Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's Not My Job To "Inspire You": People with Disabilities and the Problem with "Inspiration Porn"

It lurks on your Facebook newsfeed. It creeps in the murky depths of Huffington Post, and finds its way onto every talk show imaginable. It is inspiration porn, and somewhere on the Internet, it’s just waiting to keep people with disabilities down.
Inspiration porn is corny, patronizing media that showboats disabled people for doing regular things. Regular, boring, hardly newsworthy things like walking down the street, participating in sporting events, and other mindblowing things like going to school. All things that people are supposed to do, mind you. Inspiration porn allows disabled people to become a commodity, shared, tweeted, emailed, and cooed about for the sake of a public that wants to be “inspired” by them, to see their everyday accomplishments and participation in life as an uplifting exception and not a rule. Using people with disabilities as “heartwarming” stories when they accomplish the same feats as their non-disabled peers implies a glaring lack of expectations for them. OH MY GOD. A person in a wheelchair ran a race! Society honored his right to participation! My heart be still! Call CNN! Perhaps you’ve been lucky and your newsfeed has not yet been cluttered by this terrible… I mean, touching, form of media. Here’s a few gems to give you a taste of the uproar it causes in the press when people with disabilities do things instead of sitting in their pajamas and eating chocolates… although even then, a short film may be produced or a fifth grader may be encouraged to take a photo of the Hershey’s wrapper for a “My Hero” essay.
The infamous “a disabled person going to prom must be on the news!” article. See here After a much too successful Google search, I came across this 2012 article. In the text, Foothill High senior Meagan Baker made the news for inviting “wheelchair bound” Ben Bunker to the prom. Excuse me, while I go throw up. People with disabilities are people. With feelings. They can be pretty and handsome. They can make good prom dates. They deserve to have dates with the quiet high school angst of every other. Why must we call the paper, alert the feel goodies when a person in a wheelchair goes to prom? To find his participation surprising is a blatant act of ableism, because he is merely taking part in the same age- old ritual as everyone else. The fact that a peer invited him to prom is framed as an act of charity by a media that seems unwilling to believe that someone may choose to go with him because they like him. 
It’s 2013, and we have 70 million disabled people in the United States. Still, inclusion is not a matter of course. Inclusion is not a normal part of life. It is seen as an elusive act undertaken only by the benevolent, who are given special attention for treating their disabled peers like part of the human family.
If your emesis basin is still empty, there’s more. A video went viral last year of a boy with cerebral palsy taking part in field day, which. he. is. entitled. to. do. His classmates are elevated to a saintliness of sorts for cheering him on and taking the time to run with him. This, folks, should not be anything for which people are publicly praised. Click here. The other children were supporting him. That’s what friends do. That’s what inclusion looks like. And it should be granted to people with disabilities in the same matter of fact manner that it is for every other child on the playground. When we reward able-bodied people for treating disabled people equally, it becomes an “extra special” moment instead of a civil right. It implies that people with disabilities are not otherwise worthy of inclusion, unless the public is hungry for a pat yourself on the back, warm and fuzzy treat.
And after the 30-second video ends, the same people are not challenged to think of the need to make all people a part of society, beyond the cornball segment to accompany your coffee. When inclusion and ordinary participation becomes so incredible, so rarely incorporated that it summons the media, we all have a great deal left to learn. I hope that one day, people with disabilities doing things will be allowed to happen without fanfare. Until then, you can keep your inspiration porn to yourself. And please, please know that I will crawl into a hole if you ever call me handicapable. You can stop fainting and gasping when people with disabilities leave the house. Truly, it’s becoming a public health concern. So, if you care about your health, save your fainting spells for something out of the ordinary. It would really warm my heart.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why the Word Disability Doesn’t Scare Me

Why the Word Disability Doesn’t Scare Me
Written by Kathleen Downes

The word disability doesn’t scare me. It does not mean that I am unable to do anything. It means that I am living another shade of the human experience. It means that my body is asymmetrical, discombobulated even, but certainly no less worthy. It has the peculiar, captivating essence of an abstract work of art. A disability means that society is not always sure how to accommodate me, how to make a place for me in time and space. A disability is the opportunity to talk about these things, to realize how much better the world would be if we expanded our ideas.
It does mean that I am unable to do some things, like walk by myself or climb a staircase, or tie my shoelaces. I can’t do these things, and that is a fact. It is okay to accept this truth, because every person has something that he or she cannot do. Acknowledging that I cannot do some things does not make me “less than” or “damaged” or “flawed”.
The big misconception is that that these words and “disability” are synonyms, when that simply is not the case. People reject the word “disability” and the word “disabled” because they have been trained to view them negatively. They have been trained to see these words as a statement of lesser value or lesser character. Words are what we allow them to become. In my world, the word disability means innovation, creativity, and acceptance. It means being all right with those who look or think or move differently. Words are what we allow them to become, and I have allowed this word to become a source of pride.
 It is a marker of identity, just like the words “black”, “female”, or “gay”. It is part of me, and I am part of it. Viewed in a loving light, it is just another adjective.
I dream of the day when it will be treated as such, when rather than reject a word, society will reject a connotation. The word disability belongs to me. It belongs to my culture, my history, my path of life, because I have reclaimed it.  It does not belong to fear, pity, and shame. No. It belongs to me. Positive connotation.
So, tell me I have a disability. Tell me I do. I dare you. When you say it, I will be proud. I hope that you will be too. And I hope that one day, not too long from now, people will wonder why they were so afraid of a word that can mean so many beautiful things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dear CP: Thoughts for World Cerebral Palsy Day

October 2 is World Cerebral Palsy Day, so I wrote a letter to my "life partner".

Dear CP,

Wow; we’ve been together a long time now. I guess you could say we’re pretty tight…in more ways than one. It is easy for people to think that you make my life more complicated. In some ways, they’re right. You’ve taught me all about fighting for things, even little ones, like getting into a building. You’ve taught me that people are not always kind to those who are different. The deep scar that runs down my back would not be there if not for you. I’m sure at some point when I was new to the world; my mother cried for all the “expected” things that you took away. But in so many ways they’re wrong, and I am grateful for the ways that you make my life simpler. You teach me everyday how to love all kinds of people. You crack me up all the time, and without you, where would my jokes come from? You’ve made me an advocate, and showed me that for every unkind person, there are two with enormous hearts. You remind me not to take life for granted, to celebrate whenever I can, and to appreciate little joys like Velcro and tilting powerchairs. You’ve given me beautiful friends who challenge me to open my heart a little wider.  The deep scar that runs down my back is part of our story… and I’m sure that at some point, my mother smiled for all the “unexpected” things that you brought with you. I know that I have. I more deeply understand what it means to accept and be accepted. I accept the universe as you gave it to me. What a gift.