Loaded language: Inspiration porn

This phrase was first coined in 2014 by disability activist Stella Young and to summarise her definition:

“Inspiration porn is the objectification of disabled people for the benefit of non disabled people.”

It is a deliberately provocative term and for a fuller, more rounded explanation I really encourage you to watch this short video.

I share this post this week at the height of the Paralympics, where Team GB are flying high in the medal table and Dame Sarah Storey has set a new record for Paralympic gold medals with an incredible tally of 17. She has competed in two sports in her Paralympic career swimming and cycling and she is an extremely talented athlete. However, there have been times where the stories of our athletes has drifted into the inspiration porn territory. These uses tend to share one or more of the following characteristics highlighted in this brilliant article by Forbes:

  • an attempt to generate sentimentality and/or pity
  • contains some form of moral message, primarily aimed at non-disabled viewers
  • disabled people anonymously objectified, even when they are named

The first question I have for you this week is are you watching the Paralympics? I am going to call myself out on this and say I have been much more selective than I was in watching the Olympics where I would pretty much watch everything. Second and much more important question – what are you thinking when you do watch Paralympic athletes perform. Do you see them as elite athletes or do you see something else?

Have a watch of this Channel 4 advert for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Whilst well intentioned, the title sets the wrong tone and I would ask the question of whether an advert for Olympic Games coverage would include footage of someone answering a phone in an office, a child eating a bowl of cereal or a mother holding her baby?

Like the late Stella Young, I subscribe to the social model of disability. I really like the Scope definition:

“the social model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.”

So rather than being wowed by disabled people performing every day tasks or enjoying their hobbies let’s think about how we can remove barriers and change our attitudes and perceptions. But most of all let’s stop celebrating inspiration porn and call it out when we see it.

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