by STELLA YOUNG
I don’t know Scott Hamilton personally but that guy is really starting to burn my crumpets.
You’ve heard of him, I’m sure. He’s the one who said “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” You know, that quote that’s plastered all over pictures of disabled people doing completely normal things and shared far and wide on social media.
Hamilton is a figure skater who has had cancer more than once and has survived after lots of treatment. Good for him. Although how it qualifies him to make such a bold sweeping statement about disability, I can’t quite grasp. I’ll get to that in a moment. Firstly, I want to address the images that his slogan so often accompanies.
Those images constitute what’s called inspiration porn.
Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”. Increasingly, they feature the Hamilton quote.
There’s the one pictured here. It’s of a little girl running on a set of prosthetic legs alongside Oscar Pistorius, also using similar prostheses. Those legs, for the record, cost upwards of $20,000 and are completely out of reach for most people with disabilities. The Hamilton quote is plastered across the photo.
And there’s another one of a little boy running on those same model legs with the caption, “Your excuse is invalid”. Yes, you can take a moment here to ponder the use of the word “invalid” in a disability context. Ahem.
Then there’s the one with the little girl with no hands drawing a picture holding the pencil in her mouth with the caption, “Before you quit. Try.”
I’d go on, but I might expunge the contents of my stomach.
Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.
In this way, these modified images exceptionalise and objectify those of us they claim to represent. It’s no coincidence that these genuinely adorable disabled kids in these images are never named: it doesn’t matter what their names are, they’re just there as objects of inspiration.