I have mixed feelings about what some people call “disability porn.” Whether photos or videos, they feature someone with some sort of disability accomplishing something that would be a challenge for anyone, or maybe would just be an everyday thing for most people, held up as inspiration for the rest of “us.” Stella Young clearly articulated the dark aspect of disability porn in her TED talk.

On the other hand, such things really are a reminder that people–everyone–can overcome challenges. What may be missed in all this is that we all have challenges. Nobody has it easy, although when you look at someone else from the outside, it may look as if everyone else has it easier.

We certainly have our challenges in our household. My wife is disabled, and our 13-year-old daughter is severely disabled with a very rare chromosomal disorder. As I age, I am dealing more and more with arthritis and other health issues. (We are quite grateful that a friend has started a GoFundMe campaign to help our daughter, since we have been hit by a circumstance that makes a difficult situation overwhelming.) But we also know that other people quietly deal with challenges that are even more difficult. The only reason we know is because we sometimes see them in the same waiting rooms in medical offices or see a post in a disability group we share.

We have talked before about how the inside/outside dichotomy affects stage fright. Because you are always comparing your inside to everyone else’s outsides, you think you are more frightened of speaking than anyone else. But they’re all looking at you and thinking how much more confident you appear than they feel. This is another aspect of that dichotomy. You know your own challenges intimately, and so you know all the good reasons to give up. You look at others, and they seem to have it easier, or luck breaks their way more often, or their challenges are more manageable.

You’re comparing your inside to their outsides. Recognize that you can’t know what you don’t know.

This has two practical implications.

  1. The flip side implication is to cut others a break. When someone seems to you to be lazy or unmotivated, remember that you don’t really know what challenges they face. Perhaps encourage them, but don’t judge.
  2. It also means that if they can do it, you can do it, if you want to badly enough. Obviously, there are exceptions: I am never going to be able to fly by flapping my arms. I can’t do everything I want to do, because there just isn’t enough time. But if I want it badly enough, I can find a way to accomplish it (e.g., if I want to fly, I may be able to learn to pilot an ultralight).

So, yes, those photos and videos can be inspiring. I celebrate the accomplishment of the young woman in the video, not because she overcame disability (I truly believe she is simply “differently abled,” not just as a politically correct term), but because she overcame her particular challenges to accomplish something she strongly desire.

I celebrate you for the same reason.

And now I need to focus on overcoming my own challenges. Good luck with yours.


Share this, please!