Over the last few years the popular phrase “No Excuses” has become an overused inspirational quote which has been placed on multiple images of children and adults with disabilities performing various tasks that are meant to inspire and motivate people to never give up. These images have flooded social media, and have been commercialized as inspiration porn for able-bodied people to motivate them to achieve their goals because, let’s face it, no matter how bad your situation is, it couldn’t be as bad as the poor disabled kid in the photo, right? While I understand the initial intent of the movement of giving disabled individuals a voice to show that they are capable of doing anything that able-bodied individuals can do, I feel we have lost touch with what our goals are, and we have created a situation that has become a hazard for our disabled youth and newly disabled individuals. By saying “No Excuses”, we are essentially telling people with disabilities that they have no excuse for being unable to perform certain tasks, and this is untrue. Every individual, whether disabled or not, has an excuse for not being able to perform certain tasks at some point or another. We should not place shame on them for being unable to perform those tasks, but by popularizing the phrase “No Excuses” we are essentially condemning those who have excuses for being unable to perform.
Let’s take my situation for example. There are times when I am simply unable to walk any further, hold up my arm or sit in a chair any longer, etc. If I push myself any farther than that I risk severe muscle contractions and seizure-like symptoms which in turn result in days of recovery, or possibly a hospital visit. Now I could go along with the mindset of “No Excuses” and push on, but that would be damaging to my body and my mental health. Is it worth it? I don’t think so. Let’s consider the high school student who has Cerebral Palsy with severe spasticity in all four limbs. She wants to play in the band so badly, but cannot because she is unable to control her limb movement well enough to manipulate any of the instruments. We tell her there are “No Excuses”, but no matter how much she wants to play, there is no way she can will herself to be able to effectively play an instrument. Is she now a lesser person because she was unable to perform? If there are truly “No Excuses” then we are sending the message that anyone with an excuse is not as capable as someone else, and therefore not as worthy. What does that do to their self esteem? Sometimes there are excuses, and those excuses need to be validated. I wish I would have come to this conclusion when I was a young teenager playing wheelchair basketball. At that time, I bought into the idea of “No Excuses”. I pushed my body past it’s limit each and every game because I knew that if everyone else could do it I should be able to as well. I caused myself so much pain and suffering because I refused to listen to my body and set my own limits based on what my body required. I was afraid of being judged as weak or unworthy.
We have newly diagnosed, newly injured, and young children who look to us for guidance
on how to live with their disability. We need to teach them that having a disability is not something of which they should be ashamed. We need to teach them to embrace everything that makes them who they are, and to love all aspects of themselves. It is okay to say, “I can’t do that”. Someone who is paralyzed from a spinal cord injury is going to be unable to climb a flight of stairs no matter how much he or she wish his or her legs to move. The “No Excuses” motto is not going to work here, so they are going to need to learn to live around their disability. I’m not saying that if you have a disability then you should just accept that and lay on the couch all day feeling sorry for yourself. If you remember, I did play wheelchair basketball. Learn to adapt and do things a different way. If you can’t play regular sports play the many adaptive sports that are available. If you are unable to play any of those sports (or you just aren’t interested in sports), then find a hobby that interests you. Maybe you enjoy singing or writing, or maybe you wish to volunteer at your local animal shelter because of your love for animals. There are so many things you can do, but don’t think you have to push yourself past your personal limits just because mainstream society says you should.
I think a better motto that of Megan Bomgaars from the show “Born This Way” who says, “Don’t Limit Me”. By saying “Don’t Limit Me” she is saying, allow me to grow as much as I can, and support me in my choices and decisions in my life. She is accepting her disability and her limitations, but is asking that others not limit her capabilities. I would ask that the world not limit anyone with a disability, and allow each and every person to grow and learn their own limits and capabilities. When we take away the pressure of “No Excuses” we allow individuals with disabilities to freely explore their own capabilities, but also allow them the freedom to say, “I need help” without the stigma of feeling like a failure.