themighty logo

Why Spreading Disability 'Inspiration Porn' Is a Problem

Many times, a situation will arise and I find myself too scared to voice my thoughts. This year, as part of Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, I’m pushing myself to spread my experience of living with a disability.

As is the experience of many disabled people, I have received my fair share of messages from well-meaning people that are chock-full of inspiration porn. Recently, I received a message about a woman who adapted the original challenge of running a certain distance to cycling on a stationary bike. She did this to fit her needs due to her disability. I was encouraged to look at the story as I might find it “inspiring.” This is problematic on many levels.

Inspiration porn” is a term coined by disability activist Stella Young. The term refers to the portrayal of disabled individuals as inherently inspirational based on their disabilities.

There are several parts to this situation that are unacceptable, including assuming two people who have the same diagnosis will have the same abilities, and hoping someone (disabled or not) will find the story to be “inspirational.” Newsflash: Disabled people do not exist to serve as an inspiration to others, abled or disabled.

I have cerebral palsy, a condition caused by brain damage that happens before, during, or shortly after birth. The location and severity of the brain damage that causes CP is different for each person. No two people with CP will present the same. Some, like me, can walk, talk and live independently, some need a variety of mobility aids, and some have multiple severe disabilities and require assistance from caregivers with some or all everyday tasks. In addition, every person has different opportunities and resources available to improve symptoms such as PT, OT, speech therapy, Botox, surgery, assistive devices, etc.

In the original message, I could not discern what limitations this woman had due to her CP. All I knew was that she was using a bike because she could not run. I, too, cannot run, and biking is very difficult for me. Even on a stationary bike, I struggle as my left leg is a lot weaker than my right leg. Everyone with a disability is a unique individual with unique abilities and unique goals. Having a diagnosis doesn’t put us in a specific “club” of sorts that equalizes all of us and our experiences. So no, I did not find this “inspiring.”

While I find what this woman was able to accomplish to be amazing for herself, just as I would perceive anyone, regardless of ability, who makes progress toward a goal, I don’t find this inspirational in the fact that this woman is just trying to live her life.

I contrast this with my love of crochet. I would be appalled if someone promoted my crochet ability around my disability. Yes, it took me extra time to figure out how to hold the yarn and get my hand to stay relaxed enough due to my cerebral palsy, but I am just trying to live my life like the person next to me.

I don’t bring this up to point out people doing the “wrong” thing. I get it. Humans love to try to connect with others and nudge them forward with their life. I don’t think people do this intentionally, but the first step in making a change in behavior, such as limiting the inspiration porn spread on social media, is awareness. We are often so set in our ways and our limited modes of thinking because it’s how we were taught when we grew up, we can adjust our behavior over time as we learn what is and is not helpful to those in our community.

Spreading inspiration porn, to abled or disabled people, only reflects how limited our views are and how unwilling we are to listen to the people in our community when they say that is unhelpful and sometimes offensive.

Intent and context matter. If you choose to share this or similar articles, please do so not to try to inspire someone. Instead, please share articles as a method of education and explain it as such.

So, that’s all this article is – awareness. Reading this article is a great opportunity to listen to those around us, reflect on our current behaviors, and ultimately make a change in what we send and spread on social media.

Getty image by Champlifezy.