I used to think that being viewed as inspiring was not a bad thing, but I realized that being viewed as inspiring because of my hearing loss is not how I wanted to be viewed.
When I started writing my collection of short stories – Hearing Differently: Growing Up With a Cochlear Implant, I didn’t write that for anyone, I wrote that for myself – as a way of really reflecting on my hearing loss and the impact it had on my life.
When I started writing posts for my blog, and doing more advocacy work in the deaf and hard of hearing community, I was told that I became a sort of figure of inspiration – especially for those who did not have disabilities – because I am living the best life that I can with hearing loss.
I didn’t see anything wrong with being viewed as inspirational, or, as my blog readership expanded, anything wrong with why people might expect me to say something inspirational. That is, until I watched this video.
In this video, Stella Young is on stage in her wheelchair, and she mentions how often people will expect her to say something that will inspire them. She draws on an example of when she was a teacher and on the first day of classes, a student raised their hand and asked, “when are you doing your speech?” and she asked, “what speech?” and the kid responded with, “you know, like, your motivational speaking. You know, when people in wheelchairs come to school, they usually say, like, inspirational stuff?”
Stella then goes on to say, “The kid had only ever experienced disabled people as objects of inspiration.”
And in a glass shattering moment, I realized that so did I.
Once a year, while growing up, my school would celebrate Terry Fox day by going for a walk/run around the neighborhood.
This image was plastered everywhere, reminding people to be thankful for their able bodies and that there was no excuse for them to not be able to run, or do any sort of physical activity. However, Terry Fox is inspirational, not because he ran across Canada with one fully functioning leg, and a prosthetic (which is still very damn impressive) but because he wanted to play an integral part in raising money for cancer research – an illness that plagues countless people across the world.
I also remembered seeing inspirational photographs in my grade school classroom that used to border the wall above the blackboard. There was one picture that would crop up constantly in every classroom, of a child in a wheelchair and the quote, “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” (Stella also references these types of posters in her Ted Talk).
The more I thought about it, the more obvious it was. Any image that I used to see of someone with a disability was usually accompanied by some sort of inspiring quote. This was one of the main perspectives about disability that I was constantly exposed to in my childhood, and even now! This definitely did give me the impression that this was how I should be seen by others. When I first started drafting stories for my book, I gave it to my professor in university to read, and he said that he found my stories inspiring because I was facing everyday life with the challenge of hearing loss.
It was easy to get into this mindset that everything I had to do or write about had to be inspirational…but as I started to write more blogs, I realized that the message I try to bring across in my posts are not about “how to be inspiration” or “it’s inspiration that I, as an individual with hearing loss, did something…that everyone else does”. The message I wanted to bring across was that hearing loss can be difficult at times, but we can help teach others how to change our environment so that it’s not as difficult.
After watching that video, it really struck me that I didn’t want people to look at me as someone that is inspirational because of my hearing loss. If I’m going to inspire anyone, I want it to be because I did something that was worth talking about – regardless of my hearing loss.