s degrading in a different way:
- Doing things that are easy for most people can, genuinely, be a major accomplishment for us
- Our struggles aren’t acknowledged very much, and almost never in respectful terms
- And our disability-related accomplishments aren’t often celebrated, except when they’re being used as a way to shame nondisabled people into being less lazy or something
- Having the difficult things we do go completely unacknowledged is also degrading
- Disability-related accomplishments matter just as much as accomplishments not related to disability
Or, in short, these things are very different:
- Being exhibited by someone else as you play the guitar badly, while that person implies the the audience that this is the height of what you will ever accomplish
- Having messed up hands, deciding to try to learn to play guitar anyway, getting to the point where you can coordinate well enough to play a few songs badly, and being proud that you’ve come so far
It’s ok to be proud of doing things that are hard for you, even if they’re easy for most people. It’s not a failure of acceptance. It’s not the same as pushing yourself to be normal at all costs. Your accomplishments deserve respect.