The other day, I shared a great story about Chef Austin, a man with Down Syndrome in Texas who operates his own food truck (in addition to working as a host at a restaurant). I shared it from a FB page for people with disabilities, where the first comment was someone lamenting the “inspiration porn” in front of them. Before you wonder what kind of Facebook pages I follow, let me explain:
The term inspiration porn was coined in 2012 by disability rights activist Stella Young in an editorial in Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s webzine Ramp Up. The term describes when people with disabilities are called inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability. – from Wikipedia
So, what’s the difference between a cool story and inspiration porn? If people with disabilities don’t want to be told they’re inspirational, what do they want to be told? What if my friend with a disability accidentally does something brave or amazing, what do I say then?!
Don’t worry, I’m here to help. I know different things inspire different people. Not to mention I’m hesitant to dismiss all story-sharing about people with disabilities in one fell swoop. There are great stories out there, and we are a very underrepresented bunch.
It’s easy to show you examples of the kind of thing I don’t share, because it’s literally all over the Internet:
Girl Takes Guy with Disability to Prom, Parade Thrown in Her Honor
Person with Disability Plays Sport She Enjoys, Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Couple Where One or Both Persons Have Disabilities Love Each Other, Whole Neighborhood is Amazed
Besides being inherently nauseating, these aren’t the best things to share because the entire REASON the person in the photo/story is inspirational is that they’re Existing and Doing Normal Human Things While Disabled. The reason their friends or partners are inspirational is because they are Loving Someone That Is In Some Way Different From Them.
We can do better, y’all.
I have a simple suggestion. It’s one I use to guide my story-sharing. Before I share, I ask myself: What moves me in this story? If I can’t come up with anything better than He/She/They _________ Even Though He/She/They Have a Disability/Are a Minority/Are GLBTQ, then it’s a hard pass.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being moved by courage, determination, or overcoming of obstacles. It’s just a good idea in general to be able to articulate why you look up to someone in terms other than their mere existence.
The reason I shared Chef Austin’s story wasn’t that making hot dogs takes bravery or that I was wow’ed by his “employability” in spite of his disability. He just has a really cool support system, and I think it’s rad that he works two jobs (it’s all I can do to work one).
If someone is being a trailblazer, if a community is using a great system to be more inclusive, or if someone has a great sense of humor about a crummy situation that they are utilizing to uplift themselves and others, it’s a good story, and it’s worth sharing.
Everything else is just a bad Lifetime Movie.
Disability is certainly part of my story, but it is not the only reason that something I accomplish is impressive, the quality of a relationships I’m a part of is good, or that all my jokes are funny. A good story has downs as well as ups. A good character has flaws as well as virtues. Does the article I’m reading tell more about the person than their difference? Do I get to know their interests, their struggles, and their frustrations? Do they have a part in telling their own story, or do others tell it for them?
For every feel-good-fluff-piece about a Waterskiing Squirrel or a Disabled Person Doing Things, there’s a another great story about a Person Innovating, a Person Creating, or a Community Coming Together to Change a Broken System. We just have to dig deeper and ask ourselves: What Moves Me. . . and Why?