The ‘I’ Word

As a disabled person I tend to be suspicious of the word ‘inspiring’, but I’ll never be able to explain why as eloquently as fierce Crip Activist Stella Young does in this video, so I’ll hand over to her and meet you on the other side.

Today though I was genuinely and deeply inspired.

I attended the 60th Women Of The Year Lunch. I was one of hundreds of women, spanning many generations who shared lunch together and celebrated the achievements of women in 2015.

The room was full of women who’ve excelled in all sorts of ways, in business, the arts, sport and politics – women who are strengthening their communities, creating positive change and working for greater equality.

These are women I admire, some for years and some more recently. But there was no hierarchy or competition and the atmosphere was welcoming, warm, joyful and inclusive.

There was a lot to be inspired by, but for me the words and actions of two women whose achievements were being recognised have stuck in my mind.

The first was Jayne Senior who was given the Outstanding Achievement Award. Jayne ran Risky Business, an outreach programme for youngsters in Rotherham. Between 1999 and 2011 she reported almost 1,700 cases of grooming or sexual exploitation to the local children’s services. But the council rarely took any action. Last year, frustrated by the system, Jayne blew the whistle and handed more than two hundred confidential documents to the press.

Jayne’s actions exposed the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal. Her actions mean that young people and their families can at last get the justice and support they deserve. As a youth worker myself I have sometimes felt shocked, frustrated and powerless in the face of inaction by people in positions of authority.

Jayne’s story was a sucker punch to my heart, reminding me that it’s our duty to challenge failing systems and speak up when others can’t. I know this will stay with me and inform how I respond when I encounter challenges in my own life and work. In short, I was inspired.

The second was Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell who, in 1974, was told she had made “the greatest astronomical discovery of the twentieth century” but then saw her male supervisor and colleague awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for the work. Today she was awarded a lifetime achievement award. In her acceptance speech she said:

“The world is unfair. But how we deal with that unfairness is what matters.”

This sentence made me think and it made me want to act, and I’m pretty sure that means I was inspired.

Today’s event made me feel hopeful and proud. It also challenged my view that ‘inspiration’ is a dirty word. For years just hearing or saying the I-word has made me squirm because of how often it’s used in relation to disability. Suddenly I felt that it’s important not to let the abundance of assumption-laden ‘inspiration porn’ undermine the real meaning of the word, or make us fearful of using it (appropriately).

Today I felt other people’s words and actions spark change in me. I hope I’m able to do the same for other people. Not because I’m disabled or a woman, but because something I’ve said, made, or done has resonated with them and encouraged them to think or take action themselves.

But just to be absolutely clear – teenage Stella is still not ‘an inspiration’ simply because she got out of bed and watched Buffy.

2 responses to The ‘I’ Word

  1. IngyW says:

    I get the same feelings when anyone called me "brave" purely because I did dialysis. A friend of mine is blind, and someone once called her "amazing" because she ate all her peas (no avocado required!). You are inspiring because you have got out there and created amazing things. The fact that you’re disabled is neither here nor there. You’re not inspiring because you created a stage show about tourettes – you’re inspiring because you created a stage show – how many people think "one day I will do this/that" and then never do? Your tics have inspired me to start trying to draw again (One day I’ll get myself together and work out how to scan them into a computer!)
    I’ve been commenting a lot over the past hour or so; don’t know why I got out of the habit of checking here daily!

  2. Pete Nicol says:

    That’s a great post. Leaves me questioning myself. It’s a funny world when we need woman of the year awards to recognise women’s achievements. Great vid by the way never seen Stella Young before she’s a great speaker. I used to be a carer on rest bite holidays for disabled children. It used to bug me when people would ask me questions like aaah what’s wrong with him ( I looked after the boys ) My reply would generally be nothing I think he’s ok but if your worried maybe you can ask him yourself. The look of horror on people faces was quite amusing.

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