Public Speaking: Don’t be someone’s inspiration porn

Any motivational speaker, whether they are disabled or not, shouldn’t be wanting to be a group of strangers’ inspiration porn. It’s disgusting and fake, but it is also something that a lot of society just loves to digest.

The sad reality is that a lot of us want to be inspired, often times because we lack the motivation ourselves.. Motivational speaking is a great career to get into; but you don’t just want to be someone who can provide a very powerful and moving message that lasts for about as long as the conference does. And also, just because you’re disabled, doesn’t mean you have a unique story to tell.

After two years of public speaking at several different events specially held for the disability sector, my approach to what I say on stage has changed, and the way I choose to advocate has also changed a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of years has provided me with some exciting opportunities. The highlight? Probably speaking in front of New Zealand’s former Prime Minister John Key. Another was the big joint conference between IHC and Workability International… that one really stands out because I was given the freedom to tear the Government a new one.

When I look back at some of my earlier work; a part of me cringes. There was no talk of the issues that affect people with disabilities and their families whatsoever. The majority of it was me talking about my life and what I had been through, finishing off with where I am today.

Yes, parts of that journey may be inspirational for my audience, but an inspirational message doesn’t always create real change. To me, real change is a reaction and it has a direct impact on those who it affects, good or bad.

Quite often, my role at those events is to inspire the audience and deliver a message that left them excited about what we were there for on the day, to believe in our message and ‘buy in’. For me, at the very least, I wanted to see them leave feeling a sense of where the disability sector was heading for those that it means most to; the people with disabilities.

Somewhere along the line I got sick of sharing so much about my journey and the things I’d been through. “Look at me, if I can do it then you can too because look at what I’ve been through”. I didn’t want to do that anymore, I wanted to talk about the issues, and more importantly, put my own spin on them.

To be truly passionate about something, and to really advocate hard for or against it, you’ve got to have that personal touch laid underneath it. It was that same passion that made me unpopular at times, especially with those that I had to answer to at CCS Disability Action. As time went on, we clashed, but I never backed down to anyone, even if I did apologise to their face. My level of outspokenness is no secret, but it wasn’t just a case of me just wanting to ‘go against the grain’ of what the organisation was doing. All of the service providers in New Zealand, including CCS Disability Action, have done a wonderful job using the very little resources they have.

I’m simply saying, we can and should, always be looking at how things can be done better. The formula to doing things better? Make minor tweaks, change areas of focus, have open and honest conversations with all parties, and decide on an end result you’d like to imagine possible. That’s what I put myself through about a year ago when I decided that I wanted to take my advocacy to the next level. ­Hell, some people might argue that I just wanted to become a critic and a loud mouth who likes to bitch and moan about everything that isn’t right with the sector.

I just enjoy talking about the issues that exist. How do I know they exist? They are confirmed to me from the very thing that should be most important to the disability sector; the people and families who are affected by disability in its various forms. They are all just like me, they have an opinion and a viewpoint, it is their right to express that. The responsibility of the organisations within the disability and community sector is to represent that and provide a service that is as diverse as it is flexible.