23 responses to “I’m not here for your inspiration”

  1. Sarah

    Great post. I saw the NBC coverage (in the U.S.) of the Bilodeau brothers and was disgusted by it–no doubt it scored well on this bingo card.

    I understand your point about family members, but I do think that sometimes family members say stuff that just plays into this kind of narrative. I heard Alex Bilodeau talk about how “inspiring” his brother is to him, how every time he wanted to give up in ski practice he thought of his brother, yada yada. I find that problematic, no matter how well-intentioned. Of course a lot of this is just family members utilizing the stock narratives they’ve been told about disability, because this shit just gets to be so ingrained. But many able-bodied family members need to examine their attitudes about disabled family members.

  2. facetofcathy

    Is this the same piece?


    I noticed his stuff is hidden over on CTVs site.

  3. Iris

    Thank you for posting this. I just recently subscribed to your blog and find it so inspiiiiiiiiiiiiiiring—just kidding. I do love it, though. Those articles always bothered me, but I never really could articulate why. Thank you for helping me to understand through your perspective.

  4. aproustian

    I had a very similar reaction to this story when I saw the tv version during the Olympics.

    Another bad example was the interview NBC did with a snowboarder’s family; a while ago this snowboarder had an accident and became disabled. During the interview the brother mentions that the snowboarder’s response to hearing they were doing the interview was, “why isn’t he asking me questions?”. Good point, snowboarder! But everyone had just laughed at that comment, like, why would anyone want to talk to the person the story was about? (maybe because the story was really about the brave family?!)

  5. hsofia

    Great; I am sharing this bingo card with people. I also know a lot of parents of small children with disabilities, and I will be sending this to them. Many of them have been or will be interviewed by the media during fundraising efforts.

  6. KJ

    I hate this meme. What is worse is I work at an agency that serves adults with developmental disabilities and I could fill out one of those bingo cards at every single staff meeting. And my agency is one of the better ones in the area.

  7. zingerella

    I actually sent the link to that article to myself, because it was chock-full of problematic language, and I was inspired to use it for my class on language of exclusion/language of inclusion.

    IIRC (I can’t get at the article here), Ian Brown also called Fréderéic “broken” or some such.

    (Some of his language about Béatrice, the Bilodeau sister, was also obnoxiously patronizing—I’m paraphrasing here but she was apparently beside herself as only a sixteen-year-old girl can be beside herself.)

    You know, it makes perfect sense for Alex to be inspired by his brother, and for Frédéric to be inspired by his brother. They both sound like remarkable people, and they’re family—they have a relationship that is about far more than Alex’s skiiing or Frédéric’s cerebral palsy, or a shopworn narrative that makes people feel better about people with disabilities.

    I’m really grateful that you and the rest of the FWD/Forward crew are shining a spotlight on other stories.

  8. Sweet Machine

    My brother was in the Special Olympics when we were kids, and I was inspired… because he could run really fucking fast. Inspiring!

    I totally get wanting to share something with a loved one, and particularly if you’re in a place that most people in the world don’t ever get to be (the Olympic podium), I can imagine the impulse to share that with a specific loved one might be stronger if that person is routinely subjected to discrimination/oppression. But that is definitively not the same as the “omg PWD are magical inspiration angels” concept that is beautifully outlined in this post and the bingo card.

  9. Sweet Machine

    Argh, I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be. When I wrote “I can imagine the impulse to share that with a specific loved one might be stronger if that person is routinely subjected to discrimination/oppression,” I meant in an “Eat it, world!” sort of way, not a “let me raise you up where you cannot possibly hope to be” sort of way.

  10. dar

    Ian Brown writes about disability in that way all the time. His son has a genetic disorder, and he wrote a whole series of articles and a book full of that sort of language. He calls his son “the boy in the moon”.

    Here is the link to the articles – http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/boyinthemoon/
    Warning – the language even on the first page is quite offensive, talking about how the son is a disruptive presence for the writer and his family, as if the son is not a part of the family. The article could fill up a dozen bingo cards.

    I’m not saying the writer is a bad guy. (A friend who has worked with him and says he’s a friendly, helpful and decent individual.) But boy does he have some outdated attitudes about disability.

    It seems impossible for reporters and writers to see people with disabilities as people. I am at a loss as to how to teach them.

