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Disability Porn

August 8, 2012

This is a term that I had not heard until today. I read it on a list of blogs by a blog writer whom I respect – Rachel at Disability and Representation.

My understanding – so far – is that “inspiration” photos and stories about disabled people ‘rising above’ their impairments is considered disability porn by some. This makes sense to me because just as pornography can contribute to negative stereotypes about women, disability porn contributes to stereotypes about disability. Expecting people to ‘rise above’ their impairments is offensive to me. We don’t expect people with decreased visual acuity to try harder to see. We provide glasses. We shouldn’t expect people who can walk (but not efficiently) to ‘try harder’ and walk up stairs. We should provide ramps and elevators.

I hope that the video about the triathletes that I posted recently is not considered disability porn. I did consider that it might belong to the genre of stories that subtly (or not so subtly) say that if people with impairments just tried harder they wouldn’t experience disability. Or that it might make people focus too much on the older brother’s contribution to the brothers’ relationship and achievements.

I decided that the video about the brothers that compete in triathlons together didn’t fit this genre for the following reasons. The older brother thought that he and his younger brother would enjoy participating in a triathlon. They participate in different ways but they both have fun and experience satisfaction. The organizers of the big triathlon originally indicated that they may not be able to accommodate the boys. A cynic could find lots of self-serving reasons that the organizers changed their minds. I don’t care about that. I care about the fact that by accommodating the brothers, the organizers demonstrated that accommodation is almost always possible and it is virtually always appropriate.

I would love to hear what you think about the possible implications of the video about the triathletes.

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2 Comments
  1. Gabby permalink

    I think “disability porn” is very offensive. I didn’t learn 7 languages, start a non profit or do a lot of traveling to be told that my accomplishments are disability porn. I WANT to inspire people. I met a Kiwi the other day who was diabetic. When I showed him the video of how I cross the road among the chaos in HCM City, he found it amazing and told me he didn’t fear losing his sight so much.

    Part of why people DON’t achieve as much as they could is because society has such low expectations of them. People put in a lot of effort to “stand out”. Celebrate their achievements! Nobody told the Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas her performance in the All-Around couldn’t be praised because she was doing something other African-Americans couldn’t do….. If you do something special, you should be acknowledged, disability or not.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. I do not want to offend so I will think more about the term “disability porn”.

      However, I believe that some people find the idea of “rising above” an impairment offensive. And that is why they use such a strong term as disability porn.

      I find it offensive when people question my mother’s use of a scooter because she is able to walk. It may be inspirational to see my Mom walk but what is the cost of that walking. Maybe it is more inspirational to see her decide to use a scooter so that she can go out in her community and not be worried that she will pay for that outing (with even more than her usual chronic pain) for the rest of the day and maybe even the next day.

      If you have more ideas to contribute to the discussion (even if we disagree), I really would like to hear them. This is how I hope to learn, grow and be a force for change in our world. Thanks again.

      Sheila

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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