I have the opportunity to work with a lot of talented people, many of whom are individuals with disabilities. A person who I’m very proud of is my Chief Accessibility Officer, Rosemary Musachio. Rosemary was born with Cerebral Palsy as a result of the doctor accidentally hitting her head when assisting in birth. Rosemary is many things, including a college graduate, a writer, a poet, and a world renown accessibility engineer and tester. She also has severe disabilities that impact her mobility and speaking skills. Rosemary uses assistive technology and new technology to communicate with the world.
I was delighted when Rosemary agreed to be on my podcast, Human Potential at Work. The episode, titled: “Unlocking Our Gifts and Talents”, discusses her many accomplishments as a technologist and disability advocate, despite having a disability. Rosemary also shares her thoughts about how technology will benefit and change the lives of persons with disabilities and what drives her to succeed.
Here is a link to the episode page: http://www.ruhglobal.com/28-unlocking-gifts-talents/ If you like what you hear, be sure to Review and Subscribe on iTunes!
Recently, Rosemary and I have discussed Inspirational Porn. Members of the community of persons with disabilities have been blogging and chatting about Inspirational porn. There are advocates who believe that some portrayals of individuals with disabilities being viewed as inspirational, just for living their lives, is insulting and demeaning. Does society tell the stories of persons like Rosemary, who have overcome so many obstacles to thrive in her life and career? Or is society taking advantage of these individuals? I have read many blogs and comments on social media about this issue which inspired me to interview Rosemary about her thoughts on being an Inspirational Porn Star.
Debra Ruh’s Interview with Rosemary Musachio
Debra: Rosemary, what do you think about the media telling inspirational stories about individuals with disabilities? Is it Inspirational Porn to you?
Rosemary: Here are my perspectives as an Inspirational Porn Star. My comments will not be X-rated, nor will they be about church officials staring in dirty movies. Instead, the term “inspiration porn” was created by a community who think those without disabilities use the journey’s of persons with disabilities to arouse the spirit or to give them hope.
According to a TEDTalk by Stella Young, she inspires non-disabled person individuals because they can’t see themselves living with disabilities. “I could never do that”, so they are inspired and motivated by those who can. As Young explained, many of us live average lives. We wake up in the morning, go to work, and raise families. Nothing extraordinary about that except that we do it in wheelchairs, without sight, without hearing, or without limbs.
Debra: What do you think about the controversy surrounding Inspirational Porn from Individuals with Disabilities?
Rosemary: We are inspirations because society doesn’t accept us as the social norm yet. So if we do something ordinary- such as work for a living, we’re applauded. Society doesn’t expect us yet to be its productive members. That’s why only 19.8% of American adults with disabilities participate in the workforce force compared to 68.7% of those without disabilities. Not only does Society expect that we cannot work; it also doesn’t anticipate us to be wonderful parents, great athletes, or brilliant scholars. That’s why people become so inspired when they see us performing “great feats” when we’re actually living our lives the best way we can.
Debra: Do you mind when people say you are an inspiration? I find you very inspiring.
Rosemary: When people say I’m an inspiration to them, my soul radiates. Inspiring other people means I can do something for them. It means my disability has a purpose. God--or whatever higher power-- didn’t make me disabled in vain; Call it rationalization or a self-esteem booster. Many people in the disabled community may cringe reading this. They become offended when someone says they’re inspirations for the reasons I described above. While I accept and understand their reaction, I sometimes find refusing people’s admiration arrogant.
Debra: Rosemary, why do some persons with disabilities call these stories inspirational porn? Is it bad to feature and learn from stories of individuals with disabilities?
Rosemary: Maybe confusion arises between being an inspiration and being pitied. The latter means a stranger stopping me in the streets and saying, “I’m sorry this happened to you, I’ll pray for you”, and then putting a cross around my neck (true story). If they really must have prayed for me, I should have asked that they pray I’d win the lottery. What this woman did was show pity. She feels sorry for me because she perceived that I was in a worse condition than she was. I doubt my disability would have a lasting impact on her life.
Instead, inspiring someone does have a positive impact on that person’s life. For example, my high school friend became a special education administrator because I inspired her to help children with disabilities. Another good friend of mine has a lot of pain during the day. Yet, he says when he thinks how I have overcome challenges, it motivates him to wake up in the morning and go to work.
Debra: I understand how we can inspire family and friends. But can we inspire society, businesses, and others?
Rosemary: Yes, I’m proud to be an inspiration to others. However, I don’t want to inspire only my friends. I want to motivate business executives to hire persons with disabilities who are skilled and talented. My disabilities and the way I’ve overcome them must influence others who face the same obstacles to reach goals and realize dreams.
Debra: Can we continue to inspire without expecting anything else from society?
Rosemary: If some of us refuse to be inspirations, then we may risk pushing social acceptance further away. Nevertheless, while we should accept praise, we also should be vigilant in transforming the admiration and the awe into concrete changes for us. Graciously thank someone when they say to you, “It’s awesome that you work!”. Then add, “You should tweet that companies would benefit from the awesome work we do.”
Debra: Rosemary, thank you for your viewpoint. You have been a teacher and mentor to me since the first day we met. I always value your guidance and wisdom.
Rosemary: Being interviewed by my mentor and friend has been a great honor! I hope we open more minds and hearts.
Learn more about our work at RuhGlobal.com or follow us on Social Media @rosemusachio, @debraruh and @ruhglobal on most channels.
#AXSChat: Join Neil Milliken, Antonio Santos and myself for a weekly Twitter Chat on Disability Inclusion, ICT Accessibility, Built Environment, CRPD, Empowerment and Employment. Just search the hashtag #AXSChat at 3pmEST and join the conversation. You can learn more about AXSChat at www.AXSChat.com.