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Inspiring or Injurious?

13 January 2016


A sleazy-sounding term keeps popping up on the Enable Holidays Facebook and Twitter feeds, and it’s something we would like to talk about today: “inspiration porn”.

(Here’s a tip: if you’re going to Google the phrase, make sure you write the words in speech marks to avoid unwanted search results!!  In case you don’t dare, here are a few examples: herehere and here).

Inspiration porn has nothing to do with sex.  Instead, it describes a news story, image or meme that shows a person with a disability in a way that some people feel is patronizing, and perhaps even damaging.

We’ve all seen the posts on social media: the quarterback who took his Down’s syndrome classmate to prom; a fast food employee who fed a burger to a man with quadriplegia; a woman with a severe neurological condition who completed a half-marathon.  In the case of the prom date and the fast food employee, many people see such posts as an argument in favour of able-bodied people helping out more, while in the case of the woman and the half-marathon, the insinuation seems to be directed at able-bodied people once again, as if to ask, “What’s your excuse?”

Charlie Swinbourne, who blogs at limpingchicken.com, said: “The thing I find troubling is that words like ‘inspiring’ are a product of low expectations of disabled people.”

Another of the reasons that such posts – which on the surface can appear positive and life-affirming – receive criticism, is because in each case the person with a disability is little more than a “prop” used to inspire, and the focus is always on the person without the impaired mobility or health condition.

Stella Young, the late Australian comedian and activist, is said to have coined the term “inspiration porn” as a way of pointing out that such images objectify people with disabilities for the benefit of non-disabled people.  Stella believed that the main element in life that “disables” us is society itself, and therefore dedicated herself to changing the ways in which people with disabilities are perceived, and in particular the idea of able-bodied people seeing them as “inspiring”.

In the interests of balance, not everyone sees the shared images as problematic.  Melissa Finefrock, who blogs at hopeburnsblue, commented: “Maybe people are impressed by how I navigate or they’re intrigued by the adaptive technology I use. I think people resort to this concept of ‘inspiration’ to put one word on it. What they’re coming away with is still positive, and it’s good that people are seeing us in a positive light, because just decades ago nobody expected anything of us.”

What do YOU feel when you see images like the ones described in this blog?  Do they offend you?  Do they inspire you?  Please let us know by commenting on our Facebook page, or emailing us at info@enableholidays.com!

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