This Little Miggy Stayed Home: Special Needs as Inspiration P*rn

Friday, May 23, 2014

Special Needs as Inspiration P*rn

A reader and fellow limb difference mom (hi Kristin!) sent me the following TedTalk by a woman named Stella Young, entitled Inspiration P*orn and the Objectification of Disabled People.

If you have the time to watch I'd urge you to do so.  Stella really hits the nail on the head.  The basic premise of her talk is that disabled people are often objectified by non disabled people in various forms of media as examples of "inspiration" aka "inspiration p*rn."  Here are some of my favorite quotes from her talk.

"For lots of us disabled people are not our teachers, our doctors, or our manicurist...we're not real people.  We are there to inspire.... I'm not here to inspire you.  I'm here to tell you we have been lied to about disability.  We've been sold the lie that disability is a bad thing... And to live with disability makes you exceptional.  It's not a bad thing.  And it doesn't make you exceptional."

"I've lost count of the number of times I've been approached by strangers wanting to tell me they think I'm brave, or inspirational...and it is objectifying." 

"Life as a disabled person is actually somewhat difficult.  We do overcome some things.  But the things that we're overcoming are not the things you think they are.  They are not things to do with our bodies....We are more disabled by the society we live in than we are by our bodies and diagnosis.  So I have lived in this body a long time, I'm quite fond of it.  It does the things I need it to do.  I've learnt to use it to the best of it's capacity, just as you have."  

"I want to live in a world where we don't have such low expectations of disabled people that we congratulate them for getting out of bed in the morning."

I recognize that I have been guilty of this myself.  Both in the past and even with my daughter at times.  We're still newbie's in this disability world and when she first used her feet to write I was quite amazed and surprised and I wanted others to be amazed as well!  That being said, I am definitely understanding this whole idea a lot better now--of course she uses her body differently and it's really not a big deal.  However at times I do hype up her differently-abled body to other children as I'm explaining her limbs (She doesn't have an arm, but she can write with her feet!  Isn't that cool?).  I don't think it's bad to be inspired by someone--disabled or not--but I think her greater point is that this type of thinking is what holds disabled people back from doing other things with their lives that they are completely capable of because the rest of the world expects so little from them.  As a mom I'm always going to think my children are amazing, wonderful, smart and special.  But I think that of ALL my kids.  And it can be difficult when people want to single Lamp out and shower her with praise and attention for well... just being Lamp.  At the same time, I'm always glad to see her received with love and kindness.  I've actually got a post in the making about this very thing.  So more thoughts to come.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this talk.  Do you objectify disabled people?  Unintentionally or otherwise?  Is it wrong to be inspired by people with disabilities?  Do you use other people's disabilities as a way to make yourself feel better?  Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the correct ways you're supposed to be sensitive to every minority group?  Ha!  It can be hard to be so AWARE all the time.   Also, remember the Scope ads I talked about last week?


  1. Not being disabled myself, nor any one I am significantly close to, I would only be able to emphasize with disabled persons opposed to sympathize with them as I do not know what its like to be disabled and how is feels to be treated due to being disabled. Without that knowledge, why would one be criticized for promoting positivity or growth? I have girlfriends that spout that same language, 'brave', 'strong', 'who do you do it?' and those are just for being a full-time working mother. (Which to me, seems silly to build me up for something that 'is what it is') It just seems that everyone has to find fault in something. If it is true and real love and kindness being shown, even out of naivete, why not embrace it? Everyone now-a-days is overly offended. I think it is someone's heart that matters. Even if it is technically 'off-base'. That is how I viewed this tedtalk.

    1. BMarie--I get that. I really do...and yes sometimes we are too sensitive about every little thing. And I think we put the responsibility on others to do and say "the right thing" rather than putting the responsibility on ourselves for how we handle forces out side our control.

      BUT I will tell you that it can be hard to deal with on a day-in and day-out basis. It is wonderful that people are kind to my daughter and really appreciate it when people just love chatting with her, talking to her and interacting with her the way they would any other kid. But people are constantly making a big deal of how she eats/writes/draws with her feet and saying things like "Wow! She's so happy!" As if they're surprised that she would be happy...likeshe's made the decision at the ripe ol' age of 3 to be happy despite having limb differences. Her personality is just who she is and has nothing to do with her limbs. Of course its exciting when any child learns to eat independently, or draw but what if everywhere you went people made a big deal out of it? 1) It would get old. 2) It would probably give your child a warped sense of their accomplishments. Does that make sense?

      Additionally, it's a twisted sort of positivity. As she states in the talk often people use images and memes of the disabled to feel better about their own lives--like "it could always be worse. I could be THAT guy." But what if you are THAT guy? As she states in the video.

      Am I ever inspired by my daughter and her determination to use her body to the best of it's ability? Yes. But I never once think, "Wow...she's so happy despite having limb differences." Her happiness has nothing to do with that. And the idea that people with disabilities should be primarily used as motivational speakers and inspiration memes for the rest of us, limits what their real capabilities are.

