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.


  1. Great post. I did indeed throw up.

  2. Thank you so much for writing and reading my blog. Down with inspiration porn.

  3. I felt the same way when I watched a troupe of dancers work with some girls in wheelchairs. It was not like wheelchair dancing in which a fantastically toned dancer in a chair pulls his or her weight in the dance, creating something unique and fabulous. It was more like, watch us wheel these girls around. Maybe I am just a cynic, but spotlighting the ones in the troupe with the disability was so uncomfortable for me.