Do We Objectify Disabled People?

Stella Young, a disabled comedian and journalist, speaks against using disabled people as inspiration and motivation in the TED talk above. In her speech, she talks about how our current society is one that looks at disability as a “Bad Thing”--something you have to live with, and because you live with it, you’re extraordinary. You’re stronger, more tested than people who are not disabled.

Our society is obsessed with “inspiration porn”. That is, we objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. When you see a runner in a marathon with running blades, for example, that image is often thought to be inspirational and motivational to people who run without a disability. We objectify disabled people by saying things like, “My life could be bad, but it’s not as bad as his.” Or in the case of the runner, “If he can do it, you definitely can.”


Image courtesy of Medical Xpress.

But we rarely question how this makes disabled people feel—more importantly, how this can affect the disabled youth in our country. Young points out that she’s lost count of the times she’s been approached by total strangers who wanted to tell her how brave she is. When she was a kid, a community member asked her parents if they could nominate her for a community achievement award, even though she’d done nothing to earn it.

In the workplace, we often treat disabled people differently from non-disabled people. “Life as a disabled person is, actually, somewhat difficult—we do overcome some things.” However, Young states that the things that disabled people must overcome have nothing to do with their bodies. They overcome, in fact, the social model that exists around and for disability.

So, the next time you’re looking at an inspirational image of a disabled person, remember: that disabled person is doing something ordinary to the best of their capacity.




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