Inspiration Porn, Growth Mindset, and Deficit Ideology

Navigating ableist systems built on the deficit and medical models is a full time job for my neurodivergent family. We must be case workers constantly pushing back against deficit ideology and promoting instead the social model and structural ideology.

There have been many attempts to dress up deficit ideology, to put new clothes on the same old systems. In education, grit and growth mindset are currently popular. These deficit model veneers, like the self-esteem movement veneers before them, ignore the structural problems of school and society and instead blame kids and families, putting the burden of change on them instead of our systems and institutions. Broken systems cannot be fixed by telling kids to have a good attitude, as explained in Growth Mindset and Structural Ideology and DSISD Growth Mindset.

Disabled folks also face deficit ideology. The deficit and medical models are ableist gauntlets. Like students, we are told to get a good attitude, that we just need the right mindset. Instead of the growth mindset served students, the deficit ideology veneers applied to disability are inspiration porn and the supercrip narrative.

The statement “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” puts the responsibility for our oppression squarely at the feet, prosthetic or otherwise, of people with disabilities. It’s victim blaming. It says that we have complete control of the way disability impacts our lives. To that, I have one thing to say. Get stuffed.

By far the most disabling thing in my life is the physical environment. It dictates what I can and can’t do every day. But if Hamilton is to be believed, I should just be able to smile at an inaccessible entrance to a building long enough and it will magically turn into a ramp. I can make accessible toilets appear where none existed before, simply by radiating a positive attitude. I can simply turn that frown upside down in the face of a flight of stairs with no lift in sight. Problem solved, right?

Source: We’re not here for your inspiration – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

We are all too aware of the risk of being filmed for someone’s feel-good story (or for someone to mock, but that could be another post). We already face enormous pressure to not ask for help – to be the “supercrip” and “overcome” our disabilities – and the risk of being a viral story is yet another reason we might avoid asking for help when we need it.

Source: How the Media and Society Objectify Disabled People | Paginated Thoughts

Inspiration porn makes us feel that everything is going to be OK. That’s possible only if we stop being distracted by pretty stories and have the tough conversations.

Source: inspiration Porn Further Disables the Disabled | Al Jazeera America

Growth mindset and inspiration porn are pretty stories. Pretty, useless stories that bikeshed the deficit model, never changing anything, always blaming down.

The excerpts below discuss inspiration porn from the point of view of disability self-advocates and the social model.

Inspiration porn is a term used to describe society’s tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration. You’ve all seen the memes, “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Or a picture of a small child running on prosthetic legs accompanied by the caption “what’s your excuse?” These images make the people viewing them feel great, but often they take images of people with disabilities simply living their daily lives and make them extraordinary. But at what cost?

I’ve been the subject of inspiration porn. One of my earliest “inspiration porn” memories is from my primary school days. There was a prize giving at the end of each year. Without fail every year I would get an award for overcoming obstacles or perseverance. It was never explicitly stated what exactly I was overcoming, but I knew they were referring to my disability.

Everybody around me seemed thrilled. Everybody except me. While everybody around me was feeling inspired by the tenacious little disabled girl with a “can do” attitude, I wanted to run out of the building and hide. The awards emphasized my difference, and all I wanted was to be the same. They seemed to benefit those giving the award more than me.

Source: How to Avoid ‘Inspiration Porn’ When Talking About Disability | The Mighty

When people with disabilities being genuinely included in friendships is an item that makes the news, we as a society assume that isolation, exclusion, and loneliness is not only the norm, but the natural outcome for people with disabilities. Furthermore, praising non-disabled people for merely being with us implies that we are not deserving of friendship, or not worth spending time with in the absence of money, volunteer hours, or “feel good” attention from social media outlets. The fact that someone may just want to be with a disabled person for the sole purpose of eating lunch seems to be too much for the media to handle. Disturbingly, the photo is accompanied by hashtags such as #volunteerism. Volunteerism? It is obvious that our world remains in a terribly backward place if spending time with a person with a disability is considered an act of charity. They should try #ableism, if the writers are seeking greater accuracy.

