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5 Inspiring Ted Talks About Paralysis & Disability


It’s easy to forget that in paralysis, you are not alone. Even when you feel nobody understands, remember there are people who have gone through something similar to what you are experiencing right now.

Taking some inspiration from others who have risen to their own challenges can be very helpful in difficult times. We’ve pulled together Ted Talks from five inspiring individuals which cover a wide variety of situations, all brought together by a common thread - paralysis and disability.

Joshua Prager: In search of the man who broke my neck

An honest and matter of fact man Joshua recalls the story of how at just 19, he was involved in a devastating bus crash that left him paralyzed with quadriplegia. A confident journalist and author, Prager explains how many years after his accident, he returned to the scene of his injury- Israel- to meet with the very many whose inability to drive safely had caused such a life-changing occurrence.

Joshua speaks very candidly and eloquently about his experience, and how it changed his view on life, his own identity, and what it means to forgive. This tale is the epitome of what it means to gain ‘closure’ and to move on.

WATCH THIS IF: For inspiration about finding closure for an accident where someone else was at fault.

Sue Austin: Deep sea diving… in a wheelchair

In this Ted Talk, Sue Austin discusses how her powerchair changed how she experiences the world, how she fits in with society, and how that society started responding to her. Society has showered Austin with feelings of pity, restriction, and disability which are the antithesis of how her newest ‘toy’ chair actually makes her feel.

An artistic and creative woman, Austin has found herself able to experience new things, including deep sea diving, which not only gives her an overwhelming sense of freedom, but a new platform and idea for which she creates a new paradigm for the outside world.

This Ted Talk explicitly demonstrates the joy and passion Austin possesses for life, but also for encouraging others to appreciate and celebrate difference; creating new ways of seeing, being, and knowing.

WATCH THIS IF: You are feeling a little disconnected, or feeling as though your disabilities are getting the better of you. This Ted Talk will help you see loss and limitation (and wheelchairs!) in a whole new light.

Stella Young: I am not your inspiration, thank you very much

Stella Young is a journalist and comedian, and just so happens to be in a wheelchair. This Ted Talk is a very frank discussion about what Young refers to as “inspiration porn.” She addresses the assumption that all disabled people are inspirational, and the misinterpretation that living with disabilities makes you some sort of exception from the norm.

She believes this kind of “porn” objectifies disabled people, and allows the non-disabled community to have a safety net thought of “look at them… it could be worse.” But what if that person or image is you? Stella believes these objectified images of disabled people are helping those who aren’t disabled to feel better about themselves.

WATCH THIS IF: Firstly, if you want a good laugh! But seriously, watch this if you’re looking for a pep talk- a kick in the pants to get you going and realize that although you’re disabled, you’re still just a person.

Janine Shepherd: A broken body isn’t a broken person

This talk from Janine Shepherd, an Australian cross-country skier, builds up an image to viewers of her passion and relish for life and her Olympic dream. This dream was abruptly brought to an end following a car accident just 10 minutes from the end of her training bike ride.

Her entertaining yet factual recount of her unfortunate experience is incredibly inspirational, sharing how giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar. The doctors told her although she was lucky to be alive, and her operation was a success, she was never going to be able to ski again. Her honest and powerful story about redefining her sense of self is one of hope and richness, of how people can connect without even seeing each other.

WATCH THIS IF: You are feeling troubled and in mourning of your former life from before your injury. And if you need a reminder that you are not your body and life is about opportunities.

John Hockenberry: We are all designers

How much have you ever thought about design? John Hockenberry discusses how design is actually a crucial part of our lives- with or without disability. He concentrates on how the wheelchair has both a positive and negative design. Never has a pair of flashy wheelchair wheels ever had such an impact on somebody’s life! But not only does the wheelchair design matter, but so does the design of life; a life of intent.

WATCH THIS IF: You want a laugh, and would like to think a little deeper into not just life in wheelchair, but into life as a intentional and productive individual.

Inspiration for life

These Ted Talks are not only inspirational and honest, but provide that sense of familiarity and even of family that reminds you that you’re not alone in your disability, paralysis or injury. In fact, they remind us that we’re all human. And being disabled does not make you an exceptional human being, it just happens to be the way the cookie crumbled.

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