Inspiration Porn v. Role Models

Evenbreak friend Michael Vermeersch from Microsoft pointed me towards this article on LinkedIn, written by Bianca Prins from ING bank, and it got me thinking. In summary, she is saying the leaders should not be shy about being open with their own impairments, or when supporting other disabled people. Some people might label such actions ‘inspiration porn’. But it probably isn’t.

Young smiling boy running with prosthetic legs, and the caption “But seriously though, what is your excuse?”. This is inspiration porn

Inspiration porn is a term coined by disabled people to describe when disabled people are used as ‘inspiration’ for non-disabled people. The late, great Stella Young can explain it far better than me. She talks about ‘motivational’ images and quotes, which portray disabled people as objects of pity, or bravery. The message is aimed at non-disabled people, making you feel lucky for not being so tragic, and shameful for not achieving when these poor people can. Disability is portrayed as tragic. (By the way, if you enjoyed Stella’s video, you might also enjoy this one – “If a wheelchair user can’t play Beyonce, then Beyonce can’t play a wheelchair user”)

Man with no arms or legs on a surfboard, and a woman with one arm missing and the caption “The only disability on life is a bad attitude”.
This is also inspiration porn

Inspiration porn portrays disabled people as exceptional individuals, and suggests that we are all brave, cheerful, grateful, and generally amazing.

The reality, of course, is much less interesting. We are people, just like everyone else, except we face more barriers. Sometimes we are cheerful (just like everyone else). Sometimes we are bad-tempered, grumpy, lazy and unreasonable (just like everyone else). We are never super-human (no-one is), and we aren’t tragic objects of pity either.

One of the (many) dangers of inspiration porn is that it gives two unhelpful impressions. One is that disabled people lead tragic lives (“just feel grateful you aren’t this poor person – there is always someone worse off”), and the other is that we are somehow super heroes (e.g. Paralympians – and guess what, they are ordinary people too, who have strived hard in elite sport, just like Olympians).

Actually, we are just people, going about our everyday lives, making the best of what we have got, just like everyone else. And in order to be seen this way, we need to replace ‘inspiration porn’ with genuine role models. Disabled people doing the same things as non-disabled people do (sometimes in different ways, or with adaptations, sometimes not).

Man with shortened arms working at a computer. This is not inspiration porn.

Role models show disabled people doing the same diverse range of activities, and jobs, as anyone else. Leaders, teachers, retail workers, scientists, office workers, cleaners, nurses, market traders, consumers, musicians, actors, family members – you get the point. And the more we see of this, the quicker disabled people are seen as people. If we remove the disabling barriers (e.g. inaccessible transport, buildings, information, recruitment processes), then disabled people won’t be so, er, disabled, and can use our diverse skills just like others can.

Man in a high vis jacket in a wheelchair on a building site. This is not inspiration porn.

Every blog should have a call to action, and this one has two.

If you are a disabled person, please (if you can, and it’s safe to do so) be open about it. I’m not just a social entrepreneur, I’m a disabled social entrepreneur. It shows both disabled and non-disabled people that disabled people can be social entrepreneurs.

If you are a non-disabled person, acknowledge the diverse everyday nature of disability. Don’t pity us, or admire us, just work alongside us to remove disabling barriers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s