Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reading Inspiration Porn Through the Social Model of Disability

I have a new piece out at Al Jazeera America on the concept of inspiration porn.
Inspiration porn still dominates depictions of disability in the news, so her work continues. In the last few weeks, three stories about disability have gone viral. A high school quarterback in Pennsylvania took a girl with Down syndrome to prom, fulfilling a promise he made to her when they were in the fourth grade. A Qdoba employee in Kentucky was filmed feeding a customer with physical disabilities. Madeline Stuart, an Australian woman with Down syndrome, lost weight and became a model.
Each of these stories has been reproduced on news outlets and shared on social media around the world in multiple languages. They all feature people doing good things. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the content of these stories, of course, but the way they’re told conceals the real issues faced by the disability community. We need stories that illuminate instead.
I talk about Stella Young, the terrible idea that TEDxSydney had to honor her (and now they've flubbed the apology too - READ THIS), and three inspiration porn stories making the rounds lately. At the end, and the part I really like, I re-read the three stories through the lens of the social model of disability.
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.
Reread these three stories through the lens of the social model. Moser and Lapkowicz are news because stigma makes it hard for people with disabilities to have close friends, especially with someone as iconic as a high school quarterback. The stigma disables.
Stuart is an exception to the social norms that view disabled bodies as unattractive, and she gets to be that exception only by conforming to specific body norms. The perception of disabled bodies as nonsexy is disabling, not the bodies themselves. The anonymous woman in Qdoba is disabled not by her wheelchair but by restaurants that lack automated doors and a society that doesn’t provide sufficient community-supported assistance.
I think this is a useful approach and I'm going to use it when I address such stories in the future. When you see an inspiration porn story, ask yourself - what would the social model say about this?

1 comment:

Erin said...

Thanks for this!