Inspiration porn exploits, belittles experiences of disabled

Inspiration porn, or content that objectifies and sensationalizes people with disabilities, is pervasive in the media as the product of viral-hungry corporations and amateur YouTube hacks alike. The inherent destructiveness of “inspirational” click bait often goes undetected because it makes already privileged viewers feel good about themselves. Super Bowl commercials are big offenders when it comes to inspiration porn. This year, Microsoft aired a commercial about a six-year-old boy who—with the help of the company’s technology—uses leg prostheses to walk. The goal of the commercial is to pull at the heartstrings of viewers, but it exploits the child’s disability in the process.

Similarly, a Toyota commercial flashes images of a new Camry alongside images of a woman snowboarding, running and dancing with prosthetic legs. Messages of strength and power are intended in the ad, but ultimately the company is comparing prosthetic legs to a car—a machine. The woman’s disability is objectified to inspire and impress the audience.

These ads are positively received by audiences because we are not taught that people with disabilities are normal. Disability makes able-bodied people feel uncomfortable, and by sensationalizing the lives of disabled people, they feel better about their lives and themselves. The late disability activist Stella Young said in a popular 2012 TED Talk, “We’ve been sold the lie that disability is a … bad thing, and to live with a disability makes you exceptional.” Young described her own experience of being labeled “exceptional” for doing normal things such as having a job just because of her disability.

The fact is, inspiration porn is destructive to the way we should perceive and treat disabled people—as normal, functioning individuals. We should not commodify the experiences of disabled people to share a feel-good story or to sell a car. The problems with inspiration porn are consistently ignored because of how positive and encouraging the stories seem to be.

Inspiration porn is a detriment to society’s views of people who are seen as other. It makes us think that people with disabilities have something to overcome, when really it is society that has to overcome the idea that people with disabilities are meant for others’ inspiration and amusement.