Cripple Porn, #Wheelchair #Fishing, and #Disability as Inspiration

One of the amazing things about the internet and social media is the ability to share information and ideas and our work.  It’s also a great way to promote and share the work of others that we love.  It is also a way to share things that make you a little bit crazy and a little bit mad.  Although it doesn’t usually bother me to the point I’m frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog just looking for some poor unfortunate soul to go “Here doggie, doggie.  Nice doggie,” I’m starting to get a little irritated at the prevalence of “inspiration porn.”  What is that, you ask?

“Inspiration Porn” (as applied to disability)  also known as “cripple porn” :   A story or image of an individual or group with a disability that emotionally moves or inspires others (usually non-disabled individuals) due to the perceived achievement or perseverence of the disabled individual over the obstacle of continuing to live each day.

Yes, there’s more than a little sarcasm in that definition.  I ought to know since I just wrote it.  🙂  I know far too many people with disabilities who truly are exceptional and inspirational, but they’d be just as fantastic and amazing without their disability.  Living your life, like everyone else, doesn’t make you inspirational so why should it make someone with a disability the best thing since sliced bread? (And by the way, because I cannot resist the lure of history, sliced bread first hit the shelves in 1928 in Chillicothe, Missouri.)

Yes, I recognize that having a disability can make life a little more complicated and little more creative due to lack of access, societal barriers, and just plain asshattery, but there are also complications to being a person of color, a woman, GLBT, and poor.  There are even people with disabilities who can claim those statuses as well.  Their inspiration factor must be incredible!  (Okay, I’ll stop the sarcasm, really).  But in some ways, it is offensive that someone believes that life with a disability is so utterly miserable, so without happiness, or joy, or value, that just getting out of bed in the morning is a remarkable achievement.  If one more person mentions how “brave” I am because I hold down a job, own a home, and can dress with some modicum of style, I think I may spit.  Preferably on them.

Last week, I was sent an image of a person in a wheelchair fishing; it was part in silhoutte at sunset – very pretty.  From what I could tell, it looked like a great image and as I have a friend who happens to be a wheelchair fisherman I thought I’d send it to him.  And then I saw the accompanying text:

“Just because your legs don’t work anymore, doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t.”

I rolled my eyes.  I rolled them so hard, they rolled out of my head, across the floor, up the wall and across the ceiling!  I won’t entertain you with the expletives that accompanied the eye-rolling on their jaunt around the room.  Finally fed up, I decided that I would single-handedly endeavour to battle this behemoth that is “inspiration porn.”

And voila, below is my first effort, as a person with a disability, to take back our images, and take back what it means to be inspirational, and to do battle this subversive trend of seeing people with disabilities as the beaten-down and broken down, as the sad warriors against an evil world, as objects of people’s pity, and recipients of insipid, disingenuous, unearned and unwanted pronouncements of  how “inspirational” we are.

Sorry, but I’m a jerk, just like everyone else.

Wheelchair Fishing Image - Just because your legs don't work anymore, doesn't mean your heart doesn't crossed out and replaced with What the hell does that have to do with fishing?!"

Image: Re-edited image of a man in a wheelchair in silhoutte. Above him are the words, “Just because your legs don’t work doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t” crossed out and in script below it says, “What the hell does THAT have to do with fishing?!” – If anyone knows the copyright owner of the original image, please let me know, as I’d like to appropriately credit the photographer.

And for those of you who came here looking for actual porn….um, no.

  14 comments for “Cripple Porn, #Wheelchair #Fishing, and #Disability as Inspiration

  1. Anne Lewis
    May 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I totally love this editorial ! As I am also a PWD , you stole the words right of of mouth. I have felt the burden of being “inspirational ” for years ! If I hear the “I” word one more time in reference to myself , I just might puke. If you feel the pressure to be inspirational , you can’t be YOURSELF ! No more “I” bombs ! I like to mess with people when they ask “How long have you been IN a wheelchair ? ” My response is “Since I got out of bed this morning”.

  2. May 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Ah, we needed a phrase for those nasty pictures, YouTubes, television news, etc “uplifting” stories. Thanks.

  3. Day
    May 31, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Anne, I LOVE that response! It’s a great way to point out the rudeness of the initial question and also diffuse any tension with humor. Brilliant!

    Anthony, I couldn’t resist putting a name and “formal” definition to it. And you’re right, it really is everywhere.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. Marcy Ryan
    May 31, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I am disabled and use an electric wheelchair, I have a business and work for social change to see that those of us who need transportation, housing, and supports get them. Just like any other person, I am not inspirational, wondrous, brave, or other ways to describe what we do during the day to make life work for us!! I am tired of the Pity Party attitudes of people who have disabilities and use the disability as an excuse to not be a human being. The world does not owe me a living, I owe the world what I can bring to it, Disability and all! Society see’s us as wondrous, why? Because they don’t understand how we could possible live with a disability. Try thinking like I do, I do what I do just like they do to live, love, and make life better for my fellows disability’s and all!.

  5. Melissa
    June 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I agree with everything you just said. I’ve been called “Inspirational” just because I could put a coherent sentence together. People without disabilities just don’t get it.

  6. Day
    June 6, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Marcy, you’re right in that we all have something that we bring to this world!

    Melissa, I am right there with you. And sometimes it is difficult to explain why we’re frustrated by people’s “positive” responses to us.

  7. Maggie Shreve
    August 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Some people without disabilities get it. I remember talking about how stomach-upsetting the inspirational language was in the early and mid-70s, just as centers for independent living and the disability rights movement were identifying cultural norms. And it hasn’t changed, despite our best efforts.

  8. Ray Petty
    August 6, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Maggie Shreve!!! Hola!! Susie Haake turned us on to this discussion — and it’s a good one to have, regardless of how long a time it has been a-coming. Maybe there should be a prize for the BEST (i.e. worst) CRIPPLE-PORN. What would that be called? How about the Gimpy?

  9. Day
    August 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Ray, I have to say, your idea made me laugh out loud. That would actually be downright awesome. I admit, it’d likely upset some well-meaning folks but there is just.so.much out there that the idea of an award for the “best/worst” is an entertaining thought.

    Maggie, I wonder what happened or didn’t happen in the early and mid-70s so that we’re still where we are? Legally at least and discrimination-wise things do seem better but the thought that comes to mind is how to address the issue culturally.

  10. Nancy Waldron-Griffin
    September 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Hey Maggie, I came across this and said to my daughter Emily, hey, I know her. Good to see you are still fighting the good fight. I couldn’t agree more. Can’t believe we are still dealing with this b.s. Take care. Nancy

  11. Emily
    August 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Decided to find this again because we were talking about it last night, and it made me happy to read this post all over again! The definition you wrote is really spot on.

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