Please Stop Spreading 'Inspiration Porn' About Disability


There’s a strange phenomenon on the internet that we in the disability community refer to as “inspiration porn.” It’s where abled people use pictures of disabled people to exclaim how inspirational they are simply for existing, or use it to guilt abled people into trying harder because if a disabled person can brush their teeth, then surely you can do anything.

In the interest of full disclosure, before I became disabled, I didn’t realize how harmful inspiration porn was. I fully admit I participated in perpetuating it. I’m positive I shared a viral inspiration porn post at some point in time, and used it to inspire me to push harder. So please understand that this post isn’t to vilify people for taking part in inspiration porn, but rather to show people how harmful it actually is so you can learn to do better.

Why is inspiration porn harmful? Well for one, having a disability or chronic illness does not automatically make you a morally righteous person. Oscar Pistorius, a frequent fixture in inspiration porn memes, was convicted of killing his girlfriend. Bad people get sick, too. Disability doesn’t equal morality.

Inspiration porn objectifies disabled people. It is absolutely wonderful to celebrate the accomplishments of disabled people, just as it is to celebrate the accomplishments of abled people. However, when images of disabled people are accompanied by slogans such as, “what’s your excuse?” or “your excuse is invalid,” disabled people aren’t being lifted up or celebrated. We’re being used as a tool to guilt abled people into trying harder.

Scott Hamilton disability meme.
This image is a classic example of inspiration porn.

Inspiration porn also ignores the fact that there are many different types of disabilities and perpetuates the assumption that disabled people should be able to do anything. This is just not true. Take the pictures of people running with prosthetic limbs. Their disabilities allow them to run with the help of aids. I don’t need prosthetic limbs, but my disability keeps me from running due to wild heart rate fluctuations and dizziness. Yet the effect of these images leads people to say things such as, “well, did you see that picture of the little boy with no legs who competed on a track team? He’s disabled and can still do stuff like that, so why can’t you?” Well, because we have different kinds of disabilities which allow us to do different types of activities.

Inspiration porn puts pressure on disabled people to think that they have to be an “inspiration” to matter. It’s not enough to live our lives and learn how to work with our disabilities; we also have to inspire millions of abled people to recognize how “lucky” they are to be abled. It sends the message that if a disabled person is capable of completing simple tasks, then abled people should be able to do 1000 times better. It’s like saying, “Hey watch out abled peeps, disabled people are accomplishing things that make them look equal to us, so we need to work harder because we’re obviously better and more capable than they are at everything.” Yes, everything. I have seen images of a disabled person getting dressed accompanied with the message “What’s your excuse,” because apparently abled people are also supposed to be better at getting dressed than disabled people.

Inspiration porn regards abled people as heroes simply for treating disabled people like human beings. Disabled people date. We have sex. We fall in love. We get married. We have kids. These things aren’t happening in spite of our conditions; our conditions are part of us. Being disabled doesn’t make someone automatically unworthy of love. I often see images being shared around social media, like the one posted here, that make a hero out of anyone who recognizes that disabled people are human beings and treat us as such. You shouldn’t treat disabled people humanely just to be thought of as a hero; you should do it because we are human beings with the same inherent value as every other being on this globe.

(There’s a great hashtag on Twitter, #disabledandcute, which I highly recommend checking out. It’s great proof of just how beautiful, sexy, gorgeous and handsome disabled people can be.)

Finally, perhaps the most harmful of all the effects of inspiration porn is the notion that our lives aren’t worth living. When someone tells a disabled person “you are so inspiring, I don’t know how you do it, I couldn’t live like that,” what they are telling us is that they see our lives as miserable and unworthy. We are essentially being told we are inspiring just because we haven’t killed ourselves. You want to know one of the hardest things about being disabled and chronically ill? How we are treated and viewed in society.

We are not your cautionary tales or reminders to be grateful for your abledness. Images of a person who has been disabled by an accident that includes a line saying “be thankful for what you have because you never know when you may lose it” is another way of turning disabled people into tools of inspiration for abled people. It’s another way of saying our lives are worthless and sad.

This idea that our lives are less meaningful than abled people’s lives is something we have to fight against every day. Abled people treat the word “disabled” as if it’s a slur, and it’s not because of how disabled people view the word. It’s because of how abled people view our lives. When I first got sick, I struggled to refer to myself as disabled, and had many people say things like, “don’t give up, you’re not disabled” as if admitting my physical limitations was a way of giving up on life.

Wading through a sea of messages telling me that my life is unworthy doesn’t make me feel strong or brave. It makes me feel like my life has less value. Believe me, I hate being sick. I hate having constant pain. I hate having to face new limitations that get in the way of what I used to be able to do. But I absolutely believe my life is worth living. I am fortunate enough to have an amazing life partner and feisty daughter. I have an awesome support group of friends, both online and face-to-face. I have things I’m passionate about and I’m finding ways to continue to do them, in one way or another. And I love who I am as a person, and that includes my disability.

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