Support Us
Media's backhanded compliment to the disabled - The LAMP

Media’s backhanded compliment to the disabled

By July 23, 2014 News No Comments

We’ve all seen inspiration porn before. You can especially find it in classrooms and locker rooms and Public Service Announcements posted on the streets of major cities and in airports. I admit I wasn’t aware of the term until David Kleeman of PlayCollective tweeted out this TED talk from Australian disability advocate Stella Young:

I’ve seen plenty of inspiration porn in my lifetime, and Ms. Young is right. It does remind me that, however bad a day I’m having, it could be worse. I could be paralyzed. Running is really a challenge for me, but how much more awful would my life be if I couldn’t use my legs at all? Thank goodness I’m not physically disabled!

I believe that, if you’re not disabled and you’re being really honest with yourself, you’ve had these thoughts too. Inspiration porn is a backhanded compliment, perhaps meant to congratulate a person for overcoming adversity but which actually limits a person’s achievement to being a function of his or her adverse life circumstances.

But what Ms. Young points out is that it isn’t necessarily your fault. As far as much of the media are concerned, disabled people exist to warm our hearts and teach lessons about perseverance and inner strength; they’re not here to teach calculus, run corporations or cut hair. Perhaps even worse, media relegation of disabled people as objects of inspiration sends a subtler message about where they “belong.” All of this is a great disservice not only to people who are disabled in some way, but also to people who are not, and who then move through the world with expectations about normalcy and how it can never apply to people unlike ourselves. There is utility in being reminded to count our blessings when times get tough, but must it be done at the expense of others?

The reason for David’s tweet in the first place was to solicit thoughts from the Twitterverse about how disabled people should be represented in media for kids. Send your ideas to @davidkleeman, and share them with us in the comments!

Emily Long
Follow The LAMP on Twitter: @thelampnyc
Follow Emily on Twitter: @emlong