Alice Wong and Reclaiming “Inspiration”

Yesterday, NBC News profiled Alice Wong and the Disability Visibility Project. Go read it!

I am genuinely inspired by Alice Wong. With neither budget nor celebrity, she’s created an vibrant, accessible, community of people with disabilities, family members, and allies. She’s told stories and made it possible for others to tell their stories. She works constantly to promote disability issues both within the community – building networks – and for the broader public via her writing and Twitter. Most recently, she’s collaborated with Gregg Beratan and Andrew Pulrang to create Crip The Vote, which I believe has had a discernable impact on the 2016 presidential election.

Wong inspires me to work hard, to center the voices of disabled individuals and to make sure that those voices are as diverse as possible – both in terms of their diagnoses and their other markers of identity.

I write this because “inspiration,” as you likely know, has a bad reputation in the disability community (my pieces on inspiration porn here, here, and here, with links to the many other wonderful writers within those). So often, both the professional media and social media promote that idea that to be disabled and merely to exist is inspirational, that to serve disabled individuals with or without consent is inspirational. It’s demeaning. It’s dehumanizing. As a community, we’ve come to reject that whole notion of inspiration.

But true inspiration – when one is inspired by the actions of others to work harder, to be better – is a beautiful thing. A year ago, I interviewed the legendary Judy Heumann, one of the earliest high profile activists in the history of the modern disability rights movement, and she talked about having been inspired by Ed Roberts, another legend. Then she walked back the term “inspirational” a little, and I thought – it’s ok to be inspired by Ed Roberts! Or Judy Heumann! Or Alice Wong! The key is to make sure it’s not pornographic, it’s not about looking at their lives and using it as a way to feel good/bad, but as a model to guide your own work.

We need inspiration. Alice Wong – I am inspired by you, so I’m gonna finish this blog post and get back to work.

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