Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

Leadership Expert on Resiliency and Inner Strength – Greg helps leaders and teams “Go Full-Strength!” for maximum productivity.

(228) 424-3896

Inner Strength insights from the world of sports, disability, entertainment, business, politics and everything else I’d like to share with you.

Monthly Archives: September 2013

X Factor Judges Fail in Response to Rion Paige Performance

Podcast Web Banner 2

13 year-old Singer “Blows Away” Audience and Inspires Me to “Blow Away” Judges Reactions

by Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a leading voice in American disability culture.  He is the founder and host of the nationally syndicated “On A Roll” radio show, subject of the PBS documentary, “On A Roll,” author and professional speaker known as “The Strength Coach.”


I am watching a football game, and during a commercial break, I quickly zoom my power wheelchair into the kitchen to grab a snack. My daughter and mother are watching “The X Factor” on the other TV.

A charismatic 13-year-old girl walks onto the stage and introduces herself to the judges. There’s something different about her hands and arms. She’s one of us! Football can wait a minute.

Simon Cowell asks Rion Paige to tell us something interesting about herself. She immediately leads with her medical diagnosis. “I have a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita” she explains, while at the same time, introducing us to her bubbly personality.

“My hands are curved differently because of my joints,” she says. The disease has caused her hands to be in a fixed and bent position. She is also blind in her right eye from glaucoma.

We cut to a woman in the audience for only one second whose facial expression is one of amazement. She is shaking her head and mouthing the word “wow!”

Next, there is a brief inspirational vignette about her life, in which Rion tells the judges and the whole world what she wants in plain English: “I just want the judges to not take pity and think of me as different.”

And now I’m fist pumping, yelling “You GO girl!” There is tension in the audience, in my living room and in my mind about what we are about to hear. I am rooting for her to “earn it,” fair and square. Simon says, “Good luck…”

She nails the song! She is a definite “yes.” I’m excited about her performance. After the standing ovation, the judges chime in with the violin music playing in the background.

The first judge, Demi Lovato kicks it off with, “Rion, I am so impressed right now and I cannot believe the struggles that you’ve had and how positive you are,” she says. “I believe that everbody in this room can learn something from you today.”

WHAT? Ummmm, How about the fact that she nailed the song?

The second judge, Paulina Rubio says, “Music heals everything and I’m honored to live this with you.”

HUH? Did I miss a healing? A miracle? Her hands still look bent to me!

Next, Kelly Rowland finally gets it right with her comment. “Rion, I just witnessed passion,” she says calmly and honestly. “I think that’s what I loved the most about it.”

At least she’s talking about the performance! I wish she had stopped at that point, but she goes on. “Everything about you is just so incredible!”

And then finally, Simon makes reference to how this performance reminded him of the first time he saw Carrie Underwood. But he doesn’t get specific about what he liked about her performance. He concludes with “In every single way, Rion, you are a beautiful person.”

If I had been a judge on the panel, I would’ve said something like this: “I was blown away with the level of passion that you brought to the performance. You definitely put your personality into the song. It was a great song choice for you and you nailed it! I want to congratulate you. You have a future in music. Great job.” — And the crowd goes wild!

Do you see the difference? Most people with disabilities have no desire to be inspirational. Rion has a desire to be recognized as a girl who can sing! I know you can say that singing is inspirational, and I get that. But I think what she was looking for from the judges was an honest evaluation of her performance. Disability notwithstanding.

My point can also be reinforced by the feedback on the Guinness Facebook page about the wheelchair basketball TV commercial. People are commenting about how the commercial made them cry. What the heck? Dudes balling and going out for a beer makes you cry? The fact that people respond that way makes ME want to cry. We’re not looking for our existence to elicit emotional, teary responses. The tears from Rion’s mother were cool with me because any mom would feel that way if her daughter was successful on a national stage like this. I might cry if my daughter did the same and I’m a big strong man… well you know what I mean.

I love how people with disabilities are finally starting to get regular inclusion in the mainstream mass media. But we want your respect, not your pity or unearned adulation. We are looking for fair and equal treatment.

Finally, I realize that words condemning “inspiration” might sound funny coming from a person who is a motivational speaker. You might ask, “Greg, don’t you earn a living inspiring people?”

People don’t hire me to speak because they feel sorry for me and are inspired by my disability. That would be great for business, but that’s not my intention. They hire me because I am excellent at communicating the lessons that I have learned in my life and how those lessons can be applied to improve the lives of the people they want to motivate. I am looking for people to respect me as a messenger of ideas. Not as an amazement because I function with a severe disability.

What do you think? Do you think the response to Rion’s performance was a little over the top? Or was it ok? I don’t watch “The X Factor” or shows like it that often, so maybe they respond to everyone like that. I’m just asking. Please make your comments on the blog below. Just click the yellow button.


