This Wheelchair-bound Motivational Speaker Wants You To Stop Making Disabled People Your Source Of Inspiration

By Alveena Jadoon | 6 Jun, 2018

Tanzila Khan has been a motivational speaker for a long time and recently she decided that she would give up motivational speaking


For several years, the girl on the wheelchair who would inspire many has decided to put an end to this inspiration. Here is her story

“I have had and continue to have an amazing journey on two wheels. Many of you know me as a public speaker others know me as a motivational speaker. I have always enjoyed every moment of my work but I questioned myself, Is that really me? Do I want this to be me? Is that what I aimed for?

I am quitting Motivational speaking after giving it a thought for a year and the following are my reasons:

  1. It was never a choice that I made. It’s strange that how a boy is matched with being an engineer, a girl with being a doctor, a disabled individual is matched with being a motivational speaker.
  2. People ask me about my story and I never fail to disappoint. My story is not tragic at all. It was a lifestyle since day one and I’ve come around it just like that. I am expected to make it sound like a tragedy but how does one talk about late pizza delivery while sobbing?
  3. It’s like just because I have a disability I automatically qualify to be inspirational? I am always expected to be the nice, sweet girl on the wheelchair. This sounds great but has caused me so much dent in my real life where many times I went unheard just because my truth was dark and wasn’t inspirational.
  4. No one really sees one beyond their disability and beyond the ability to speak on stage. I have written books, organized many events, challenged policies, have two degrees and enjoy bringing so many ideas to the table. It all gets wasted when all people know me as a motivational speaker and disregards everything that I have done and want to do.
  5. I am a woman who believes in having a legacy. The true awakening happened when I heard a young girl with a disability from Gujranwala say,‘I want to be a motivational speaker’. I wondered why is she limiting herself? Today she has access to education and so many fields are missing inclusion so why not occupy those? Why aim so low and aim for something that is a byproduct of any content medium anyways?
  6. We as people with disabilities are used as tokens for platforms to give a softer appearance to it. The buzzword inclusion is just a word because the very same event that you are invited to might not have a ramp to their stage.
  7. This is not an industry in Pakistan. Which means there is no mechanism of pay, no competition, no promotion, no mentors, no laws, no comparison so no growth. It’s like being stagnant in water. As you dive deeper it gets darker.
  8. If Motivational Speaking is your only source of income. You will need another one. It is a no pay game.
  9. Gender always plays a role and once again takes a shot at me. I realized I am unable to deliver content that would entertain the audience. Pakistani audience is not mature enough to accept the content and disregard the gender. Throughout my moment on stage, I was always conscious of being a woman and thought about what would be the consequences of my every word. And I always had to face them sometimes right there and then and sometimes at home via social media.
  10. With all being shared I don’t mean we don’t have good speakers or all experiences were bad. We actually do have great speakers and most of the credit for my success goes to my supporters who invited me to speak. But we need a new Sunrise!”

Due to the lack of awareness, people can neither comprehend what the individual experiences nor do they know how to make their situation better or just help them become a part of the society at large

What people have mastered though is the sympathy they have towards these individuals and because they tend to see the individual differently, them performing a very simple task becomes a feat.

People with a disability have not been normalized in our society. This means that we don’t interact with them on a day to day basis – our teachers do not have a disability, same is the case with our artists, bankers, businessmen,  doctors, etc. We don’t see people with disability as normal people.

The message that this gives to the people around is that when you live with a disability, you are exceptional. Even though, you might not be doing anything exceptional with your life

A case in point is someone who has to spend his life without an arm. Yes, that person will face hindrances in complete functionality but there is more to his life and the way that person grows up.

Let’s take an example, Asghar due to polio has to spend his life in a wheelchair. Now he might not be able to walk or run like his other friends, but the rest of his experiences are the same. He watches the same movies, plays the same games, and studies the same way as they do. But he is seen as someone very inspirational for doing things which are very normal and are a part of an average person’s life. People come up disabled persons and congratulate them for managing to do what everyone else is doing – like managing to make their own food, give a nice presentation, eating out with friends, or deciding what they want to do with their lives.

What this does is objectifying a person to become an object of inspiration. You look at these people and push “normal” people to get inspired to take chances with their lives and not make up excuses if they are not able to achieve anything.

You might have come across several pictures, which make disabled people a source of inspiration for the non-disabled


Comedian and journalist, Stella Young, calls this inspirational porn

You look at disabled people and you expect them to inspire you. This is what they are told, this is what is expected of them and this is what they have to make a career out of – which might not end up paying by the way. She further elaborates that people with disabilities do overcome certain things but it is the society ultimately which has such low expectations of them that they are forced to only remain in circles where there are not many options of growth. And that is unfair! With the growing use of social media, such inspiration porn is further reinforced and does not help in normalizing disabled persons.


Yes, many disabled people do have inspirational stories and choose to be motivational speakers but this should only and only be their own choice. At the same time, it is also important to give disabled people the space to have normal lives so that someone just existing is not a tool of inspiration for non-disabled people.



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