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What is Inspiration Porn & Why is it Harmful?

Abstract

Imagine that you are a disabled person/person with disabilities, and someone tells you this —

'You are so brave to be living like this for years!' Or, 'It is so inspiring that despite all odds, you are able to go to the grocery store and buy things on your own!' Cringe-worthy, aren’t they? These are simple demonstrations of inspiration porn. Ableism is the discrimination and prejudice against the disability community with the belief that non-disabled people are superior. Ableism can manifest in many ways, of which inspiration porn is one. With the Tokyo Paralympics recently over, it seems only relevant to write an article on inspiration porn.



 Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay
Wheelchair Marathon Athletes


Introduction

With most people having access to the internet and newspapers, one may have seen posters or internet memes that show disabled people/people with disabilities doing something (for example, playing a sport) as instances to 'inspire' non-disabled people. The people creating these may mean well, but the messages are harmful, not just to the disabled community but to everyone as it is a form of unintentional ableism.


Australian disability activist, Stella Young, coined the term inspiration porn in her famous TED talk to refer to these kinds of messages surrounding disabilities. Her rationale behind including the word ‘porn’ as both types (i.e. including inspiration porn) people are objectified for the benefit of others. Inspiration porn is nothing but a genre of media depictions where disabled people/people with disabilities are either portrayed as inspirational or objects of pity. Some examples of inspiration porn are:


  • Publicizing people who have been 'fixed' through miraculous medical treatments or home remedies, or someone 'overcoming' their disability (these types may also come under the category of fake news.)

  • News stories like the one about a student with Down Syndrome being elected Prom King or Queen depicted as a humanitarian and admirable deed.

  • Internet memes that portray disabled athletes, academics, or any disabled person/person with disabilities who has won medals for something, graduated from college/high school, been successful, or even doing everyday tasks, with messages like ‘What’s your excuse?’ or ‘Your excuse is invalid’. One may have even come across a meme that says, ‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude’. These memes are another form of inspiration porn.

  • Posting kind deeds such as helping a wheelchair user up a ramp or helping a disabled person eat food at a restaurant in order to gain popularity. These people are often glorified for their 'service' to humanity.

  • Non-disabled inspiration porn is another type where sometimes the parents or other members of the family are portrayed as superhumans for making many sacrifices and raising their disabled children.


Why is Inspiration Porn Harmful?

Inspiration porn can’t be harmful right? Isn't society taking a step forward in the inclusion of disabled people/people with disabilities? Actually, no. Inspiration porn is problematic as it causes the opposite of inclusion. What people first need to understand is that inspiration porn is aimed at non-disabled people. It aims to motivate non-disabled people to do certain things. Treating disabled people as a motivation by non-disabled people to stop being lazy and to work is insulting. Inspiration porn further alienates disabled people/people with disabilities because it makes people think that they are extra special. In reality, they are just people. So, inspiration porn does not showcase humanity, and disabled people/people with disabilities are often objectified.


Inspiration porn only gives us one side of the story and often hides the real problems they face. For example, let’s say a famous person wants to sit and have a conversation with an autistic person who is alone, and there is a crowd that wants to take photos of this event in order to share the kind deed by the famous person. But what if the person wants to be alone? It could be to avoid a sensory overload, bullying, or maybe the person just likes to be alone. Often, in these kinds of examples in real life, the famous person is turned into a saint by the media, and the autistic person is objectified; they are treated as an object of pity. We rarely hear the voices or opinions of disabled people.


Kristin Gilger, the director of the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ), said in an article on disability that while inspiration porn could be well-intentioned, the stories also can be very exploitative; they are very limited in really getting to the core of how people live and what they think as well as how they are affected by what is going on in our civic life.


How to Avoid and Combat Inspiration Porn?

It would take a long way to combat inspiration porn as many people still believe that there is nothing wrong with inspiration porn. However, there are a few ways that could go a long way through which you can help avoid and combat it. The first important thing is to not talk about disability as a burden, tragedy, or suffering. If you are talking about a disabled person/person with disabilities, give a realistic picture and do not exaggerate it. Secondly, do include the opinions and ideas of actually disabled people; they have a voice even if it may not be verbal for some people. Photos and videos of disabled people/people with disabilities should not be shared and publicised without their consent. If you want to share something, promote content that portrays disabled people/people with disabilities appropriately and with dignity. Read up and create awareness about inspirational porn and other forms of ableism. Finally, one must treat disabled persons/persons with disabilities equally. Do not assume that they cannot do certain things which non-disabled people can do. However, if they ask for help, then help them. Treat them with dignity and as other people around you. Presume competence.


'I am different, not less.' ― Temple Grandin



Sources:

  1. ‘Inspiration Porn: How “Feel-Good” Imagery Demeans the Disabled Community and Perpetuates Harmful Stereotypes’ by Lauren Beller (Medium): https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/inspiration-porn-c08b419d35c9

  2. ‘How To Avoid Inspiration Porn’ by Andrew Pulrang (Forbes): https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2019/11/29/how-to-avoid-inspiration-porn/?sh=4e2a4f4c5b3d

  3. ‘Inspiration Porn’ by Grace Trumpower (AbleSC): https://www.able-sc.org/community/inspiration-porn/







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