I wanna scream and shout and let it all out
And scream and shout and let it out
– Britney & will.i.am
I recently watched two TED talks delivered by impaired women (Maysoon Zayid and Lizzie Velasquez), and they both emphatically stated that they were raised normally. It got me thinking as to how I would present myself if I ever gave a TED talk because I wasn’t raised normally. I was raised as though I were special and I was placed in a disability bubble. I was a very spoiled child and sheltered to the point that it was detrimental to my emotional maturity and social awareness. It wasn’t until I was made aware of my social problems that I decided to change them and I became more mature. I am certain that if my doctor and sister had not criticized me over my social immaturity that I would still be socially immature and unaware of it because of the excuses people were (and still are) willing to make for me. If I gave a TED talk, I would emphatically state that I was raised with the belief that I was both exceptional and excusable, and that I work to change it as much as I work to change my physical self.
I have learned a lot from watching the TED talks Aimee Mullins has given. She talks about how she doesn’t like that people think (and write) that ‘in spite of having a disability’ she is able to do the things she does. She has stated that it’s ‘because of’ being a double amputee that she has achieved incredible things and had amazingly defining and wonderful experiences. She also stressed that she did not like the idea of overcoming adversity because adversity is part of life and part of who we are, and she did not like the idea that ‘overcoming adversity’ implies that a person emerges from the adversity unscathed and unmarked by the experience. She said something that resonated with me and gave me some perspective. ‘Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our [lives]. It’s part of our [lives]. I tend to think of it like my shadow. Sometimes I see a lot of it, sometimes there’s very little, but it’s always with me.’ This is something that I have accepted about my disability in the last year: even if I completely overcome my cerebral palsy, I will still encounter adversity and it will still be a part of my life until I die. This is true of everyone.
If I were to give a TED talk, I would not want to be considered a disability inspiration or a motivational speaker. I would talk about how I defy disability stereotypes and how I’m not what people expect a disabled person to be. I’ve been told that I’m interesting not because I am overcoming my disability, but because people make assumptions about me based on my disability that I then subvert and disprove (without trying and without even knowing what assumptions have been made).
My chiropractor didn’t believe he could help me when he first met me. A psychic didn’t believe I had a graduate degree when I had a physical disability. A former coworker of mine didn’t believe I was capable of the physical work that that particular job required (but I was). Many people I have met don’t believe that I can overcome my disability, but I am working through it. The team that cared for me when I was born prematurely didn’t even think I would live after I suffered the brain trauma I did. I have done more with my life than anyone – including myself – ever believed I would or I could. I have not accomplished or achieved what I have ‘in spite of’ or ‘despite’ having cerebral palsy. I think I would have still done what I have if I didn’t have it. I have always been a very determined person.
I am not motivational. I am not inspirational. I am stereotype-defying.