Friday, January 05, 2007


Apparently my school hires a motivational speaker every year. Last year a person who was born without arms due to exposure to Thalidimide spoke. He also played drums and piano in front of everyone. Folks were amazed. This year they hired a person with spinal cord injury who uses a power chair with mouth controllers. He had some good messages, including how terrible Million Dollar Baby is, but overall he was so-so.

It's hard for me to decide what to think of this speaker. This person overcame some serious adversity to rejoin the workforce, become a husband and father and generally get on with his life after an unplanned life-changing event. Unplanned life-changing events are what most of our at-risk students struggle with. The speaker's message was that problems can make you stronger or bitter. OK, true.

But this person only became a motivational speaker when he couldn't get a job as a school counselor (after fininshing his master's degree in that field). So...he's using his disability to make a living in the only way that the non-disabled world will let him. Good for him to find a hole to sneak through but that's not actually the way it should have to be. Furthermore, he wasn't a very good motivational speaker and he leaned on some traditional tropes that the non-disabled world pushes when gazing at people with disabilities (fear of dependence being the primary one). The students were extremely respectful and many students went to speak to him afterwards so I guess they found it worthy of their time.

It seemed to me that the message overall was that despite his disability he was happy and productive. Seems obvious to me but I guess it hasn't always been so and everyone has to hear this somewhere. Still, all those kids staring at the person in the wheelchair....

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