I saw a meme on Facebook recently that showed a smiling girl walking with a cane against a caption that read, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” If you don’t see a problem with that, let me explain.
I want to preface this by saying that people with disabilities can be inspirational; many do wonderful things and receive praise for their amazing work. However, people with disabilities can sometimes become subjects of what is described as “inspiration porn.”
Disability rights activist Stella Young coined the term “inspiration porn” in 2012. It refers to society’s tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration. These memes and viral videos circulating on social media make viewers feel good about themselves. The memes serve to remind people that their lives aren’t as bad because at least they aren’t disabled.
I can hear the question: “But I thought I was being supportive?” as I type this. Don’t worry; your heart is in the right place. What we need to do is reframe how we treat disability on social platforms. Pay attention to what you’re posting on Facebook. Why is that viral photo with a disabled person inspiring? I love social media like the next person, but we need to make sure that we are not objectifying a group of people with it.
I have experienced this here at Ferris. A girl in class pulled me aside to tell me that I was inspiring for making it into college after struggling with my health since I was a teenager. Until I disclosed my status as someone living with chronic illness, I was no less inspiring than anyone else in the room. She was being kind, but her praise seemed to benefit her more than me. I was responsible for my own success and didn’t want her to see my disability before she saw me for who I was.
In short, I’m not your inspiration because of my chronic illness. Disabled people might have to work a little harder to get the same results, but that doesn’t make them extraordinary.
When you meet someone with a disability, connect with them on a human level. Don’t reduce people to objects of inspiration. Disability deserves visibility, and you can do your part by posting content online that promotes healthy discourse instead of hindering it.