4 Examples of Inspiration Porn

Everyone likes to feel inspired, and there seems to be an endless number of things out there for us to draw our inspiration from. Some of the most common inspirational stories we see in the media involve the lives of disabled people. Because it’s okay to be inspired by someone else’s disability, right?


Wrong.


Inspirational depictions of people with disabilities in the media are called “inspiration porn,” a term coined by Australian disability rights activist Stella Young. While porn might seem like a strong word to use for what could be characterized as a heartwarming inspirational story, Young’s point in creating this term was to draw attention to the fact that these stories aren’t shared to support disabled people. These stories instead are shared to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves, thus exploiting those with disabilities.


But these portrayals are so common in the media that you might not even notice them at first glance. Here are four common examples of inspiration porn and what to do the next time you come across one.


The story of someone with “special needs” doing something completely ordinary


Disabled Guy Fulfills His Dream to Ride Inside a Lamborghini (999ktdy.com)


In this video, a nondisabled man takes a young man with cerebral palsy for a drive in his Lamborghini. The driver can be seen crying as he is taking the young man around town.


The article underneath the video reads, “Hopefully, this 39-second video will help you to realize the blessings in your life.” This statement begs the question: who is this video for? It seems clear that this video is meant to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves because, apparently, the man with cerebral palsy isn’t “blessed,” while those without disabilities are.


Not only that, but getting to ride in a Lamborghini—despite sounding extremely fun—is not so out of the ordinary that it needs to be celebrated online. If anyone without a disability had the same opportunity, it wouldn’t make a single headline.


The cheerleader who asks the disabled kid to prom


Cheerleader asks special needs student to prom in sweetest way possible (today.com)


Some iteration of this story appears in the news every spring: the cheerleader asks the “special needs” teenager to prom. And while we love seeing stories where students with disabilities are being included, that’s just the issue. This story should not be out of the ordinary. Inclusion should be the norm, and the norm never gets attention on NBC’s TODAY. The student being asked to prom should not be spending his days, and his dances, at a segregated school down the street from where the cheerleader attends high school. All students should be living and learning together.


The poster that shows a person with a disability while the text reads, “What’s your excuse?” or something similar


A picture of a disabled man with no hands or feet lifting weights strapped onto his arms. The words underneath the picture say "NO EXCUSES"'

If you grew up in a general education setting where the disabled students were segregated in another classroom or even an entirely different school, you might have come across a poster like this one in your school's hallways. Why do nondisabled people need to see people with disabilities doing normal things in order to feel inspired to do the same? Disabled people have the same needs and interests as everyone else, which can include working out, playing sports, and performing on stage. We shouldn’t need to see pictures of a disabled person doing something that brings them joy in order to feel motivated to work hard in our own lives.


Someone without a disability being praised for being friends with someone who has a disability


UPS driver delivers wish for boy with disability (thedenverchannel.com)


This video about a UPS driver becoming friends with a disabled boy who has a similar disability as the driver’s late son is truly heartening. Everyone loves to see authentic human connections. But no one needs to be praised for becoming friends with someone with a disability; having friends who are different from you shouldn’t be newsworthy.


Overall, it’s human to love a heartwarming story. But next time you come across a story that seems to capitalize on someone’s disability, do the following:


Ask yourself who the intended audience of the story is. Is the story meant to help nondisabled people feel good about themselves, or is it being told to amplify the voices of the disabled?


Think before you share on social media. How would a person with a disability view this post?


And, in the meantime, be sure to follow and share stories from disabled people themselves.


While finding inspiration around us is a natural part of the human experience, so is disability. Instead of seeing disability as something inspiring that needs to be overcome, we should view it as a normal part of life. People with disabilities don’t exist to make nondisabled people feel better. They just want to live fulfilling, ordinary lives like everyone else.

 

Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.

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