The term ‘inspiration’ is thrown around with reference to people to look up to or aspire to be like. This could be someone famous or it could even be a family member. Anyone can be an inspiration, but for disabled people, being described as an inspiration can often be problematic.

Recently, I came across a tweet that included a picture of a couple, one of whom was very visibly disabled. The caption of the tweet read: “BE GRATEFUL.” Even writing about this now, I feel stunned at the level of ableism and condescension packed neatly in to those two words.

Using disability as a way of boosting your own self-esteem is dangerous, as it completely belittles the lives of people that live with a disability. The tweet might as well have said: “Be grateful you’re not disabled, because then life would really suck for you.” Instances like this come under the umbrella term ‘inspiration porn’ and overtly belittle the lives of disabled people, for the benefit of non-disabled people. Disguised as appreciation, many non-disabled people may be confused as to where the issue lies in calling someone with a disability an inspiration. But in most of these instances, a disabled person is called an inspiration simply for being disabled. There is no other group of people for which it is acceptable for a stranger to go up to them in the street and ask to pray for them, or congratulate them for being brave, simply for being who they are. As a disabled person, I understand that there are times when people acknowledging how difficult life can be for me is sometimes very important, but when it comes to being called an inspiration, I want to feel that I have earned that title for something more than simply existing.

We need to live in a society that presents disabled people not just as exceptional beings, but ordinary people who enjoy ordinary things. For example, if the media were to present us with disabled people not just as part of a tragic storyline on EastEnders or as Paralympians, but simply as people who enjoy the same things as other people, the desire for inspiration porn might begin to fizzle out. We need to begin to normalise disabled people and present them as human beings, not objects of inspiration.

About Ruby Jones…

Diagnosed at 15 with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Ruby’s blog (rubyj0nes.blogspot. com) charts her journey as a young woman dealing with pain, fatigue and mobility issues. She writes about the successes and challenges of her condition, in amongst posts about everyday teenage life and uses her social media presence to challenge assumptions about what disability ‘looks’ like.

Twitter: @chr0nicallycute 

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