In need of some inspiration or motivation? There are some amazing TED talks out there, and we’ve done the homework for you! The following is a list of some of the top TED talks about paralysis, disabilities, and the power of the human spirit.
Cross-country skier Janine Shepherd was training for the Olympics and was a hopeful to win a medal — until she was hit by a truck during a training bike ride. She shares her powerful story about the human potential for recovery.
After becoming paralyzed from the waist down, she feared not only that she would never walk again, but that she didn’t know who she was without athletics. She sank into a depression and was on the verge of giving up when she had a powerful realization that we are NOT our bodies, and what matters is on the inside. She accepted that her body may have changed, but who she was never changed at all. As she says, “Life is about opportunities”. She pursued a dream and reached heights – literally and metaphorically – she never dreamed of before.
Stella Young was a disability advocate, broadcaster, comedian, and writer who happened to go about her day in a wheelchair — a fact that didn’t, she wanted to make clear, automatically turn her into a noble inspiration to all humanity.
Sadly, Stella passed away in 2014 at the age of 32.
Stella spoke with humor and grace about how she found the well-intentioned comments from strangers, or online, about a disabled person being inspirational – just for existing – objectifying. Or, as she called it, “inspiration porn”, as we objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. People claim to be inspired by a disabled person functioning well in society but overlook the implicit message of “things could be worse so I should be grateful – I could be ‘that’ person”. But what if you are ‘that’ person?
As Stella said, “I have learned to use my body to the best of my capacity, just like everyone else. I am more disabled by society and peoples’ assumptions than I ever was by my body.”
Stella wanted to live in a world where disability isn’t an exception, but the norm. Where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that they are inspiring just for existing. Her message and poignant humor were an inspiration to us all, and it’s important that we listen.
When Sue Austin got a power wheelchair 16 years ago, she felt a tremendous sense of freedom — yet others still looked at her as though she had lost something. In her art, she aims to convey the spirit of wonder she feels wheeling through the world, including stunning footage of her in an underwater wheelchair that lets her explore ocean beds, drifting through schools of fish, floating free in 360 degrees.
Sue Austin talks about how we don’t have to focus on loss and limitation, but how we can see and discover the power and joy of seeing the world from exciting new perspectives. For her, the wheelchair is a vehicle for transformation.
When faced with life’s toughest circumstances, how should we respond: as an optimist, a realist or something else? In an unforgettable talk, explorer Mark Pollock and human rights lawyer Simone George explore the tension between acceptance and hope in times of grief. They speak about the see-saw between optimism and realism, and share the groundbreaking work they’re undertaking to cure paralysis.
Blind since the age of 22, Mark was the first blind person to race to the South Pole. After meeting Simone, Mark fell from a third story window and was paralyzed from the waist down.
They describe, with passion and grace, why grief and acceptance are so important: “Acceptance is knowing that grief is a raging river, and you have to get into it, because when you do it carries you to the next place. It eventually takes you to open land, where somewhere it will, eventually, turn out ok in the end.”
These inspiring talks provide valuable perspective and insight into the lives of people with disabilities, and speak to the power of the human spirit. Their voices teach, inform, and inspire us in so many ways.
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