Image shows the language of the Inspiration Porn Resolution

The Inspiration Porn Resolution

Will you make the #InspoPornResolution to improve the depiction of the disability experience?

The Mighty is a well-known media company that publishes stories about disability. Their tagline reads:

“Real People. Real Stories. We face disability, disease and mental illness together.”

As their readership quickly grew, writers with disabilities and readers of The Mighty began to grow concerned about a problematic practice of framing of disability as a tragedy or burden. Throughout 2015, The Mighty became a content machine perpetuating the problem of Inspiration Porn. Inspiration porn hurts disabled people in numerous ways, according to writer/activist,the late Stella Young:

And that quote, The only disability in life is a bad attitude, the reason that’s bullshit is because it’s just not true, because of the social model of disability. You know, no amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never. Smiling at a television screen isn’t going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into Braille. It’s just not going to happen.

Concerns about The Mighty came to a head when they posted and then swiftly removed an offensive and disability-shaming story, apologizing to their readers on December 21, 2015. In her apology, Editor-In-Chief Megan Griffo asked “Which websites and writers are covering this space the right way?”

In response to Griffo’s question, the hashtag #CrippingTheMighty made it expressly clear that any offense taken to The Mighty’s post wasn’t a fluke. It was a symptom of a much larger problem. #CrippingTheMighty allowed the disability community to spotlight disabled writers while pushing back on the media’s offensive and inaccurate disability reporting practices. Blogger CrippledScholar writes in a post on December 22, 2015, Thoughts on #CrippingTheMighty:

The problem with The Mighty is that the “real people” whose “real stories” are being told are predominantly not disabled. They are the stories of parents or care givers. They are stories about disability, far to often told from outside of it. As a result far too many of the stories fall into the trap of inspiration porn or even worse parental self-pity.

The media can and must do better. The world’s largest minority group needs to be seen and understood. Inspiration Porn is a reflection of societal ableism. It is time for non-disabled readers and writers to understand and acknowledge their able-bodied privilege.

To ring in the New Year, the authors of this article present the #InspoPornResolution, a set of guidelines for better reporting and writing about the disability community. It is our hope that the media will resolve to cover accurate depictions of the disability experience starting on January 1, 2016. Here’s the resolution:

I am making the #InspoPornResolution to accurately depict the disability experience.

  1. I will not co-opt the disability experience for the consumption of others.
  2. I will not assume understanding of disabled experience. I will check my privilege and ask questions.
  3. When in doubt about language, I will ask and respect the way disabled people self-identify and use resources such as the style guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism for general guidelines.
  4. I will ask my publication to hire and pay disabled writers, editors, collaborators, consultants.

Common Inspiration Porn Themes*

Here are some common themes and questions you should ask yourself about whether your story contains Inspiration Porn:

  • Participation Trophies: Is what the disabled person did more ‘special’ than their non-disabled counterpart? The story cannot be newsworthy simply because a disabled person participated. Example: a person voted Homecoming Queen, becoming a runway model or joining a sports team.
  • Able-Bodied Heroes: Did somebody do something nice for a person with a disability? Is your article written to praise that person for doing a ‘good deed’ even if the disabled recipient did or did not consent?
  • People as Props: Are you writing about things done to or for a disabled person rather than focusing on what the disabled person does?
  • Gawking without Talking: Does the disabled person have a ‘speaking’ part (even if the individual does not communicate through conventional speech)? Are their opinions or feelings about the described events taken into account?
  • SuperParent: Are you praising a special parent, caregiver, coach, or teacher of a special child? Is the story centered on the the non-disabled person’s achievements and ‘sacrifices’ while the disabled person’s role and value in the relationship overlooked? Is the disabled person in these stories a passive recipient of such ‘generosity’ and ‘benevolence’?

*These themes were adapted from R. Larkin Taylor-Parker’s tumblr post (December 23, 2015). Check it out!

If you’re struggling to figure out how to write about the disability experience authentically and inclusively, check out these fantastic writers and projects:

The above list is just a small sample. For more individuals and organizations check out the Storify on #CrippingTheMighty.

Will you accept/commit to the #InspoPornResolution?

Please feel free to share this imagery of the Inspiration Porn Resolution

Thank You.

Alice Wong, Liz Jackson, & R. Larkin Taylor-Parker

We would like to thank David Perry for his invaluable insights.

Alice Wong is the Founder of the Disability Visibility Project, a community partnership with StoryCorps collecting oral histories of from the disability community. Alice works at the Community Living Policy Center at UC San Francisco as a Staff Research Associate and is a sometime Research Consultant/Freelance Journalist. Her recent work focused on accessible makeathons and STEM careers for people with disabilities. She’s also a proud disabled Nerd of Color.

Liz Jackson advocates for a concept she calls ‘Inclusive Retail’. After a chronic neuromuscular diagnosis in 2012, Liz began to wonder why her eyeglasses were fashionable when her cane and all other assistive products were stigmatizing. Inclusive Retail aims to inspire designers and retailers to make and market products for all needs. Liz believes thoughtful design can improve and save millions of lives while fueling an emerging market the size of China. You can read more of Liz’s work on her blog The Girl with the Purple Cane.

R. Larkin Taylor-Parker is the author of Traveling Show, which is the oldest thing standing in Autistic Tumblr. Taylor-Parker wonders about how young professionals be conventionally successful enough to serve their minority community without losing them and how social media, with its unruliness and guerrilla tendencies, will grow up. She is a second year student at the University of Georgia School of Law interested in disability rights, autism blogger, and avid recreational tuba player.