Disability Advocate Explains Why She DOESN’T Want to Be Your Inspiration

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In 2014, the late Australian disability advocate and comedian Stella Young presented a TED Talk on something she called “inspiration porn”—a term she had coined all the way back in 2012. When introduced, the term made the audience erupt into laughter. But really, that was the perfect name for the issue Young was addressing: that is, the objectification of the disability community to make those without disabilities feel good or inspired.

For example, there are memes and inspirational images out there of people with disabilities being happy while doing normal things. Many of them are captioned with the Scott Hamilton quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” or something like “What’s your excuse?” This sort of message implicitly makes a person without disabilities say, “If they can do it, so can I. And my problems could be worse; at least I’m not like them.”

Flickr/BK

Flickr/BK

However, Young says, the concept of inspiration porn operates on the assumption that disability is a “Bad Thing” and that simply living with a disability makes a person “exceptional.” And in the eyes of some disability advocates, this is not necessarily the case; after all, those with special needs are just living their lives like everyone else. Differently in some ways, perhaps, but living normally nonetheless. In fact, some disability advocates argue that those with special needs are inhibited more by society than they are their own conditions (this is called the “social model of disability,” by the way).

Those who speak out against inspiration porn argue that it can potentially distract from the accommodation issues facing the disability community. They say that the implication of inspiration porn is that the quality of life for a disabled person is centered around their attitude toward life. And while attitude and a positive outlook are generally important for everyone, regardless of ability, Young humorously points out that “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”

The idea behind inspiration porn has been met with conversation and controversy among those with and without disabilities. And now we want to open up that conversation to you.

Take a listen to Young’s explanation of inspiration porn in the video below, and let us know what you think!

(Note: there is some brief use of strong language.)

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.