“Inspiring!” is a Tainted Word for Me

As I was watching Sunday Today, there was an announcement that the Paralympic Games were starting up in South Korea. The commentators were saying something about how wonderful it is, and then somebody said, “It’s inspiring!” No offense, but as a disabled person, that word is tainted with the notion that we are only there to make other people feel better by being…how do I put it? The loser in a one-sided fight? A kick in the butt for the non-disabled? An object?  

Is it too much to ask to just be athletes without being objects to make you feel better about yourselves? Do you look at us and see things? Or don’t you know that we are people? 

I don’t know. You think you get to be seen as a full human being, finally, and then you realize you don’t.

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The Problem With Disabled Inspiration Ads 

I have seen those ads or Public Service Announcements where a kid facing a challenge – let’s just all call him “disabled” for short – is, I don’t know, running with blade prosthetics or doing a flip in a wheelchair. Those are all fine and dandy when presented by themselves, but when they are shown as “inspiration,” it gets, well, problematic. It again poses the stereotype that the “disabled” person is an object of pity. Dictionary.com gives the definition of “pity” as “sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy:” Therefore, any achievement by the person, even those that display their strengths, should be therefore be displayed to the abled to make them feel better about themselves. It’s really putting a person down, saying their strengths and contributions are, well, a miracle. That’s taking things a bit far, don’t you think?

“But if they can do it, so can I. Isn’t that good?” Do what? Do you even know? Is it really that weird that a deaf person can dance? Is it really that weird that an autistic person can sing? Maybe they can sing or dance better than you, even. But it goes back to that “object of pity” default mode that the abled tend to give the disabled. It kind of puts the abled in a position of power and privilege to lord over the disabled. “Those poor, poor disabled! They can’t do anything that contributes to society!” It also puts the disabled at the fickle mercy of the abled, to again pity or get rid of. And as we who have had meltdowns know, the mercy of the privileged is fickle, indeed.

Of course, some people really get happy from these messages of inspiration. It’s as if they get a sort of drug like “high” from being inspired. One of the few things which gives such a “high” to the brain that is not a drug is watching or reading depictions of sexual activity, or, to put it crudely, consuming porn. That is why these sort of inspiration things are often called “inspiration porn.” Now, I know I have lost some of you at those two words, but hear me out. If we are really giving you pleasure simply by doing something slightly unexpected, like not bemoaning our lot and getting on with life, it’s really the kind of objectification you tend to get from things like porn or drugs.

“But they are different! They have (insert condition here)! They need our tender loving care!” I get that they need more tender loving care or support. But they don’t need to be weighed, measured and found wanting by people who want to feel superior to them in some way. We get enough of that from prejudice! That’s the crux of the Inspiration Porn problem; it is prejudice! It is looking at or listening to a person and prejudging their competence, contributing potential or even worth as a human being! You can rant and rave about how your child can never do this or that, but then they will see that particular thing they “cannot” do as a measure of whether they are loved.

So, comment your anger at speaking out against being your inspiration porn star. I stand here with fists at the ready, waiting for the opportunity to fight for my right to be a human being.