About 6 years ago, I heard the term ‘inspiration porn,’ for the first time when I watched a Ted Talk by Stella Young. In it, Ms Young discusses the fact that disabled people are often objectified by able bodied people, in order to make them feel better about their own lives, and to put their struggles into perspective. After all, it could be worse: at least abled people can walk, talk, read, use both hands, understand basic facial expressions and enjoy a life without having to schedule repeat prescriptions.
For the most part, Young’s words ring true. At least for me, as a person with autism. In the past, I have had classmates and work colleagues seem astonished that I have managed to achieve anything. They have been impressed that I have managed to graduate from school and university, hold down a basic job, or even use public transport. Even though I understand their intentions are pure, there is more than just a latent patronisation to these comments: they reduced me to my disability and showed me that anything I manage to achieve in spite of it does little more than inspire people to try a bit harder to achieve more in their own lives, because what’s their excuse?
This being said, a few years after watching Young’s video, I was called an inspiration after producing a spoken word film about my experiences of having Asperger’s syndrome. Since being filmed, the video did very well: it was shortlisted for a Royal Television Society Award and won an Autism Uncut Award at BAFTA HQ. As a result, I was proud of the film, and proud of what I had managed to achieve. Because of this, when a kind lady messaged me on social media and called me an inspiration, I didn’t feel the same frustration as I usually feel when society seem impressed with my accomplishments. I actually welcomed it and thanked her sincerely.
However, as I have spent a large part of my teenage years trying to avoid being put on a pedestal, accepting her compliment was an unfamiliar experience, which had me questioning my stance on the whole inspiration porn argument. Why was I now gladly accepting something that had made me feel so objectified in the past? Nonetheless, I think the main reason why it felt like a compliment was because writing my film was an undeniable accomplishment that any neurotypical person would also have been proud to achieve. On account of this, even though my film was about my disability, my achievement wasn’t, and I felt like I was being validated as a human, and not just someone with autism.
In my opinion, anyone can be an inspiration, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Nevertheless, inspiration becomes porn when disabled people are made to feel that their only purpose in life is making abled people feel relieved that their own life is better. However, this often isn’t the case. Sure, disabled people, like myself, face challenges, but so does the rest of the world. And the rest of the world is allowed to complain about them, as they’re not taught to be stoic in the face of adversity. This isn’t fair. Disabled people should be allowed to get on with our lives, and be as normal or extraordinary as we choose, and not just because we deal with things that the rest of the world doesn’t want to understand.
So yes, by all means call me an inspiration. But not because I caught the bus by myself and didn’t complain about my benefits assessment. Call me an inspiration because I achieved things that anyone would be proud of, because I am not any less than you.