Inspiration Porn: Once You See It, You Can’t Not See It

Why Media Depictions of Disabled People Matter

Sarah Levis

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Man with Down Syndrome hugs a woman while a man looks on, smiling
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I talked to a lovely group of stroke survivors in my community a few years ago about a variety of stroke and disability-related issues. I was very impressed with their insights and honoured to be asked to speak to them. I wasn’t surprised when they hadn’t heard of inspiration porn when the subject came up, as I didn’t learn about it until I started blogging about disability. I was a bit surprised, however, when a few group members wanted to talk about the idea with me one-on-one afterward. I’d obviously hit a nerve, and people wanted to know more.

For those not familiar with inspiration porn, here’s some information about why it’s damaging and how to spot it.

Inspiration Porn is a Media Depiction Issue

As I described the nature of inspiration porn to the stroke survivor group, a woman picked up on it right away.

“It’s about how the media depicts the story,” she said. We were talking about a story (a type of story that seems to emerge on an increasingly frequent basis) of a high school football player asking an intellectually disabled classmate to the prom. I’d been asked to talk about activism. I pointed out that the disability activism community generally doesn’t like these stories, which are largely about heaping praise on a non-disabled person for granting a disabled person inclusion in an experience who otherwise shouldn’t expect it (even though there’s no reason to exclude them.)

In this case, the football player was depicted as a hero for asking the disabled young woman to prom, the implication being that we obviously know she’d never attend a dance with a non-disabled date otherwise, or maybe even attend a dance at all. Even if the football player asked the young woman because he thought liked her and thought she’d be a fun date, the story wasn’t reported that way.

Types of Inspiration Porn

History professor and disability scholar David Perry identifies 3 major categories of inspiration porn, usually involving people with Down Syndrome or another developmental disability:

  • Teenagers give a disabled…

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Sarah Levis

Disabled, stubborn, and probably too opinionated. Atheist. Visit me at https://sarahlevisonline.com/ or join my Substack at https://sarahlevis.substack.com/