  2. And being the brainiac that I am, I switched up empathy and sympathy :o)

  3. I AM very impressed and inspired by those with limitations and challenges that I do not have. I see how they struggle with so much of what I take for granted. I am inspired when I see someone who struggles yet knows how to be happy and grateful. I often think back of Lamp when she was younger and I think you were at Hobby Lobby?…not sure, but it was some big place like that and how she was so happy and entertaining the others in line. I probably don't have all the facts straight but I remember that post and I think back on it. So YES I can learn from those who struggle with daily challenges and still find lots of reasons to smile and be happy.

    1. Grandma Honey--You know I love you, right? :) Well please allow me to try and help you understand where she's coming from a little bit.

      When you say, "I am inspired when I see someone who struggles yet knows how to be happy and grateful." that can come off a little condescending. Don't we all struggle in some way? The biggest "struggle" in Lamps life is how other people see her. And if all they see her is "as someone who struggles" well that's not a very complimentary point of view. And yes Lamp did make all those people smile and laugh, but she has been a happy little thing since she was a baby... her personality and happiness has NOTHING to do with her limbs. Especially at this age. There may come a time when she has to make more of a conscious decision and choose to be happy, but at age 3 that is not something she has to choose. She doesn't have the cognitive ability to say, "Wow...I was dealt a pretty tough hand in life, but I'm just going to be happy anyway." No...she just is happy. And don't most of us at some point in life have to choose to be happy or miserable based on our circumstances? People with disabilities are not the only ones who "struggle."

      What if you drove a car that you liked a lot, it worked just fine for you but everyone around you kept saying things like, "Wow! I think it's so great you can drive such a sad little car and still be happy. That is really inspiring!" Wouldn't that feel a little bit condescending and make you think, "Wait...what's wrong with my car?" When people make comments like that, of course they mean well, but it's basically saying that having a disability is clearly a bad thing--sorry that your body is less cool than my body and I just don't know how you deal with it.

      Honestly, it can be a little complicated. I do think we need to try and not be offended all the time, especially when it is well intended...but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just as I don't want to be seen as being "pretty good for a girl" disabled people don't want to be seen as pity cases doing the best they can despite the bad luck of being born as themselves.

      I hope that helps you understand a little better. At least, that's my take on it.

  4. Miggy,

    I read some of your posts from following the hotlink on Brandis's blog. THANK YOU for putting this post out here. This is a sensitive issue -- and I am the one with the special needs. I actually do feel rather insulted by people when I mention that I run a blog and do volunteer advocacy and give back the community "instead of just leeching the system". Either that or they look at me and say something to the tune of "that is just (congratulatory verb here)".

    I understand that this is hard for those who do not live with certain limitations (most obvious case is using a wheelchair with limited use of my legs) to grasp that doing things like "helping me" open a door when I was doing so just fine is fairly demoralizing. This is why I usually do not say anything. But as a young adult (I'm 26) from the special needs community, my only request is to be treated with the same respect or even disrespect you would give others. I do not want special treatment or accolades just because I roll and don't stroll, or the fact that I cannot eat and I'm dependent on a central line for all intake needs, or for any other reason.

    Like anyone I just want to be recognized by what I accomplish...not by what I cannot. By the same token, I do not want to offend those who feel a certain amount of awe when watching a person excel in an area where they themselves would never have thought possible. I think it's fine to marvel at how a person is able to adapt to meet their circumstance (because even I think it quite magnificent at how each person can find ways to interact with others and their environment no matter how high certain obstacles reach). I think it does cross the line, however, when we start plastering those who do have different limitations as demigods only for the purposes of driving a sense of inspiration for the "enlightenment" of others, because that is not the reason that particular person is there for. Not a single one of us -- limits or not -- were sent here only to serve as "perfect examples" of any particular virtue.

    For need to look up. Not at the television or computer screen.

  5. Daphne5:54 PM

    I love that you opened up this dialogue because it is so important. I am disabled after an auto accident when I was a teenager so I've seen disability from both perspectives and I've developed a very wicked sense of humor since then. I almost died laughing when I read the post you wrote about getting the ultrasound for baby #3. I find that if you add humor to almost any situation it helps a lot. I tell my friends and even my mom and sisters, please don't say that kind of stuff around me, you can call each other up and discuss how inspired you are by the fact that I'm living exactly the same life that I imagined for myself before the accident. Quick story, a few weeks ago my friend and I were in a long line at the grocery store and this older lady behind us was staring at me with an "aren't you brave" look. Finally she looked at my friend and said, it makes me so sad to see such a pretty girl in a wheelchair, and she and I both just busted out laughing. The woman was so offended that she changed lines.

  6. Daphne6:07 PM

    I just read over my post and I'm not sure it makes sense, but what I was trying to say is: it's okay and even sweet to be inspired by me, but please don't say anything about it in front of mean. if seeing me really affects you in that way, go home and call your friend and say I saw this really pretty young woman in a wheelchair and I was really inspired by her.