It’s a subject I have thought about often. A few months ago, I even wrote a blog post about the whole thing. To say I am not a fan of the word “inspirational” as it relates to people with disabilities is like saying a glacier is a small piece of ice. So, for the most part, I have taken the word out of my vocabulary. People are not inspirational simply because of their disabilities. The fact that I work a job that I enjoy or can make myself a sandwich is not inspirational. I simply live the life I was given to the best of my ability.
When people call me “inspirational” for something specific I have done, on the other hand, I consider it a compliment. When Brandon and I perform a wheelchair ballroom dance routine and people are emotionally moved in the process, we have done what we set out to do. When someone compliments me on a piece of my writing that they read, I feel good. The difference is that I know how much practice has gone into our dance routines and I know how many rewrites I go through to communicate exactly what I want to say. The dancing and writing I do are things that make me uniquely who I am, and if those things inspire people I think it is great.
It feels awkward when a stranger comes up to me and calls me inspirational because they see me out in public. They don’t know me and couldn’t possibly know if I am inspirational.
Taking the personal out of the equation, often I have been witness to people in public being inspired by someone simply because they have a disability. And that makes me uncomfortable. Because usually, it means that they have not taken the time to get to know the individual with the disability personally. And sometimes, calling someone inspirational has a vibe of pity around it.
Therefore, I was a bit apprehensive in the minute before I watched Mandy Harvey, who was a contestant on America’s Got Talent recently. The video was labeled “the deaf singer” and I held my breath. Then, as I watched, I was absolutely blown away.
(The following information is from a YouTube video.)
“Growing up, the only thing I wanted to do was sing. I ended up going to school for vocal music education so that could be my life. When I was in college, I thought I had an ear infection. It just got worse and worse and by Christmas, I was legally deaf in both ears.
There was one day when the teacher was going to play the piano and I was supposed to chart out everything he was playing. And I had my pencil ready, and everybody else’s pencil’s started moving and I [was] just waiting for the test to start, and then one by one every person got up and left the room and I didn’t hear enough to even start the test.
That was a bad day. Everything I had ever wanted was going away and I couldn’t stop it.
I left singing after I lost my hearing, and then I slowly figured out how to get back into singing with muscle memory, visual tuners and trusting my pitch.
One day my dad suggested that we play a song and I said “Well, that’s crazy, but I had a guitar tuner and I hummed the starting note and I just went for it.
Music now isn’t about the sound, it’s about the feeling.”
Ms. Harvey can hardly hear herself sing, and she sings with her shoes off so that she can feel the tempo or the beat of the music through the floor.
What she has accomplished might be the equivalent of my figuring out how to complete an Iron Man using my cerebral palsy affected legs. It’s nothing short of incredible.
For the competition, Ms. Harvey sang a song that she wrote herself called “Try.” The lyrics are below.
I don’t feel the way I used to
The sky is gray much more than it is blue
But I know one day I’ll get through
And I’ll take my place again
If I would try (2x)
There is no one for me to blame
Cause I know the only thing in my way…is me
I don’t live the way I want to
That whole picture never came into view
But I am tired of getting used to…the day
So, I will try (2x)
If I would try (2x)
Ms. Harvey got the golden buzzer for her performance, which means that it was so good that she is going directly to the finals in the live show. It was well-deserved.
Simon Cowell told her “I’ve done this show for a long time. That (performance) was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and heard. It was incredible.”
For the most part, I have taken the word inspirational out of my vocabulary. There are exceptions to every rule. The video follows. If you are not inspired by Ms. Harvey’s performance, I have a gentle suggestion.