Disabled people do not need your validation

// 9 April 2015

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey is our April guest blogger.

For over half of my life, I have lived with disability; I have Lupus, Arthritis, Dyspraxia, Osteoporosis and Depression. The thing with all of these illnesses though is that they’re mostly invisible, so I never drew too much attention to myself or was seen as “a cripple”, that was until last summer. In April last year I took the plunge and began to use a cane in public, the osteoporosis in my hips had gotten to a point where walking without it was difficult. It was then I became truly aware of how much of an “inspiration” I was to people.

Disabled inspiration porn is when someone uses an image of a disabled person for their own motivation, such as a picture of a disabled child smiling with “the only disability is a positive attitude” underneath or a disabled person exercising with “what’s your excuse?” Disabled people do not do thing for the approval of able-bodied people and we definitely do not do it to motivate you. Just today I saw both of these examples on Facebook.

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Something thing that happens to me on a semi- regular basis is friends or acquaintances telling me how strong and brave I am. It’s usually when I’m doing a pretty mundane task like university work or writing but I’ve took the time to explain that I’m sick. I know that its meant in a kind way, but I’ve lived like this for 12 years I’m not doing anything magnificent or out there, I’m just trying to live a normal life. Going out and try to live a normal life is strong of me, but I’m not doing it to inspire others. I’m doing it to better myself, not to fill your quota of disabled inspiration porn.

They always love to give sick kids awards for doing normal adult things too, like what we’re doing is extraordinary instead of hiding ourselves away from the world. The late great Stella Young spoke about this in her TED talk, she agreed that we are not doing anything different, we’re just doing it. I myself have won one, of these awards, which I thought was great at the time. But looking back all I did to win it was get an education and spread awareness of my illnesses. We don’t need approval for everything we do, I know that I’m a strong person but I’m not incredible.

I don’t always use a cane, because my hips aren’t always really painful, and the difference in the way I’m treated is ridiculous. When I use my cane I’m given seats on buses, people take my bags off me (without asking if I need help sometimes), doors are opened for me and people believe that I’m sick. But I’m ill all the time, I have lifelong conditions that don’t just disappear because I can walk well or get out of bed that day. The help is always welcome, with permission, but it doesn’t need to be assumed that I always need help when I use my cane and am perfectly capable of doing everything independently when I don’t. On the flip side I’ve been called out on buses for using disabled seats, despite having a disabled bus pass and told I’m lazy for taking the lift for one floor. I have explained my disability to people depending on how I felt in the situation, but a lot of the time just being sick isn’t good enough you have to look it.

As healthy people, you wouldn’t be expected to be congratulated for getting an education purely because you’re a healthy person, or that you made yourself look good or you spoke up for yourself. So please, think before you call someone an inspiration or brave or strong; are you doing it because of what they’ve achieved in their life despite illness or because they’re ill?

The first photo illustrates Amy Purdy, a paraolympic snowboarder in a beautiful image where she is on her back looking at the camera and with her running blades in the air. The image says “What’s your excuse for objectifying me as your inspiration porn?” Thanks the sociology cinema for the photo. The second photo is of a small child smiling and lying on their stomach in the grass. The image says “The biggest disability is a negative attitude”. Thanks Phyllis Kee for the photo.

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