Inspiration Porn Isn’t Just Insulting, It’s Theft.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Heidman wrote a piece for Salon where she called out advertisers for their inspiration‐porn heavy advertisements and cast a light on the “it could be worse” attitude many able‐bodied people take when it comes to discussing life’s difficulties:

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; It’s there so that non‐disabled people can put their worries into perspective…It’s there so that non‐disabled people can look at us and think ‘well, it could be worse… I could be that person.’

According to Heidman, advertisements like those seen during the Superbowl cast people with disability in the role of Tiny Tim: forever suffering yet able to overcome it all with a positive attitude and a bright smile when neither of those things could be farther from the truth.

And while I agree with Heidman regarding the damage inspiration porn causes and the misconceptions it creates, I feel there’s a more insidious form that inspiration form takes that’s rarely addressed: theft of accomplishment.

Too often advertising and even news articles go out of their way to focus on a person’s disability instead of the thing that that person accomplished, blurring the line between “this person is good at what they do” and “this person is good at what they do for a person with a disability

Take wheelchair sports, for example. Whenever the local TV station decided to cover one of my team’s games, it was never shown under the Sports section of the evening news. Instead, the anchor would introduce the thirty to forty‐five second clip by talking about overcoming odds then cut to a condensed version of the six minute interviews they did with a few team members, asking how long we’ve been in a wheelchair and how wheelchair basketball helps keep our spirits high and our attitudes positive. No mention of the score, no clips of winning baskets or last‐minute saves. Oh, and let’s not forget the obligatory yokel‐ing where one anchor looks at the other and says &8220;I tell ya’ Diane, I couldn’t be that fast and effective on two working feet much less a wheelchair. Simply Amazing! So inspirational_.”

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone is casting disabled people in an “inspirational” light. Target recently included a girl in crutches in an Elsa costume for Halloween. Did Target go out of their way to highlight the struggles the girl in crutches overcame to be included in that catalog? No. They treated her just like every other model and left her to blend in with the rest of the products on the page. Being inclusive doesn’t just mean “not excluding people”, it also means not singling people out.