Disability doesn't make these stories an inspiration

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Image: Sky diving Sarah and circus performer Sarah Houbolt (SBS The Feed)

Too often we see television coverage of “inspirational” people with disability who “overcome” their disability and manage to do “extraordinary” things, like climb mountains. Worse still, we see people with disability who are labelled inspirational for just going to work or catching a bus. The Feed on SBS Viceland showcased a number of people with disabilities who have viewed their disability in a different way and sought out to do ordinary things, like sport, hanging in the park with people their age or focussing on martial arts.

Through their interest in these areas they have chosen to pursue them to higher levels. Circus performer Sarah Houbolt’s (who happens to have vision loss) says in her article Disability: Mother of innovation this is not because they have disability and have overcome it. Their success is achieved through practice, focus and resilience, just like anybody else striving to become really good at what they do. Their disability just means that they approach it in a different way.  

Tim uses his wheelchair like other people use a skateboard. He has become really good at tricks, like doing a somersault in his wheelchair. That’s pretty amazing, not because he has a disability, but because he spent hundreds of hours perfecting his wheelchair move, just like others perfect their skateboard moves.

Ava focussed on karate to become a black belt. Her disability pushed her towards karate and then her energy and drive pushed her to higher levels. Sarah chose sky diving in an air tank because it was a feasible option when contact sports were ruled out.

We like these stories because they are about people living their lives, making choices and striving to achieve. Not to overcome disability, but in ways that accommodate their disability. They are inspirational and good role models because they show that working hard, endless practice and focus are needed to achieve at the highest level. The disability has little to do with it.

We know that including people with disability in television programs helps change attitudes. An even stronger impact comes from letting people with disability tell their own stories, just like Ava, Sarah and Tim which is why the Attitude Foundation is looking to make a TV series which is a high-impact way of changing attitudes.

Houbolt also reminds us to spend more time understanding what we are seeing.  

So let’s not immediately consume my community’s stories as inspiration stories at face value, let’s look a little deeper for the ideas within the stories; for the message about agility and access,” she says.

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