Are you guilty of “inspiration porn”?

Inspiration porn is everywhere. It is a form of unconscious bias that hurts people with disabilities

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Man with prosthetic leg exercising in Gym
  1. One-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people

Feel-good stories

Examples: The guys from Home Depot that made the walker? The high school robotics team that made the electric wheelchair? Johnny raised $200 with his lemonade stand for cancer research? Suzie shaved her head in solidarity with her friend with leukemia?

With every feel good story there is a hidden truth — the story you should actually be evaluating

  1. Why the hell can’t the kids get the walker or wheelchair — a mobility device they need to fully participate in society? The story should be about what is wrong with our insurance companies.
  2. Why do cancer researchers need kids behind lemonade stands for funding? The story should be about funding for pediatric medical research
  3. Why did Suzie shave her head? The story should be about children bullying others because of their differences, and the failure of school districts to stop them.

“There but for the grace of God go I”

Examples: Necrotizing fasciitis. Lead poisoning for Las Vegas massacre victims. Neurological damage due to pesticide exposure.

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Multi colored writing on chalkboard “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”

People with disabilities as superheroes

Examples: Person with no legs climbs mountain. Person with autism is a savant.

  1. The social model of disability views society as creating the barriers as the disability, not the medical condition itself. If the medical condition can be overcome, and the individual is not overcoming it, that places the blame squarely at the disabled person’s feet rather than society’s feet. That is closer to the medical model of disability.
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Screen shot of a “Feel Good” Story headline — “Stranger befriends boy with autism during flight — and more of the week’s good news”

People with disabilities being celebrated for things that would never ever make news if done by someone without a disability.

Examples: Someone with Down’s Syndrome that is modeling. A person on a plane makes friends with a kid with autism.

How do we combat inspiration porn?

The way to get rid of unconscious bias is to first make it conscious. Question every story that involves disability, and ask yourself — is this story valid, or inspiration porn? And if it is inspiration porn, can the story be salvaged by refocusing it?

  1. Does the story focus on the random nature of the disability?
  2. Does the story feature a “supercrip”? To test whether a story is valid or exploitative — remove the disability from a headline, then ask if the resulting headline would still be a story.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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