I've watched this TED Talk approximately thirty times now. I've sent it to friends and family. I've stayed up all night feeling angry, sad, enlightened and speechless. Now that I've finally digested the information that Stella Young threw into the world, I'd like to give my perspective from an able-bodied person who has experience working with people and children with disabilities.
Yes, you are my inspiration, thank you very much.
However, you are not my inspiration because you get out of bed in the morning and know your own name. You are not my inspiration because you do all of the "normal" things that an able-bodied person can do. You are my inspiration because you do these things regardless of society's expectations of you.
Stella Young is a supporter of the Social Model of Disability, which states that "the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which takes little or no account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities."
A simple way to conceptualize this theory is that society is the disabling factor for someone with a handicap. For example, if a person in a wheelchair is attempting to enter a building with stairs, the Social Model would say that the lack of a ramp is disabling them, not the handicap itself. For someone who supports this model, I would expect Stella Young to understand what aspect of her disability makes her inspiring, at least to me.
It is no secret that words hurt. It is so easy to let the belittling words that are said to us affect the way we view ourselves. Being told "you can't" over and over again until we are convinced that we really can't prevents us as people-- disabled or not-- from reaching our full potential. That being said, I know for a fact that this discrimination is significantly worse for people with disabilities, because I'm not afraid to talk to them about it.
I've witnessed a girl who would never walk play basketball, run races, and win push up contests. I've seen a boy who cannot physically talk express his emotions in the most unconventional yet beautiful ways. I have watched so many people overcome their disabilities and defy the expectations of society. That is inspirational.
Stella degrades the quote "The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
Yes, no amount of smiling at the stairs is going to change it into a ramp. No amount of positive thoughts is going to magically get rid of a handicap. I, on the other hand, interpret this very differently. She's right; a positive attitude is not going to solve all problems, but it is going to help overpower the limitations of society's low expectations. Wasting time angry at a disability is going to do nothing but hold someone back from reaching their fullest potential. An "I can do it" attitude will prove everyone wrong.
That, to me, is the most inspirational aspect of someone with a disability. I have two functioning legs. I have a sharp mind. What I don't have is the ability to ignore the restrictions that society puts on me. I have been told I'm not good enough, and I believed it. I have been told I can't do something, and I listened. I have let people stomp over me and make me feel like I'm nothing. I have also seen someone tell one of my absolute best friends who has a handicap that she can't and then saw her say, "Watch me." That's inspirational.
If Stella Young wants society to view disability as normal, it's never going to happen. There is a reason for the Special Olympics, there is a reason for special education classrooms and there is a reason that accommodations are needed in our society. Although, however different a disability makes someone, it does not mean they are not equal. Different does not mean less. Disabled does not mean unable; it just means that they have a different way of doing things, and that way is not wrong.
Most little girls grow up looking up to famous actresses, superstars or famous singers, but not me. My biggest inspiration for as long as I can remember has been Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who committed her life to advocating for people with disabilities and discovering more humane treatment for animals in society. I cannot tell you how many times I watched her documentary, or read her articles, or considered wearing a bolo tie in the hopes of becoming more like her.
In comparison to Stella Young, I believe that Temple Grandin embraced how different her disability made her and used it to its advantage in her line of work. Instead of Stella Young's tactic of emphasizing the things she does that don't make her exceptional, I believe she should model as inspiration for those like her, with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, who are told they can't even do these "unexceptional" things.
Temple Grandin once said "There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what they cannot do." This exact quote is how someone with a disability can and should inspire others: take the things society tells them they are unable to and show them that they can. Exceptional or not, that's what the able-bodied and disabled community needs.