Disability as Inspiration Porn

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Non-disabled communities have a bad habit of treating people with disabilities as if they -- just by existing -- are in inspiration to everyone else to be inspired to be our best lives. That's a hell of a lot of pressure. Life is hard enough for anyone without someone else coming along and saying "OMG YOU ARE SUCH AN INSPIRATION". It's also stupid as shit. People with disabilities are just that, people, and they're no more inspiring for playing or running or sitting on the couch eating corn chips than anyone else is. We're not here for your inspiration by Stella Young at ABC (the Australian one) discusses inspiration porn and the false implication that people with disabilities leave such horrible lives that just going to work in the morning is an act of heroism that inspires others.

The statement "the only disability in life is a bad attitude" puts the responsibility for our oppression squarely at the feet, prosthetic or otherwise, of people with disabilities. It's victim blaming. It says that we have complete control of the way disability impacts our lives. To that, I have one thing to say. Get stuffed.   By far the most disabling thing in my life is the physical environment. It dictates what I can and can't do every day. But if Hamilton is to be believed, I should just be able to smile at an inaccessible entrance to a building long enough and it will magically turn into a ramp. I can make accessible toilets appear where none existed before, simply by radiating a positive attitude. I can simply turn that frown upside down in the face of a flight of stairs with no lift in sight. Problem solved, right?   I'm a natural optimist, but none of that has ever worked for me.

Scott Jordan Harris writes about "miracle" jokes and inspiration porn in his Slate article, Despicable Memes. Miracle jokes are pictures of people with disabilities (mostly wheelchair users) doing things like standing up to take something off a shelf which. The expectation of the reader (or at least the assumed expectation) is that someone who uses a wheelchair can never get up on their own even for a moment. The reality is that the majority of people who use wheelchairs can stand and even walk short distances, but they cannot do it for as long as a non-wheelchair user or as often. In other words, the wheelchair is like a stool: when you need to sit down it allows it, but when you don't (or when you can't) use it, no miracle has occurred.

Since I tweeted my distaste for the “miracle” meme, several able-bodied people have helpfully explained to me why it is, in fact, funny. One explained that it’s a joke and that jokes work because they show us something counter to our expectations. But watching someone stand up from a wheelchair is only counter to our expectations if our expectations are based on an ignorant and ultimately bigoted understanding of what disability is and what wheelchairs do.