Inspiration Porn – I Am Not Amazing, Nor Inspirational


I am not “amazing”, nor am I “inspirational”. As self deprecating as such a statement may seem, it has never been more true. Allow me to explain.

many years ago disability was deemed a gross abnormality, and those who didn’t conform to the perception of ‘normality’ at the time were shunned by society, living life often with no prospects or hopes of future achievement. That was centuries ago, and thankfully awareness has improved to where disability is accepted, even if it isn’t widely understood. When the general population did begin to understand, disabled people were largely faced with apprehension, with only a few (the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles) breaking through the fold, achieving massive success and being hailed heroes for all the right reasons.

Today, the media has made huge strides in the accurate portrayal of disability. Besides the odd few who treat their disability as an entitlement receiving press coverage, the way disability is represented is largely positive and that is a great thing. However as the successes of those with disabilities are more widely publicise and right celebrated, societies perception of disability has changed from one of apprehension and misgiving to one of amazement and inspiration, a phenomenon known as ‘inspiration porn’. Defined as “the calling of people with disabilities inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability”, this apt term was coined by disability activist Stella Young in ABC’s ‘Ramp Up’ webzine. The term is self-explanatory and while considered derogatory by some is a particularly accurate description of the issue disabled people now face.

Let me put this into perspective. When an up-coming artist releases a breakthrough single, is it the achievement of the artist or the musical talent and quality of the single that initially captures the attention of the music fan? Does every pilot who learns to fly a plane find their way into the headlines? If you visit a coffee shop on your lunch break, do you expect the barista to complement you on your achievement? How many people tell you during your daily commute to your place of work that you’re “brave” for going to work? How many people, even those close to you, label you “amazing” for simply leaving your house?

I’m guessing that few if any of this article’s readers will have encountered any of the above situations. These are scenarios that ordinarily don’t happen to ‘normal’ people. But they are the very basis of inspiration porn, and for the disabled ‘community’ (we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two) are a daily occurrence.

The view of the general population toward disabled people has become one of amazement for our achievements and, in many publicised cases, celebration of those who helped us achieve them. I am in no way saying that the achievements of disabled people should not inspire others. I am frequently inspired by and learning from both disabled and able people, whether it be a life hack from a blind friend or the astounding amount of talent shown during Ed Sheeran’s Glastonbury set. I am all for celebrating acts of kindness or help offered to anybody, not just the disabled, and I am proud to offer my own assistance whenever possible. However, to view a person as inspirational solely on the basis of their disability or on their ability to achieve the most basic of tasks (when they do not find those tasks physically difficult or psychologically challenging) such as leaving their own house, having a successful career or even managing and maintaining their own personal hygiene is wrong on so many levels.

I believe that there are a few key things at fault here. Firstly, there are a few in the ‘disabled community’ who use their disability to fulfil their desire for empathy and sympathy, using the internet and social and traditional media as an outlet. There are some using the idea of disability solely to motivate and inspire, with quotes and pictures spread across social media. But more importantly than that, there is still a huge lack of general awareness surrounding disability, or rather ability. People so often hear or assume things of which we are incapable that often the things of which we are able are overlooked or underestimated.

Many of us want nothing more than to be seen as ‘normal’, or at least as normal as normality can be in a world of unique people. Just like you, we are people with our own personalities, our own strengths and weaknesses, our own fears, our own humour and our own perception of the world. We share common interest with you and enjoy the same activities whether they be social, sporting, academic or technological. We earn a living and make our contribution to society. We own are own homes, enjoy committed relationships and raise families. In short, the only thing that distinguishes us from you is our impairment, and in some ways that is to our advantage as it allows us to perceive the world and aspects of life in a different way, ways that you can learn if you get to know us. We have learned to adapt to our situation, just like you would if you lost one of your own senses or developed a physical impairment.

Yes, living with a disability is difficult. Even a relatively minor visual impairment can make life a daily struggle. We might have to work ten times as hard for our achievements, and that doesn’t always equate to them being 10 times as rewarding. Though some of us (stubborn fools) struggle with the prospect of asking for help, There are certain tasks that we cannot achieve without assistance, and please know that when your help is offered and accepted it is always gratefully received.

We are not all the same, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses concerning independence, mobility, daily living, technological and even social and communication skills. But that is part of who we are, and the same issues can affect anybody not just those with disabilities. Are struggles our further exacerbated by a constant need to prove ourselves and to force people to question their preconceived ideas about what we can accomplish.

Acceptance can be a challenge, and the psychological affects of living with or developing a disability can make life extremely difficult. These can be overcome, but it can take many years and require indescribable strength, desire and resilience. We are not perfect (nobody is) but are often our harshest critics and must try hard to prove ourselves to us, as well as you.

I said I’d talk about the disabled ‘community’, so here goes. While it is technically correct to describe those with a disability as belonging to a ‘community’, just as is often the case with people of a particular race, sexuality or ethnicity, I do not endorse, encourage, appreciate or like the term. To me the use of the term community when relating to disabled people defines us as belonging to a group, and that is far from the truth and only encourages social isolation, not the societal acceptance that most of us fervently desire.

I do not consider myself part of the disabled community. I know a small minority of disabled people. Some were met during my education, some were met while partaking in musical ventures, and the rest are people I’ve ‘bumped into’ in a virtual sense via social media. The Toal number probably amounts to less than 30, and I’ve formed true friendships with less than half of those people. The rest, and the majority, of my social and work-related interactions are with the wider non-disabled population.

I don’t make much of an effort to integrate within the disabled community for one simple reason. I do not wish to be defined by my disability, and nor do I want to be prejudged based on the actions or perception of the disabled community at large. I am open to communication or a friendship with any disabled person, but I am careful to limit my involvement in the ‘community’ itself. When I get into a taxi and you insist on listing every disabled person you’ve ever met, heard of or read about, wondering whether I know them too, the answer is most likely no. If you interview me concerning a publication I write, and comment on how writing for such a niche market can’t earn me any significant income or reputation, consider the fact that I write for the wider population rather than (as you incorrectly assume) this disabled ‘community’ that I am apparently a part of. Consider that my income in whatever I do depends on the effort I make and can equal that of anyone else in the same industry.

I am not “amazing”, nor am I “inspirational”. It is the things I do, say or achieve that can (and hopefully do) inspire others. The skills I have are learned in a perfectly normal way, with natural adaptations made to suit my disadvantage. Your work, dedication, personal qualities and your desire and drive to achieve your best despite any circumstance is inspirational. Your talents, achievements and personal successes are amazing, whether you are disabled or not.

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