Just because I have a disability does not mean being with me is community service. I am a person worth getting to know, and anyone who considers eating lunch with me an act of charity to be documented on Reddit is not a friend. Unfortunately, our culture often trains non-disabled children to view those with disabilities exclusively in the context of volunteerism and charity. Thus, inspiration porn like this news story is born.

Inclusion should not be shocking. Friendship should not be newsworthy, and no one should assume that the only company a wheelchair user will have is the result of an act of laudable compassion. One article even suggested that the football players were helping a “less fortunate man”. Not only does it imply that people with disabilities must have a lesser quality of life, it implies that the only friendships we will ever have will exist because someone feels sorry for us.

Source: The Squeaky Wheelchair: I’m Not Your Fodder For A Feel Good Story: People With Disabilities & The Assumption That Friendship Is Charity

We, disabled people, see these types of things spread like wildfire, time and time again:

– A disabled person does something that a non-disabled person does, which often plays into the “supercrip” media model of disability

– A non-disabled person treats a disabled person with kindness.

– A non-disabled person helps a disabled person (whether the disabled person asked for help or not).

The effects of these viral stories are quite damaging, even when one does not go to the most extreme consequences. Any one of us could be the next story by asking for help, or getting help even if we don’t want it. Since the conductor announcements of what train is approaching are hard to hear, a  blind person asks a subway stationmaster to help them get on the right train. An autistic person has a shutdown. Their friend helps them retreat to a quiet location without fanfare at the scene. A wheelchair user faces a curb cut, and they decide to complain to the city after finding another route. But a stranger rushes over anyway and helps get them over the curb cut. Someone could film any one of these situations and unleash the tidal wave of feel-good comments, shares, and news stories.

We are all too aware of the risk of being filmed for someone’s feel-good story (or for someone to mock, but that could be another post). We already face enormous pressure to not ask for help – to be the “supercrip” and “overcome” our disabilities – and the risk of being a viral story is yet another reason we might avoid asking for help when we need it.

Finally, we notice when we get objectified as inspiration porn. We feel objectified. It is toxic. Being objectified hurts our self-image and mental health. It erodes our ability to feel safe and like we can have even some privacy. It hampers our ability to set boundaries around privacy. It makes us feel like we have no control over our life and story. We notice, and it hurts in more ways than one.

Source: How the Media and Society Objectify Disabled People | Paginated Thoughts

Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”.

The statement “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” puts the responsibility for our oppression squarely at the feet, prosthetic or otherwise, of people with disabilities. It’s victim blaming. It says that we have complete control of the way disability impacts our lives. To that, I have one thing to say. Get stuffed.

By far the most disabling thing in my life is the physical environment. It dictates what I can and can’t do every day. But if Hamilton is to be believed, I should just be able to smile at an inaccessible entrance to a building long enough and it will magically turn into a ramp. I can make accessible toilets appear where none existed before, simply by radiating a positive attitude. I can simply turn that frown upside down in the face of a flight of stairs with no lift in sight. Problem solved, right?

Inspiration porn shames people with disabilities. It says that if we fail to be happy, to smile and to live lives that make those around us feel good, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. Our attitude is just not positive enough. It’s our fault. Not to mention what it means for people whose disabilities are not visible, like people with chronic or mental illness, who often battle the assumption that it’s all about attitude. And we’re not allowed to be angry and upset, because then we’d be “bad” disabled people. We wouldn’t be doing our very best to “overcome” our disabilities.

I suppose it doesn’t matter what inspiration porn says to us as people with disabilities. It’s not actually about us. Disability is complex. You can’t sum it up in a cute picture with a heart-warming quote.

So next time you’re tempted to share that picture of an adorable kid with a disability to make your Facebook friends feel good, just take a second to consider why you’re really clicking that button.

Source: We’re not here for your inspiration – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

In other words, inspoporn is a collection of overcomer, supercrip, and saintly helper stories. The common undercurrent to all types of inspiration porn, however, is the disabled person’s role in the story. Instead of being an individual character, fleshed out and made fully human and at least potentially relatable to the reader/viewer, the disabled person (or disabled people, if there’s a group) exists as a prop for the non-disabled person in the story. The disabled person’s existence serves as edification for the non-disabled people around them, or as a moral yardstick to measure whether the non-disabled people (the ones who are relatable as main characters to the presumed non-disabled only audience) are sufficiently good tolerant people who are minimally not shitty. This is not the same as being actively anti-ableist, by any stretch of the imagination.

