Autistic people, and disabled people as a whole are not here to inspire you. They do not live their lives so that it can be filmed, put to an uplifting sound track and posted on Facebook. Most of you should know this, and you might even be nodding along to this blog, but it’s amazing how many people fall in to the trap of re-posting what has become known as “Inspiration Porn”. But what is Inspiration Porn? And why is it an issue for disabled people?
First of all what is inspiration porn? From what I can find online Stella Young the comedian, journalist and disability rights activist was the first to use to term ”Inspiration Porn” back in 2012. It refers to stories where someone with a disability is called inspirational for doing normal, everyday things just because of their disability. Think of someone using a wheel chair being approached by a stranger in the street, and told they are an inspiration. Then imagine that same stranger takes a photo to tweet, or writes a post on Facebook about what an inspiration this disabled person is.
So why is this so bad? Well inspiration by its very definition means being inspired to do something, or to feel something. But mostly you would say you were inspired if you saw, read or heard something that then pushed you on to go and do something yourself. But the word inspiration in terms of inspiration porn is used in a very strange way. Think “Autistic person gets date to prom” what has that inspired anyone to do? Is it in terms of “Well if someone with autism can get a date why can’t I?” Just break it down and think for a second. What’s the inspiration here? Someone with a disability did something day-to-day. Not only is that a headline, but it’s going to go viral and become world news. If you’re non-disabled try and put yourself in that story. You wake up and go to the shops. When you get home from work that night you log on to twitter only to find out that someone noticed you out shopping, and was so inspired, so moved by watching you decide what flavour crisps you wanted that they just had to take a picture and tweet it out. In fact what you did was so fantastic that thousands of people re-tweeted it. Makes no sense right? Well run through the same story again only this time pretend you`re autistic, or you have one arm. It could be anything. Do you think you would be any less shocked or perplexed to see yourself all over twitter?
The bottom line here is that disabled people are just living their lives. Yes some things might be hard for them to do, and yes doing day-to-day stuff might feel like a big deal to some people. But that’s their life. They are not doing it to try and make other non-disabled people feel better about themselves. If you are disabled and you feel like you might never be able to do something, and then you see someone with the same disability as you doing it sure that might inspire you. But it would inspire you to do something, not just post about it online. The idea behind it seems to be that disabled people just sit in a room all day doing nothing. If they do anything outside of this it must be a huge deal, and worth taking time out of your day to admire. Disabled people are not here to act as inspiration, but what makes it even worse, in my eyes at least, is that people are not even inspired to do anything. It’s not as if the people who share these stories go out and do something – they just talk about it, post about it, and then forget about it. That is not on any level inspiration.
Also let’s think about how these stories and images tend to be played-out. More often than not it’s not even the disabled person who is given the headlines. It’s “Cheerleader asked boy with Downs Syndrome to prom” Or “Staff member helps man with autism in busy shop.” In other words “Girl asked boy out on date.” “Staff member does what they get paid to do.” But as soon as you bring disability in to it their acts are elevated to almost hero status. The girl did not ask any old boy to the prom, no she took it upon herself to ask the disabled boy. And that act should inspire you to …well I am not sure? And the staff member doing their job, nope, a hero because even though they are paid to deal with the public someone with autism is clearly outside of that right?
People share stories like this because they want to feel there is good in the world. Because they know how much bad stuff happens to disabled people and how hard life can sometimes be for everyone, disabled or not. But this is not the way to show how good the world can be. This is just showing people living their lives, or doing their jobs. It’s like saying “look at them, they`re disabled but they can still get out of bed, and live with themselves. Even like that. My life is not so bad. I should go to the gym tonight.” Just try and think before you share something like this again. Think about what it is, and what the real point of it is. Think has it inspired you to do anything? And if so why? Because the truth is most, if not all, disabled people hate inspiration porn. We don’t want it, it gives us nothing, and yet it focuses on us. And all so someone else can feel happy for a few seconds when they hit share.
Stella Youngs TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en
You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html
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