The Problem with Inspiration

Inspiration can be a beautiful thing. It can lead to great ideas and grand works. However, there’s a downside to inspiration, especially with how it is used within the disabled community.

If you ever meet me in real life, there’s nothing particularly inspirational about me on the physical level. You wouldn’t suspect, if you haven’t read my blog or followed me on Twitter, that I might be passing for neurotypical in front of you for the sake of social niceties. If I do decide to disclose to you that I’m autistic, I’m prepared to hear that I’m an inspiration for, when you get down to it, simply existing. In that statement, I have been transformed to a person to an object that is to be looked upon with pity. Just, no.

There have been two news articles, one national and one local, that reflect that statement. Recently, there was a story that circulated about, for all intents and purposes for this post, a neurotypical who took someone who has Down syndrome to prom as part of a childhood promise. One of the problems with the article, aside from the fact that it cast the NT as someone who took it upon themselves to take a helpless disabled person to prom, was that the person with Down syndrome was never quoted. Common sense would say that it would be helpful for the article to interview all parties involved; not so in this case. Realistically, the article shouldn’t have been written because what the initial act was was called being human. I do not know the motivation behind the article, whether it be for fame or for tugging at your heart-strings, but it’s not news. I related a story of my prom experience where, if I had been more open about myself at that time, I’d bet there would be an article on it.

Locally, there was a disability expo that, for the record, I considered attending but did not. An article was printed the following day saying that a disabled horse was there that was said to inspire the people who attended, again, for the sake of existing. I brought this up on Twitter and mentioned that in one season four episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, there was a disabled pony who had the aid of wheels. Said pony had lines and was a part of the episode. Not once was his disability mentioned.* It baffles me that fictional horses did a better job of inclusion than real horses, which led to an online discussion with fellow autistic fans and followers.

What the first article is is what is called “inspiration porn” (click here for a TED talk on the subject). It’s something that I come across more often than usual, mostly from hanging out with the disabled community. I don’t wake up in the morning and tell myself that I was born to be objectified or go out in public and wish to be so. I don’t wear my disability on my sleeve in public, save for with trusted company. With said company, I’m treated just like anyone else and it’s refreshing.

As part of what I’m doing as an autistic filmmaker (no longer a film major as I have graduated) and budding advocate, I participate in dialogues about not just what we as an autistic community want and need but also with tweeting about how we wish to be treated, heard, and represented. Last night, this was a discussion as me and several others discussed the recent story about the one guy who was videotaped helping a disabled person eat and the ethics of videotaping such things (consensus states that consent from the disabled person, whose name was never given, was probably not given). It’s a work in progress, but it’s becoming part of my life goal.

I don’t have a problem if you say that I have inspired you, provided that it’s in reference to my film or writing style. However, if you pull that word out and it’s about how I simply exist, I am going to ask that you might want to reconsider. I have an article with a local art magazine, thanks to a friend. If this particular issue comes up, I’ll do my best to set the story straight. If anything, I’d prefer “influence” over “inspiration”.** In my head, “inspiration” is for objects while “influence” stems from humans and ideas. Last time I checked, I’m not an object and do not want to be treated as such.

*While I cannot say that MLP:FiM is a perfect show when it comes to this, it has done better than some long-running kid shows where the disability is given the Very Special Episode treatment. This will be covered in a future post.

**Preferred terminology stems from college art classes, especially the film classes.

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