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The Inspiration Porn is Out of Control

Inspiration porn is highly problematic because it upholds many dangerous and harmful stereotypes about people with disabilities.

There has been a slew of inspiration porn on the web, lately. It’s been a part of our culture since disabled people have existed. However, now that we have social media, non-disabled people are finding that it is a quick way to get their 15 minutes of fame. They are snapping up the opportunity to do a good thing, just so they can show the world what good people they are.

a rainbow sci-fi background  has white lettering that says the biggest problem with disability is how we treat those with disabilities

As disabled people we are seen as being on the lowest rung of the societal ladder. What are you supposed to do with those on the bottom rung? Society would have you think feeling sorry for us, and then taking pity on us is the way to go, but there is a cost to this supposed bit of “humanity.” It sacrifices the dignity of those such forms of humanity are supposed to help.

Disabled people are just that…people. We have hopes, dreams, fears, strengths, weaknesses, desires, and aspirations, just like everyone else. We want to be treated just like everyone else, and that is being compromised so some able-bodied people can have a feel-good story posted about them on the Internet.

Everybody needs help at some point, but non-disabled people are exploiting this, so they can go viral and feel good about themselves. Whatever happened to wanting to do something good because it’s the right thing to do? Nobody needs accolades for doing the right thing, but the latest posts are truly disturbing.

There are a few truths I know. You should never touch someone without their permission, especially if they are a stranger. Also, everyone, including disabled people, are entitled to complete autonomy over their own bodies and their own privacy. What we are seeing in these stories is a consistent disregard for bodily autonomy and privacy of disabled people, as well as a clear violation on the right to touch them without their permission.

When we see the stories about the do-gooder snapping photos of a disabled person getting help with their lunch out in public, the individual snapping the picture is doing so without the consent of the disabled person. Why do you think the disabled individual never comes forward? Often, the narratives about them needing help are full of pity and shame. No one should have to be ashamed for needing help, but you would not know it by the response to these photos that are being posted. The do-gooder is always a hero, and so brave and courageous for bothering to help a disabled person. Never mind how the disabled person feels about their story being posted. Their feelings are never even considered.

The worst example though is of a 21-year-old young woman in West Virginia, who just posted about how she supposedly “helped” a disabled veteran at Walmart. It is bad enough when witnesses to the actions of “able-bodied do-gooders” share these stories, but now we are seeing people themselves posting about all the good they have done to help the poor disabled people. This young woman is the worst example.

Throughout her story she violates the man’s right to bodily autonomy, his right to privacy by sharing the story, and she violates his wishes by ignoring them repeatedly. She is not just an able-bodied person. She clearly has a savior complex. In her mind, she saved this man, even if he didn’t want to be saved. She starts the story by saying he refused to let her push his wheelchair, but she did it anyway. Our wheelchairs are often extensions of our bodies. As one friend pointed out on Twitter, it would be the equivalent of someone lifting her up against her will and carrying her. Most people would consider that a precursor to kidnapping, or at least a serious bodily violation.

If you wouldn’t touch or grab an able-bodied person, you should not grab a person in a wheelchair. It is considered highly disrespectful to touch or push a wheelchair without permission, especially if it is someone you do not know. This woman’s actions clearly violate this.

She then goes on to say that the man, who she describes as much older than her, consistently told her not to help him, and she refused to listen. She treated him like he was a child, like he was not cognizant enough to make his own decisions, and did not know what he wanted. This was a man who was her elder, and she had so little disregard for him because she so smugly assumed she knew what was best for him. It is very common for non-disabled people to infantilize us, and assume they know what is best for us.

She forced him to take her money, by paying for his groceries, even when he refused, and forced him to get things he did not feel he was able to take home because he does not have a vehicle, and relies on his wheelchair to get places. I have had money forced into my hands by wannabe do-gooders because they assume we are in need of money, and their pity compels them to give to us. It goes back to the idea of disabled people being beggars, and the ties into the negative stereotypes associated with both pity and begging. The pity narrative is so offensive, so harmful, and upholds the worst stereotypes about people with disabilities, all at once. With every move she made, this young woman violated this man and his wishes. Does consent only apply to the non-disabled? When does no really mean no?

To add further insult to injury, she posted her do-gooder-y to the web post haste, to ensure she would go viral and snap up her 15 minutes of fame. Since when do we do good things so we can get accolades for it? There are many people doing good things every day, just because it’s the right thing to do. In this case, this was not a good thing nor was it the right thing to do. The smugness of her post just emphasizes the clear superiority she felt over this man, and it absolutely disgusts me.

I am so sick and tired of society reminding us that disabled people we are less than. If she truly wanted to help him, she would realize that this is not an issue of disability. This is an issue of access. This man did not have access to a wheelchair accessible vehicle, which would allow him to purchase whatever groceries he needed. She assumed he was poor and could not afford groceries, which is a common assumption about people with disabilities. We cannot ignore the reality that it is hard for disabled people to get jobs, and we do have a system that keeps disabled people, especially veterans, locked in poverty. However, it was not her right to make that assumption. She could have helped him by asking how she can help change the system. If this man had access to a vehicle that was wheelchair accessible, and possibly someone to help drive said vehicle, such as a home healthcare worker, and if he had access to veteran and job services that supported him, he could be more independent than he is. That would be truly helping because it would be combating the system of oppression that keeps those of us with disabilities down.

This is not to say we are not successful, and cannot be successful. It just emphasizes how little the non-disabled community knows about what will truly help those of us with disabilities. I actually know many disabled people who are out helping non-disabled people every single day, and they do so quietly and with dignity, while respecting those individuals privacy, because that’s the right thing to do.

Inspiration porn reinforces the idea that we are objects of pity, are objects of inspiration, and that we are the less than.

Disability or not we are people, and we deserve to be treated with dignity. Until society starts to reflect this obvious truth, those of us with disabilities will continue to be treated like objects, and less like the human beings we truly are.

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10 comments

  1. I’m going to say “Yes means yes.” Ambivalence is sometimes taken as a “Yes.”

  2. Making choices that are respected for assistance and judgement of what’s Best should be in our hands, not others that think they know what’s best.

  3. […] with disability is how we treat people with disabilities.” Dominick Evans breaks down why “feel good” viral videos of able bodied folks “helping” people with disabil… is NOT […]

  4. Bloody good post. Time and time again I witness this in Mental Health challenges – often those “closest” are those that find their identity and self worth intimately connected to the survivors injuries. Their need to keep a survivor “broken” often leaves me scratchy.

    Thank you for the work you do.

  5. Maybe we should feel sorry for her.

    I knew a fellow college student who told me and some others that her dad molested her, she tried suicide and booze, etc. And she was a do gooder in the name of Jesus. Later studied and worked in social work.

    Maybe people like that need to serve, look great etc. because they are compensating for a destroyed sense of self esteem.

    We will never know.

  6. Do gooder is harsh. I would say servant.

  7. […] word choice. The late Stella Young addresses it here, and you can also read it about here, here, and here. That should cover the bases quite well and give you plenty to think of. So why am I […]

  8. […] word choice. The late Stella Young addresses it here, and you can also read it about here, here, and here. That should cover the bases quite well and give you plenty to think of. So why am I […]

  9. […] porn is infantilizing and condescending. It is a type of reporting that operates under the assumption that the disabled have lives that are inherently less enjoyable or valuable than non-disabled […]

  10. […] Dominick Evanhttp://www.dominickevans.com/2015/12/… Giraffe Partyhttp://imapartygiraffe.com/birthday-c… Kimmie Jones, […]

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