    Actually, I don’t want to teach them. I want them to LEARN.

  11. JoSelle

    Here in Salt Lake, we had a story like this on the news the other day, and I cringed the entire time. I really really fucking hate this inspirational bullshit.

    I also find it interesting how much these “inspirational” pieces say about the kinds of disabilities (dis)ableist society finds acceptable and unacceptable. For example: I have never seen such a story where the inspirational person had bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, generalized anxiety disorder or borderline personality disorder that they “overcame” to win a gold medal, drive a race car, travel the world or complete college. I suspect this is because (dis)ableism casts people with mental illnesses as violent and dangerous, incurable or just big, lazy fakers. Or, perhaps, that we’re just not seen as having any real barriers to just doing whatever we want because our disabilities don’t involve wheelchairs, canes or service animals and are not generally visible (after all, when I’m too depressed to brush my teeth or take a shower that’s just me being lazy and childish, that’s not me having a physical fucking symptom!)

    On the other hand, I’m kind of glad

  12. Haddayr

    Recently at a staff party someone started going on about the many “inspiring” stories about the Olympians. I braced myself, because this particular story had me screaming at the screen (and yes, rather pleased to get a bingo right out of the gate on my brand-new card).

    Sure enough, one of them said: “His brother had . . . I don’t know. Something?”

    And I just turned my back on them and walked away; I did not feel like being an unpaid disability ambassador that day.

    Well, I stumbled away because I’d tucked my crutches into a booth, but you get the idea.

  13. Kaitlyn

    Those of you who remember, or know where to look to find out – when did this nonsense start? (Related to sports, but hey when did we become inspiring tools? I mostly annoy my sister, not inspire her. No Olympics for us.)

    The “Miracle on Ice” in 1980 was brought up (because we’re at war with Canada now?) and that got me wondering. Back when the channels turned off with the national anthem, did they run inspiring stories like this, or just stories about the athletes? (“She’d never seen snow or ice before college and now she has 5 gold medals!”)

    Stephen Colbert’s (Van)co(u)verage was pretty clear of inspiring BS. That and the Americans skating to Bollywood is the only reason I noticed.

  14. Shiyiya

    WOEFUL AFFLICTIONS. That is an awesome book title. I want to read that just for the title. (The content also sounds interesting, but WOEFUL AFFLICTIONS.)

  15. Tessa

    Hi Anna:

    I don’t have a disability and I found that whole Alexandre Bilodeau story offensive. He shared his triumph with a beloved brother. End of story. I couldn’t understand why it was all so inspiiiiring, as you put it. I’m glad to know I wasn’t alone in my reaction.

  16. blue milk

    I have been coming to understand a lot more about able-ism over the last 6 months (hopefully) but it is posts like this that really cement the ideas for me. Get it, get it, get it. Thank you.

  17. Shona Allison

    Alexandre is “inspired” by his brother because, as he has said in several interviews, his brother has never listened to the cynicism and skepticism that has been prevalent throughout his life. Doctor’s told Frederick he would not walk after the age of 10, instead of giving in to that judgment, Frederick surpassed simple walking and was skiing well into his adulthood. Not only the heroic capacity to overcome such adversity, but the simple character assessment of stoicism that Alexandre attributes to his brother, is why he is an inspiration. Not to make Alexandre “grateful that he’s not a cripple.” Which is what it seems like you are insinuating in this post. It is a tragedy and I’m sure a reminder of the need for gratitude that Frederick is now finally succumbing to a more severe stage of C.P. but that is not what about him that “inspired” (and these are Alexandre’s word’s not the media’s) his Mogul champion brother.

  18. Iris

    I found an article today about a blind man who wrote a knitting book for beginners, because he had a hard time learning to knit himself. Here it is:

    As I was reading it, I was thinking about this blog post. I really liked the article and felt it was written in a good way, focusing on the person and not on his disability. I was wondering if you could share your perspective on how the article is written?

  19. Iris

    Thanks for your reply! I felt the same way, that it’s a basic human interest story, I mean.

    I’ll admit, I am a temporarily-able-bodied person who is just beginning to learn about ablism, and in my privilege I never noticed before about these cliched stories. I really wanted to thank you for teaching me with this post, and, not to be cheesy =), but this is a lesson that has really changed my perspective for life.