Ari Ne’eman, Autistic Self Advocacy Network co-founder and president, describes the third category of inspoporn as Very Special Episode syndrome — where a disabled character is newly introduced for one or a few episodes of a long-running series (in a book or film, this could easily be adjusted to a single chapter, single scene, or background plot) to teach the main characters (of course not disabled themselves) a very important lesson about tolerance before going back to the institution or special needs school where they “really belong.”

Source: Autistic Hoya: Disabled people are not your feel-good back-pats.

“Inspiration porn” is any meme, video or feel-good article that sensationalizes people with disabilities. Browse social media long enough and you’ll inevitably find images of disabled children doing ordinary activities, like coloring or running, usually captioned with the now-infamous Scott Hamilton quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” The disability community rejects depictions like these, because according to activists, their only purpose is to make the non-disabled viewer feel good about themselves. Inspiration porn turns people with disabilities into mere objects, placing their physical differences on display and reassuring the viewer that “If these people can live with just one leg,” for example, “I can do so much more without a disability.”

We’re drawn to inspiration porn like this because it comforts us. The idea that anyone can be suddenly diagnosed with bone cancer or get into a car accident and break their spine is terrifying; it reminds us of our frailty and, ultimately, our mortality.

In other words, inspiration porn paints people with disabilities as nothing more than modern-day Tiny Tims—pitiable people who help us put our own problems into perspective while making us smile with their courageous outlook on life. The problem with this is twofold: It not only assumes that disability automatically equals hardship, a tragedy that must be overcome, but it also incorrectly assumes that disability can actually be overcome with a smile and a little bit of determination.

The reality is that disability is a social experience, not simply a medical impairment or disorder. While a person can be born with a congenital condition, like muscular dystrophy, for example, they aren’t truly disabled until they enter a world filled with stairs instead of elevators, or workplace discrimination that prevents them from getting a job. Civil rights legislation like the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (which every major nation has ratified except for the U.S.) are crucial to the lives of people like Purdy and O’Neill. However charming their smiles are, they could never be enough to overcome the oppression that disabled people face.

Source: “Inspiration porn is not okay”: Disability activists are not impressed with feel-good Super Bowl ads – Salon.com

Many disability advocates have expressed disdain for being viewed as “inspirational” in popular media and reject the premise that this emotion adds any positive value to their status. This often used description associated with able-bodied individuals’ emotions in connection with accomplishments or just daily living of those with disabilities is seen by some in the community as separating, objectifying, condescending and regressive in terms of equality and inclusion.

Ask yourself: Who do you overly praise and overly compliment? You do that to children. The implication is that our accomplishments are somehow heroic and need to be reinforced, that we are not naturally motivated from within, from an organic developmental impulse that we all share.

Excessive compliments, like patting us on the back and saying, ‘Look at how brave you are’ or ‘How wonderful you are able to do this’ are based on a negative feeling about us. The assumption is that we in fact carry a negative feeling about ourselves. It is their negative emotion, their aversion, being masked by the apparently positive sentiment.

By over-complimenting us, one may think they are helping our mental health when in fact they are harming it. It makes me feel infantilized, angry and discounted, but stimulates my darker sense of humor as well. Sometimes veiled irony or biting humor is social strategies for subverting their assumed but incorrect assumptions about me.”

Source: Disability as Inspiration: Can Greater Exposure Overcome this Phenomenon?

At its core, inspiration porn demonstrates the need for a broader engagement with the social model of disability. People typically view disability through the medical model, in which diagnosed conditions present obstacles to be cured or overcome. But according the social model, while many people may have all kinds of medical conditions, people are disabled by the lack of accessibility in our society.

Inspiration porn makes us feel that everything is going to be OK. That’s possible only if we stop being distracted by pretty stories and have the tough conversations.

