Illustration by Mark Weber

Motivational speaking is a large industry marked by a considerable subset of speakers with disabilities. Speakers with disabilities are hired to fire up audiences at corporate or government meetings, association conferences or events at schools and universities. They make a considerable mark on a wide swath of people. For better or for worse.

For many in the audience, these speakers are perceived as models of the disability experience. They are the closest many nondisabled people will get to a real disabled person, and they will influence their understanding of disability. So it’s fair to take a closer look and question this industry’s effect on cultural beliefs about disability.

The answers turn out to not be so simple. I’ve been a whee