When celebrating the lives and successes of disabled people, the line between celebrating with these individuals and patronising them is extremely thin and all too easily crossed. It’s important to recognise the achievements of disabled people, which often get forgotten or overlooked, but at the same time, it’s vital to avoid the “inspiration porn” pitfall.
Inspiration porn often comes in the form of viral social media which “celebrates” a disabled person doing ordinary, everyday things, often paired with patronising comments that wildly underestimate disabled people’s abilities, or the dreaded “if they can do it, so can you”. This type of media is rarely shared by the subject, but is either shared by a friend or family member, or is secretly recorded by a stranger.
The impact of inspiration porn is felt by the entire disability community, and I doubt there are many visibly disabled people who haven’t been subjected to the “you’re doing so well” comment from a total stranger, for doing something as mundane as going outside. These comments make me very uncomfortable, as ignoring it or reacting negatively is liable to get you snarky comments such as “I was only being nice” and “no need to be rude”, but reacting positively means that the behaviour goes unchecked. The best solution I have found is to wear headphones and pretend you didn’t hear, and that hardly addresses the problem.
In addition to the condescension, inspiration porn gives people the idea and fuzzy warm feelings of being tolerant of disabled people without actually addressing any of the ableism we face. This means that issues of inaccessibility go unaccounted for, and disabled people continue to be excluded from main society.
In light of all this, when talking about disability, the utmost care must be taken to avoid accidentally doing harm to the disability community. However, even with every precaution in place, it is ultimately up to the audience to respond appropriately to the content. The only way to avoid the risk of inspiration porn completely would be not to talk about disability at all, and that is more objectionable than inspiration porn itself.
The difference between celebrating disabled people and turning them into inspiration porn is this; you factor in someone’s disability when talking about significant achievements, but you do not detract from those achievements by describing them as being “in spite of” or “having overcome” a disability. It is important to celebrate with disabled people, not for them. Most important of all; inspiration porn should not be permitted to silence the disability community.