Source: Inspiration Porn Further Disables the Disabled | Al Jazeera America

When you define things in simple terms, you also imply that those who don’t beat their illness or disability are “losers.” Were they not as tough as the kids wearing the super hero costumes in the video? The ad begins with the line, “Sick doesn’t mean weak.” In the video, the word “defeat” flashes. Does that mean some kids “surrender?” Do we really want to suggest that children have that much control over their medical conditions? And at some point, don’t images of boxing and blowing things up conflict with ideas about health and healing?

In her 2015 book Malignant Metaphor: Confronting Cancer Myths, science writer Alanna Mitchell writes about why the battle metaphor isn’t helpful to cancer patients and their families (she also writes about why it’s not a great analogy for the latest clinical treatments). “A main concern is that when someone dies of cancer,” she writes, “the message that remains is that that person just hasn’t fought hard enough, was not a brave enough soldier against the ultimate foe, did not really want to win.”

Many children, like my son, have congenital disabilities or complex medical problems that can’t be defeated. Did they, or their parents, not try hard enough?

The way disability is viewed in our culture—as a deficit, failure, or something to be “overcome”—sets parents up to never feel good enough.

When your child has a disability, you start out trying to “fix it” through intensive therapy. Over time, you push back. You learn that “fighting” is not a good model for living. Instead of making the child change to fit the world, you want the world to change to fit your child—to accept your child as a full human being.

Source: Illness Isn’t a Battle · thewalrus.ca

ABC’s “Speechless,” a sitcom about a family with a son who has a disability, tackled why it’s often offensive to call people with disabilities “inspirational.” And it’s done so, so well.

“Inspiration porn” is a term used to describe a common tendency in which able-bodied people condescend to those with disabilities by suggesting they are brave or special just for living. Ray DiMeo, a character in “Speechless” who is the younger brother of a teen with cerebral palsy, explained it perfectly in Wednesday night’s episode:

“It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people,” he said.

To which his brother, JJ, who has cerebral palsy, hilariously adds: “I blame Tiny Tim.”

While these sorts of simplistic attitudes may seem harmless, if misguided, they can have real consequences in a world where disabilities are stigmatized. Research even shows stigma can lead to damaging health care consequences.

What’s more, these kinds of portrayals render the person who is disabled as a side character only revered for what they provide to others.

Source: ‘Speechless’ Just Schooled Everyone On Disability ‘Inspiration Porn’ | The Huffington Post

Media coverage of disability is often informed by some of our worst ideas about difference. Coverage of disability tends to be pornographic - not in the sense of sexual titillation (mostly), but focused on evoking feelings in the consumer, rather than authentically displaying the lived experience of the subject. In the disability rights community, we tend to critique suchrepresentations as “inspiration porn,” a phrase popularized by the late activist Stella Young.

There are at least three basic types of inspiration porn. In one, a disabled person does something normal - like dance to Lady Gaga - and the viewer feels inspired because the disabled person can do this normal thing. Look at them overcome their disability! the narrative goes. This framework cheapens real accomplishments and rarely considers the socially-constructed obstacles to broad success for people with disabilities.

In the second type, an abled person does some basic act of kindness - such as having lunch with an autistic kidisolated at school, stopping work to feed a disabled customer at a restaurant, or inviting a disabled teen on a date. The abled person is then celebrated for their goodness, with the disabled person turned into an object on which the able person acts. Again, structural issues leading to the need for abled intervention vanish.

In the third type, often distinguished as “tragedy porn,” a horrible situation involving a disabled person is displayed, sometimes with comments about overcoming or courage, with the goal of providing perspective on your own (presumably not as bad) troubles. Perspective can be good, but again, the disabled person’s experiences are being leveraged as a tool to make the viewer feel something.

Cuteness is a way of aestheticizing powerlessness.” Many disabled adults, especially those with Down syndrome and Little People, are treated as perpetually cute children.

Because disability is a part of humanity’s natural diversity, it needs to be part of the important conversations we’re having about inclusivity.

Disability as identity and disability pride may be familiar concepts within the disability rights community, but they’re still pretty radical for the ableist world as a whole.

Source: Don’t Turn My Son’s Lady Gaga Dancing Into Your Inspiration Porn

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