Disability

OPINION: I'm over being your 'disability inspiration'

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Sarah Houbolt reckons ‘The more we share our stories on TV, the more we can learn about how people with disability invent new ways of doing things’.

Last year, The Feed did a story about my work as a circus performer, and about how I perform with partial sight (you can watch it below).

Patrick (the reporter) tried but couldn’t quite get a nail up his nose like I can... but he totally nailed who I am, how I like to push my body to the extreme, and what I believe in. Together we told a story that I was really proud to put on TV.  The story captured my vulnerability as well as my authentic voice.

It was so awesome to see how popular the video was… But something in the comments on social media bugged me. Don’t get me wrong, there were some absolutely lovely comments about how my performance work and ideas created awe for people, and I’m so very thankful. But I got confused as to why there were really no other comments apart from being such an inspiration.

It got me thinking: I wonder if some of these commenters might have missed the point. I don’t want to be an inspiration because I’m doing something ‘despite’ my blindness; I want to inspire people to invent new ways of doing things, to think about history and creativity and the contribution of people with disability in this world.

Below are three amazing examples of agile humans, testing their bodies and their boundaries. The nuance of their stories is not what they have overcome, or what medical condition they have, but actually how they orchestrate what they need in order to succeed in what they want to do. This is clever.

Ava, Sarah and Tim are amazing because they know what they want and they are pioneering ways to make it happen. In this sense, disability becomes the mother of innovation.

Tim's the first Australian to do a backflip in a wheelchair.

Sarah couldn't play high-impact sport so she chose to fly.

Ava struggled to walk so her mum enrolled her in karate, now she's a black belt.

The recent America’s Got Talent episode with Mandy Harvey was phenomenal. The reason why I thought it was phenomenal though was more than just her amazing singing. As the viewer, we saw a major TV series invest in a sign language interpreter, and make sure that the musicians were in close proximity to Mandy’s bare feet, that were feeling their vibrations. Mandy showed the world what she needed, in the face of a world that doesn’t often accept different ways of doing things. And the judges responded with clapping in the most appropriate way for Deaf culture (raising their hands and twisting their wrists rapidly).

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.

And the more we look, the more innovation we see coming from the access community. 

#TheFeedSBS airs 7.30pm weeknights on SBS VICELAND.
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