Was That a Compliment?

While I've always said that if I can touch one person's life with my story of triumph through tragedy, then all of the bad that came along with my disability was worth it.

Now, after 12 years on wheels, I have found that there's a really big gray area surrounding the compliments I'm given that I feel should or should not define me as being an inspiration to others.

My definition would be to inspire others to keep pushing limits to reach their dreams in spite of any limitations they have in their life's journey. You know, like inspiring the young woman who was just paralyzed to make her dream of sky diving come true, even though she is now a paraplegic or quadriplegic. Or showing the little boy who was born with spina bifida that he can still go in the ocean and catch a wave on a surfboard. Those are good examples of how I like to "inspire" others.  

But some "walkers" always seem to think that anything and everything I do makes me an inspiration. I was in the grocery store with my children and a very nice older gentleman approaches me to say, "It is so great that you get out of the house! You are an inspiration." Or how about this one: "You are so beautiful! Good for you for getting out and sharing your beauty with the world." I think to myself, as I smile at the said walker, "would you have said I was an inspiration for grocery shopping if I was walking?".hmmm? Not so much.  

Although every girl loves to be told they are beautiful - even me - I want to be told I'm beautiful because of who I am, not because I went grocery shopping on wheels. When people compliment me for doing "normal" things anybody else does on a regular day, it doesn't feel like a compliment, but instead it makes me feel like I am just an object, a "disabled person" that deserves pity, instead of a person making a difference in the world around us. I would rather be admired for being a single mom raising my children.

I am a professional who works hard for a living. I advocate for people across the nation to help make change. I am an individual with a heart, a mind, and a spirit. I don't however, want to be an inspiration for just existing, on wheels.  

How do we change these perceptions and help others embrace diversity of abilities? Share your thoughts.  

Erika Bogan