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Inspiration porn

05:03 AM July 24, 2018

I was recently invited to participate in an awareness campaign in celebration of the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week. And by participate, they meant me standing (metaphorically) before university students as—in their own words—“a source of inspiration.”

After seven hours of putting off a reply, I eventually declined. In my attempt to be courteous, I took advantage of the most plausible excuse under the circumstances: prior commitments—although the things I was only actually committed to for the next day were my bed, Netflix and, of course, for 11 years now and still counting, my wheelchair.

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Inspiration porn is a phrase I learned from a TED talk given by the late comedian and disability advocate Stella Young. It is used to describe society’s tendency to reduce people with disability to objects of inspiration. Remember those memes saying “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”? Or that picture of a girl running in prosthetic legs captioned “What’s your excuse”?

These images depict Stella’s coined term “inspiration porn.” They are made to objectify one group of people—the disabled—for the benefit of another group of people—the nondisabled—by
making them feel less burdened about their own valid problems.

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The fact that nondisabled people still come up to me and translate my presence as something “inspiring” for daring to go beyond weaving baskets or cross-stitching is a disappointing reminder of how I keep failing at being disabled by society’s standards. The incredibility of my success story in living the so-called normal life along with the nondisabled population plainly reflects the scarcity of opportunities offered to individuals with similar condition in the various domains of community life.

The acclaimed Mr. Google revealed that in my province alone, 9,700 persons were recorded to have had some form of disability in 2010. Fast forward to 2018, but I am yet to see 1 percent of this group attending universities or working at jobs that paid decent salaries. Their absence is not rooted in laziness or incompetence. Rather, it has something more to do with these institutions’ failure to provide fair access. And I’m not just talking about the physical barriers but, to a greater extent, society’s perspective toward us.

Whoever said that disability is not a hindrance hasn’t been disabled at all. Because once deprived of accessibility, disability becomes a true handicap; a flight of stairs, narrow doorways, uncaptioned movies, non-Braille books complete the starter pack in pushing disability back to its rawest sense. It is in society’s failure to adapt to these differences where real disability happens.

My most grotesque personal experience by far is conceding to an agreement to not hold the school administration accountable for my special needs, as a condition to pursuing a four-year course. I was told that my classes, which were to be six days a week, could only be accommodated at the second level of a building with no ramps or elevator. Oh, and news flash, my inviter on the awareness campaign was that same university I yielded to, and, which, as it turned out, had been well aware of my presence for the past three years now.

In measuring our accomplishments, mediocrity is equivalent to excellence. When I was finishing my course in business administration, nondisabled people would approach me and say, “Oh you’re so inspiring. So after graduation, you can just sit at home and draft financial statements.” Then, I took up law, and again a common reception was, “You’re really exceptional. So after graduation, you can just sit at home and notarize documents.”

I respond with my usual sweet smile as LOL and WTF hormones come out from hiding and start an internal war. Sorry to crush expectations, but I am not deliberately engaging in lucubration just so I can rest my ass at home in the end, no matter how tempting that may sound.

I have lost count of the congratulatory taps and nods conveyed by strangers because I simply look happy and not overwhelmed with depression, as similarly disabled people are expected to be. Whatever I do, the recognition is stuck in an endless cycle of wheelchair-achievement-wheelchair. Always in that order.

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People with disability must be freed from the pervasive effects of inspiration porn. A 20-percent discount on purchases and services is good, but lucrative opportunities that we deserve are better. The priority lane, a privilege I admit to have grown quite fond of and often abused by my friends and family, is a
sacrifice I’m willing to make if it could put an end to prejudices.

Doles will not make a cripple, deaf-mute or blind live a richer life, but access to equal education and employment will. Let us pay taxes and complain about it later, but assure us with sensible reciprocity through programs and structures that also cater to our needs. Don’t indulge in our existence as your objects of
inspiration; instead, work with us in fulfilling aspirations.

If I were being truly candid in my recent invitation, I would have turned it down the way Stella ended her TED talk: “I am not your inspiration, thank you very much.”

Jo Erika Marquez, 25, is a law student.

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TAGS: disability, National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, people
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