Just Don’t Call It ‘Inspirational’

I teach English Composition to freshmen students. Yes, one of those dreaded classes you have to get through in order to get your degree. I like to think that I make it a little bit fun… (After all, I’m the “cool professor” with the tattoos, I have to rise to some standards of coolness…) Something that I find fun — and I can trick the students into thinking is not work, shhh! — is to use multimedia whenever possible.

This semester I’m at a new school and working with new (and somewhat unfamiliar) materials. So imagine my joy when I was planning my syllabus two weeks ago and a little tweet popped up to tell me that a new episode of a web series I follow was available.

To take a break from agonizing over my syllabus (did I leave enough time for us to do ALL THE THINGS? Or do I need more time in the syllabus to solve world hunger?), I flipped to YouTube.

Enter Teal Sherer and her amazing (and hilarious) web series called My Gimpy Life. Fans of The Guild may know Teal as Venom… and if you don’t, what are you waiting for?! Go watch all the episodes of both shows now. I’ll wait.

In My Gimpy Life, Teal gives us a take on what it’s like to be a working Hollywood actress. And she just happens to be in a wheelchair. There are five episodes, but one particularly fit into my lesson plan for today’s class. Episode 3 is called “Inspirational” and is worth watching for oh so many wonderful reasons.

I had already planned for the students to read an essay about how the media portrays disability, especially when referring to athletes. The main point of the essay is basically the same one Teal makes in her series: having a disability doesn’t put you on a pedestal just for doing ordinary things. And speaking to people with disabilities — especially calling them “inspiring” even when they aren’t being particularly inspiring — shouldn’t be any different than speaking to anyone else.

I was doing a poor job of explaining this to my students… until we turned to the video. As we watched it together, I saw shock and laughter and, in the end, understanding. I had just spent 30 minutes trying to get them to see a point that My Gimpy Life made them see in 5 minutes.

At the end of the day, the students unanimously agreed (forty students agreeing on anything is AMAZING) that watching My Gimpy Life made them more aware of what language they use and how they treat people, not only those who are disabled.

I might call this lesson many things: thought-provoking, tough for me to pull together, successful (yay!). But one thing I will never call it is “inspirational”! 🙂

Edit to add: Thanks for all the love on this post! It’s kind of amazing how far words and art can reach, huh? Follow Teal on Twitter at @TealSherer and @MyGimpyLife.

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4 thoughts on “Just Don’t Call It ‘Inspirational’

  1. Ian

    I put with a lot having a disability. Being ‘inspirational’ comes at huge personal cost.
    Having to edcate everybody I meet gives me the shits.

    Reply

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