‘Inspiration Porn:’ The Ableist Social Virus

In what way does my acknowledgment of you, my desire to engage with you, and my getting out of bed make me worthy of congratulations? Why does my going about my business get special acknowledgment? What really makes me different? Yes, I have a disability but am I not entitled to a life outside of bed? Can I not function in society without having my day-to-day life being cheapened by having it reduced to little more than ‘inspiration porn’ for the ‘normals?’

On three days ago I went for a drink with a new friend, Sané, at the Baxter Theatre. We had a wonderful time. In fact, in the three hours or so that we were there (save the fact I accidentally broke a glass) nothing could have gone better. Since I lived literally a few streets away from the Theatre we both decided to go back to my house so that Sané could meet my two Golden Retrievers. The idea seemed simple enough, I’d done longer trips in my wheelchair. More to the point: I’d gotten myself to the Baxter in my wheelchair unaided – the trip was more than manageable. So when we decided that we’d walk back to the house it was less a chore for me so much as it was another day.

I’ve had a disability my entire life and I fail to see any way in which this makes me ‘special’ or ‘fascinating’ beyond the fact that the methods I use are different to a lot of other people. When we think about the extent to which we (as humans) differ from others on an individual level my ‘different approach,’ in fact, is not so ‘different’ after all. I’m just being me.

Thanks to bizarre social constructs that give off a signal that I am ‘weaker’ and ‘less able’ than others and my achieving basic, full engagement with society is worthy of congratulation. These constructs literally suggest that my going out to buy milk from the local is a medal-worthy feat. I’ve never had much direct exposure to this beyond little children. My evening with Sané, however, proved to be the first major, and most obvious, experience of being characterised as ‘inspiration porn.’

In order to get from the Baxter to my house, I had to go up a hill. Nothing particularly steep and certainly something I can handle with relative ease. Absolutely nothing special. By the time Sané and I were halfway up the hill, though, a Running Club was slowly making its way down the other side in the opposite direction. No sooner was I able to look in the direction of the runners did the entire group of about 10-20 adults almost unanimously burst into applause. Why? They saw someone in a wheelchair going up a hill. Needless to say, I was simultaneously infuriated and mortified.

Ableism exists and as much as I’d like to admit it, I sincerely doubt it will disappear in my lifetime or, even, my children’s lifetimes. It’s just a sad fact of life. As technological advancements push society over the limit just as soon as the impossible becomes increasingly possible by the second, people still find time to discriminate against others. While ableism will continue to exist, the sentiment seems to be changing: it used to be driven by a hatred of the unknown but has morphed into a concern for the ‘weak.’ The sentiment may have become more positive but Ableism is still Ableism.

The experience with the runners was mortifying, yes, but it wasn’t malicious. The reason my headed home was seen as inspirational enough to evoke the response it did was born out of my breaking the perceived boundaries that my disability, in concern with society’s beliefs surrounding my disability, put in front of me. As ‘pleasant’ as this realisation is on my part, the fact remains that I was being cheered for being a member of society, for being out in public.

Dear Society:

In what way does my acknowledgment of you, my desire to engage with you, and my getting out of bed make me worthy of congratulations? Why does my going about my business get special acknowledgment? What really makes me different? Yes, I have a disability but am I not entitled to a life outside of bed? Can I not function in society without having my day-to-day life being cheapened by having it reduced to little more than ‘inspiration porn’ for the ‘normals?’

I’m a young twenty-something who is just trying to complete his Undergraduate, experience life, and be himself. Does that make me inspirational?

Yours,

Aidan Bizony

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