Guinness Wheelchair Basketball TV Spot OK with Me

Guinness Brand Manager Speaks about TV Spot

By Greg Smith

Getting it “right” when presenting disability in the mainstream media has always been a moving target:  A non-disabled actor is cast in a disabled role.  An “inspirational disabled person” who has done nothing exceptional other than being or becoming disabled is anointed and celebrated.  A screenplay in which the disabled person would rather be dead than accept his or her new life is turned into a film.  Or an evil villain whose hostility is sparked by anger after the onset of a disability hits the box office.

Moreover, motion pictures and television seem to only have tolerance for those with less visible disabilities.  You won’t find any skinny, bodily contracted rolling skeletons like me on the big screen or the flat screen. There has never been a place for a person like me in the mainstream mass media.  That’s why I created my own. Depicting a proper reflection of society in the mainstream media is a vision people with disabilities share. And experiencing more of the same media blunders is frustrating.

But every now and then, baby steps in the right direction reveal that hope emerges.  The recent Guinness television spot, featuring wheelchair basketball players on the court, popping 3 pointers, smashing into each other and falling out of chairs is the newest major media offering to be evaluated.  At the end of the spot, all but one of the players rises to their feet and walks out of the gym.  Cut to a popular pub.  The group of friends is sitting down at a low table in a popular bar, enjoying a Guinness.  “Hot girls” arrive on the scene.  It’s a wheelchair dude’s heaven!  The spot is about friendship.  I approve.  It is not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction.

There are plenty of my colleagues who disagree.  They have a problem with it being more about celebrating the “character” of the non-disabled friends who are kind enough to go through the trouble of getting in wheelchairs to hoop, and taking their poor disabled friend out for a beer.

“Context is important b/c the “got’cha” is central to the ad itself,” says Lawrence Carter Long, media enthusiast and co-host of “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film” which showcased 21 socially and culturally significant cinematic depictions of the disability experience to over 87 million households on Turner Classic Movies last October.  “If the spot was all about friendship there would be no need to trick audiences with the big surprise. But the twist is there and, if we’re serious about changing the perception of disabled people in society we would be foolish to ignore it.”

Lawrence Carter Long

I decided to go to the source and talk to Guinness Brand Director, Doug Campbell.  How did the spot develop?  How was the disability community involved in the concept?  What was the intended message?

What did you think of the spot?  Do you think it is about friendship?  Or is it about the character of the non-disabled friends who choose to involve their friend, the “victim” of unfortunate events?  I think it is a step in the right direction.  I think Guinness should be rewarded, rather than criticized.  If we continue to criticize every effort to include us, we will never be welcomed back and progress will never happen.

Please comment in the section below, rather than on my Facebook page.  Thank you!  Looking forward to your reaction.

The Fillin’ Station Blues

Gettin’ Gas is a Pain in the A_ _!

Up until about 1995, there used to be this thing called “full-service” at gas stations.  You could just pull up to the pump and somebody would come out of the gas station, pump your gas, check your oil and clean your windshield.  You had to pay a little bit more for it but it was available.  It was a mixed bag for those of us with disabilities, because we needed help getting gas, but didn’t want to have to pay more each time we filled up.  That’s where the Americans with Disabilities Act came to the rescue.  It said, basically, if you have a disabled placard or license plate and you need “full-service,” you can get it at “self-service” prices.  All you gotta do is blow your horn and somebody will come out.

That inspired one of two “On A Roll Radio” radio blues song hits, “The Fillin’ Station Blues.”   (Tragedy these tapes were lost in Katrina!)

 You pull up to the fillin’ station

Cause your tank is gettin’ kinda low

Yeah you pull up to the fillin’ station

Yeah you gettin mighty low.

You need full service in the self serve

So you give ya horn a blow!


Folks look at you like ya crazy

Like “Mister, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Yeah they look at you like you crazy

Like “Mister what you want me to do?”

“I’m just tryin’ to fill my gas tank up

Just get some gas so I can go!”



Well fast forward to 2013.  There are no more full-service pumps at gas stations.  But we in wheelchairs still have to blow our horns to get help with gas.  I don’t do it.  Too embarrassing.  I just get out of the van and ask a stranger, or roll into the store and ask someone working behind the counter to come out.  But if there is only one person working in the store, they can’t come out to help you.

My buddy Dr. JR Harding is working on solving this issue down in Florida.  Listen to this radio segment on WFSU about his efforts in Tallahassee.  I wish him the best.  I’m tired of the fillin’ station blues!  Here’s a link to the article.


More Information:

National Spinal Cord Injury Association

What do you do when it’s time to fill your tank?  Have you ever been asked by a person in a wheelchair to pump gas? What’s the solution to this problem?

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/content/43/9465543/html/Thestrengthcoach/wp-content/plugins/simple-fields/functions.php on line 1838