A message from people living with disabilities to the able bodied population: We are not your inspiration.
The next time you walk past someone with a disability and think to yourself “That’s so sad…..”
STOP. And then remember the images we’re about to show you.
This is what disability looks like.
These photos come from a Facebook page called This Is What Disability Looks Like. The page includes a series of pictures created by people living with disability to show the rest of the world what being disabled is really like.
They don’t want to be seen as tragic. They don’t want pity. They’re not here to make you feel warm and fuzzy and amazed at how they get through everyday life.
They want to be seen like all the rest of us do: For the people they are.
The page was started by a woman named Bethany Stevens (she is the woman in the wheelchair in pic #1) and it aims to send a powerful message. People living with disabilities send in photos. Bethany adds the text. And then posts them to Facebook where they are then shared by hundreds of people.
In this interview, Bethany says the page started almost as an accident.
“It was truly spurred by my wife adding text to a photo that was taken of a krip friend and I. It was well received by folks in disability communities, so I thought I should explore what the idea could do in a broader format. I started a Facebook page, sent a call out for photos, and encouraged people to spread the word.” she says.
And then photos poured in.
One of those photos was from the phenomenal disability advocate and Mamamia contributor Stella Young.
Earlier this year, Stella wrote a post for Mamamia titled: “I’m not here for your inspiration.”
In it, she talked about what she refers to as inspiration porn; when images people with a disability are captioned with quotes like “your excuse is invalid” or “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” and used as “inspiration” for non-disabled people.
A way to put their problems into perspective, if you will.
But, as Stella writes, the pictures objectify those they claim to represent and assumes disabled people people live terrible lives.
Their lives are just like everyone else’s.
When I was 15, a member of my local community approached my parents and told them she wanted to nominate me for some kind of community achievement award. My parents said, “Thanks, but there’s one glaring problem with that… she hasn’t actually achieved anything out of the ordinary.”
They were right. I went to school, I got good marks, I had a very low key after-school job, and I spent a lot of time watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek. I wasn’t feeding orphaned Chlamydia-infected baby koalas before school, or setting up a soup kitchen in the main street, or reading newspapers to the elderly at the local hospital. I was doing exactly the same things as my non-disabled friends. When my parents explained all this to the well-meaning nominator, they said “yes, but she’s just such an inspiration”.
And there’s the rub. My everyday life in which I do exactly the same things as everyone else should not inspire people, and yet I am constantly congratulated by strangers for simply existing. It happened twice last week.
I was on a train with my earphones shoved in my ears completely ignoring my fellow commuters (as is my want early in the morning) while reading inane things on twitter. A woman on her way to getting off at her stop patted me on the arm and said “I see you on the train every morning and I just wanted to say it’s great. You’re an inspiration to me.”
Should I have said “you too”? Because we were doing exactly the same thing; catching public transport to our respective places of employment. I was just doing it sitting down. Should I have pointed out that, in many ways, that requires less effort, not more?
That’s the thing about those kids in the inspiration porn pictures too – they’re not doing anything their peers don’t do. We all learn how to use the bodies we’re born with, or learn to use them in an adjusted state, whether those bodies are considered disabled or not. So that image of the kid drawing a picture with the pencil held in her mouth instead of her hand? That’s just the best way for her, in her body, to do it. For her, it’s normal.
You can (and you should) like the This is What Disabilities Look Like page here.