As prom season approaches I have to hold my breath and prepare for the inevitable headlines. “FRIEND TAKES DISABLED FRIEND TO PROM!” This is what I and others in the disabled community refer to as inspiration porn. It’s a little bit of a stark term, I know and that is because it’s one way to bring across the point of objectivizing disabled individuals. It’s everywhere. I’ve been known to use the term “comparison” a lot, and once again, I get comments asking for further clarification. This, in my opinion, is how you can determine whether or not you’re sharing something that may make someone uncomfortable:
- Does the photo or meme make you feel grateful for what you have? In other words, are you comparing your struggles to the assumed struggles of the disabled individual in the photo?
- Would an abled bodied person be embraced for the same reason the disabled person is?
- For my disabled peers: Are you sharing this because you want to prove your own sense of “normalcy”? Why?
For me, one of the dead giveaways is whether or not the article uses first-person language. Some people do prefer to define their existence in that way, but as I’ve said, their existence is theirs to define. What makes these articles hurtful is the removal of identity for both the disabled individual and the dimensioning of their relationships with other people. My friends are my friends. They are not more than that or less than that because of my disabilities. My partners are my partners and I hope that in a relationship, my partner sees themselves as someone who is just as lucky to have me as I am to them. My family is not by any means to be held up in higher regard than any other. Struggles may be different, but everyone has them.
Inspiration porn exists to make the abled bodied community grateful for what they have. It is a way of comparing our life to the lives of others, or a way of stating, “Look, this individual found fill-in-the-blank despite their condition, so I must be able to as well!” and I implore you not to demean yourself or people like me by doing so. Everyone has struggles and every struggle is different and yet each emotion is valid and nothing can take that away from you. Everybody has their own way of stating “Well, it could be worse.” When you look at articles like this be it in social media or on the local news, I just encourage you to think a bit more about the message that lies between that headline. When you share these things for the sake of another feel good story and are comparing your own woes to an assumption of what that individual’s life is like, what you are ultimately sending along is the message of “At least, I’m not like them.” Or “Look! I can achieve normal things too!” when push comes to shove, normalcy has no ultimate definition in a world as diverse as ours.
With the number of Americans considered disabled currently at approximately 1 in 6 and steadily climbing as the societal definition gains more inclusivity, I’d like to argue the point that disabled individuals are pretty freaking normal. It is normal for an individual to get dressed up and enjoy the company of a date, it’s normal for a mother to tend to her child and it’s normal for friends to treat friends in a respectful manner.
What’s abnormal is the expectation we have of rejection and assumption of struggle. What’s abnormal is the idea that we’re societally flabbergasted (yes, myself included sometimes) that someone outside of our expectation treats us or another individual with a disability with respect. Disability is normal. Having friends is normal, and being treated like a respected human being should not be praised as highly as it is. It should be expected. I ask myself those three questions every single time I read about another disabled individual, because I’ve come to realize that those things dwindle down my overall significance as a person and it’s really insulting to my friends and family as well.
We are not more or less than in the eyes of those that care for us. We are equal to.
Photo Courtesy Flickr CC