24/02/2015 12:27 GMT | Updated 26/04/2015 06:59 BST

'Inspirational': Overused and Incredibly Patronising

The majority of my friends work and quite a few of them run their own successful businesses. They juggle their careers with their children and families. Many ski, cycle, swim and keep fit by going to the gym. They travel for work and they travel for pleasure. They can, and do, cook, write, play in orchestras, sing in choirs and produce amazing works of art. They are my friends and I think that they are fantastic, amazing people and I tell them so. But inspirational? I have never told them they are inspirational.

And yet I don't even do half of these things and people do decide to label me as inspirational. Really? Do they honestly think I am?

Amy Purdy, a Paralympian snowboarder turned model and dancer thanks to her stint in America's version of Strictly, was the star of Toyota's Super Bowl advert, in which she displayed all of her impressive talents to the backdrop of Muhammad Ali's "How Great I Am" speech. Since the airing of the ad there has been much discussion about how 'inspirational' she is. But is 'inspirational' really the right word to use? Has she inspired you to do something? Or is it more that you admire what she has achieved? Or think that she is amazing?


When I am running my business, which requires travelling throughout the country and abroad, or indulging in a holiday adventure or even just staying fit I am not doing anything more or different to many other people. The only difference is that I am in a wheelchair, which means some people find it inspirational. But do they really? Maybe it's just the first word that has comes into their head; it's an easy word to use, they've heard it before, and so they use it, too. However what I am doing isn't inspirational. It may be impressive - indeed anyone skiing or snowboarding the moguls is impressive, interesting even. But I strongly argue that it is not inspirational.

I argue against the use of this word simply because it has been over used, particularly where disabled people are concerned. It is deployed whenever someone with a disability achieves something that is perceived to have been a challenge, whether it was or not. In reality much of what other people see as some great feat is just us doing what we do. I do all the things that you do: drive, ski, swim, travel, cycle. I have always done them as a person in a wheelchair, since I have never walked. It was no more challenging for me to learn how to do these things than it was for anyone else. It is therefore no more inspirational for me to do them than anyone else.

Personally I find the use of the word patronising and, when used, it deters me from wishing to engage any further with that person. I prefer to spend time with people who see 'me' for who I am, not those who would see me as a person in a wheelchair. And by calling me 'inspirational' you have identified yourself as the latter. If you want to compliment me, find another way, another word. As long as it isn't 'plucky' or 'brave' two other words that people have used to describe me recently, I think you will be on safe ground.

Instead you should save that word for someone who truly does inspire you, whoever that may be.

What I'm doing isn't inspirational; it is simply me, living my life.


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