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When I Believe It's OK to Call Someone With a Disability Inspirational

Inspiration. This is a loaded word in the disability community, I know. As a language nerd, the idea of us no longer using it is sad, but I do understand the pushback. The passers-by on the sidewalk making snap judgments are one thing. I am going to discuss something different — being called an inspiration by someone you love and trust.

What are the other options? I went looking. The Oxford English defines inspiration this way:

“A breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose etc. in to the mind: the suggestion, awakening, or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind.”

I am also a big fan of the idea of perspective. When I think of the people who have inspired me, most of whom have no disabilities, these encounters have created an awakening in my mind and soul.

I have needed self-confidence, so my inspiration lately has come from an extremely kind and generous colleague. He’d be doing what he does whether I was there to witness it or not, but I have explained to him until I’m blue in the face how his kindness has helped me heal. He was quick to come to my aid, fallen buckets and falling tears. He was complimentary without expectation, refusing my thanks in return.

Back to inspiration as a necessary word. “God puts into our spirits what could not come from our own minds,” Monica says on an episode of “Touched by an Angel.”

This teacher has inspired me to be a better teacher and healed old soul-deep hurts. Put another way, he is my inspiration. I believe God puts people in our lives exactly when we need them. He was there. The awakening of renewed confidence, peace of mind and love I now feel because of his brief presence infused my life with something special I cannot describe any other way but with the word “inspired.” Feeling the way I feel about him makes it impossible for me to deny others the same.

Once before, when I needed to believe in myself, I believe God put another colleague in my path who is hard of hearing. She continues to be a principal six to seven years after a cochlear implant, and barely missed school at all due to her surgery. She said, “Madame Klees (that’s me) is an inspiration to me. She faces challenges head on and works diligently to come to a solution. She is pleasant, thoughtful, caring and compassionate.” The feeling is mutual; we understand each other very well.

What other word is worthy of this feeling? Gratitude? Not enough. Appreciation? No. I believe in the uniqueness of the human experience. Speak how you feel; be kind, be open-minded and listen. A beautiful song, a beautiful painting, an encounter with a beautiful soul; be inspired.

Getty image by Melih Polat.