Disability, Identity, and “Inspiration Porn”

Earlier this year, the fantastic speaker Stella Young addressed an audience at TEDxSydney. The topic of her thoughts was summed up in her last sentence:

“Disability doesn’t make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does.”

I am not acquainted with a single person who would argue with that statement, and she brings up such excellent points on the perspective which people with disabilities (PWD) are subjected to. I can’t disagree with anything in her talk. I would, however, like to add an additional perspective about disability and identity.

Ms. Young grew up with her disability, and it has always been a part of her. It’s a crucial part of her identity, one that she doesn’t think merits any superfluous attention. While making her valid point about the objectification of PWD as inspiration porn, Ms. Young says that “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.”

There are many, many types of disabilities. Many of them do not occur at birth and develop later in life, long after an individual’s identity is already formed. When this happens, these things often occur:

  • A career change or loss
  • Hobby changes or losses
  • Self image adjustments
  • Estranged friends and family unable to adjust to the “new you”
  • Massive goal changes
  • Devastating financial issues from the sudden involuntary change in lifestyle
  • An incredibly daunting learning curve one must undergo to learn to use one’s changed body (or mind) to the best of one’s ability.

For people who had to change their mature identities in such an abrupt and fundamental way, to not see that disability as a Bad Thing is a mountain to be climbed. People who are on that journey are not exceptional in the fact that they are overcoming obstacles just like any other human would. But by the nature of the beast, their accomplishments in doing so can, and should be, a total source of pride.

Please watch her awesome talk below!

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