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Oct 7, 2019

Inspiration porn and you

Inspiration porn and you

Have you heard of this term before? Likely not. 

I’ve not found a unified definition of it, but suffice it to say, inspiration porn is the objectification of people with disability via the representation of people with disabilities as being infinitely inspirational. As a person who does not identify as having a disability, it might sound terrible when I say that this is not, in fact, an appropriate representation of all people with disabilities. For a better understanding, I encourage you to watch this video of the late Stella Young, who does an infinitely better job at explaining this concept than I ever could. For those who want the CliffNotes: a person with a disability simply doing something that a person without a disability would do (e.g., go to prom) is not inspirational. Sure, there are things that people with disabilities do that are incredible. Being treated well by strangers, attending a prom, or playing in a sporting event, are not necessarily those things.

Every now and then on social media there seems Sharing such articles and stories on social media allows someone to feel like they are participating in a just cause, and that they should be praised for even sharing such remarkable stories (I like to think of this as an Abled Savior; a riff off of the notion of White Saviors). I think few who engage in inspiration porn would be able to identify the ways in which people with disabilities are objectified by inspiration porn (not to mention by society at large). The sharing and viral ALpic1nature of inspiration porn is actually a very tangible example of how ableist our society has become. People with disabilities have been isolated, avoided, experimented on, abused, and treated as less than human for millenia. In the same way that the United States has inherent systemic racism, there is also the far less talked about systemic ableism: inspiration porn is a symptom of a much deeper ailment.to be a flare up of videos, articles, ormemes that revolve around the same theme: a student (often appearing to have Down syndrome or identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder), has been involved in some traditional student activity by a ‘popular’ kid (often athletes). The essence is that it is amazing that the ‘popular’ kid was so charitable that they made the student with a disability’s dream come true. This is such a common trope that there was even a sketch on Saturday Night Live (The Champ) where Jonah Hill plays a wrestler who wins a match, but later when it is reported by the local news, it’s revealed that the person he wrestled let him win. The sketch represents Hill’s character as a “loser” and not a person with a disability, but the narrative is straight out of mainstream stories that go viral every day. The underlying cause of inspiration porn finds its roots in ableism.

Inspiration porn also includes the representation of great things that have been done by people with disabilities, but are presented in the context of the disability, rather than in comparison to broader society. For instance, Kodi Lee, the most recent winner of America’s Got Talent is a boy who is both blind and on the Autism spectrum. But most of all, he is an amazing and talented singer, regardless of ability status. Upon being awarded a Golden Buzzer and the subsequent fanfare on the internet, the same tragic, pitying narrative appeared. Kodi was frequently described as using music to overcome his disabilities while his mother was praised as heroic for assisting him. The implication being that disabilities, or people with disabilities, are burdensome and problematic. The reality is that Kodi is an extremely talented musician who deserves respect and praise for his superior musical talents rather than any commentary about how inspiring it is or how difficult it must have been for him to accomplish these goals in spite of his disability. It is inspiring and difficult for anyone to win America’s Got Talent.

ALpic2Inspiration porn is not only detrimental as it objectifies people with disabilities, but it reinforces the notion that they are to be infanticised and treated as exceptions rather than truly included in a society that consistently claims the importance of inclusion and diversity. People do truly amazing things all the time--we should celebrate those things, and recognize that achieving a life goal, regardless of the circumstances, is challenging and commendable. Inclusivity is not sharing a “feel good story” that objectifies a person with a disability- these should not come as a surprise.
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Dr. Allison Levine is an Assistant Professor, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, and LPCA-eligible counselor at the University of Kentucky (pronouns: she/her). Allison is passionate about improving counselor education, mitigating implicit biases about disability, and doing her small part to improve the world around her. You can read more about her academic work at www.amlevine.weebly.com.








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