I had the privilege recently of being dubbed humorously as Special K. It is not anything to do with the breakfast cereal but something to do with the fact that I am probably the only person ever whose deafness is indirectly related to being circumcised. It’s a true story that I have no wish to drag out. As the result of this rather unique claim to fame my friend Samantha dubbed me – “Special K”
Sam was really not just poking fun at me but at the tendency of many of our non-disabled brethren to see people with a disability as SPECIAL. We all love the term Special Needs don’t we? It is a term coined because non-disabled people struggle to use the term disabled. The word disability is a dirty word. The word disability actually just points out the obvious. It points out that people use wheelchairs, are deaf, are blind or whatever disability condition that you care to mention.
We can’t say the names of those conditions either can we? We become people with hearing difficulties. Or people who are sight challenged. Or instead of dwarf we become people who are short-statured. Nearly all these terms are coined by the non-disabled in some kind of effort to deny or hide the bleedingly obvious.
Ok I get that language can be powerful and we need to be careful of how we use it. For example there is a really disturbing tendency of youth to call people gay. If someone likes to be extremely organised, “Oh god you are so gay!” Or someone wears daggy clothes, “Jaysus you are so gay” This is entirely offensive because it is a put-down. Calling someone retard is also a put-down and not acceptable. But calling someone deaf because they can’t hear is just stating the obvious. I despair with how non-disabled people struggle to use such innocent and harmless labels.
It is all part of the non-disabled’s charade to deny disability. They do this in a number of ways. They play with language, seemingly to find a gentler and kinder way to describe us all. And more cringe worthy, they use us as figures of inspiration. The paradox in using us as inspiration is that it unconsciously helps the non-disabled’s to feel better about themselves.
“Oh God it’s amazing that he can talk so well despite every thing …” or :”It’s great to see him so happy and active despite the fact that he cant walk …” These seemingly innocent and well meaning comments do only one thing. They confirm that many non-disabled see disability as some kind of lesser existence to be pitied. It confirms that the non disabled’s somehow see being able bodied as superior.
In recent years the tendency to see people with a disability as a means to inspire has been dubbed INSPIRATION PORN. Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg in her Blog, Disability and Representation defines Inspiration Porn as the , “ … objectification of disabled bodies for the purpose of inspiring able-bodied people. Disabled people are its subject matter, but able-bodied people are its audience.”
More tellingly Cohen-Rottenberg has this to say about the motivation of non-disabled people who embrace Inspiration Porn, “It’s simple: they should adjust their attitudes, quit complaining, and go on to achieve great things through hard work and willpower. Of course, the ideology of inspiration porn completely ignores the bigotry, the economic injustice, and the basic human limitations that keep most people from actually being able to do all of those things.”
In short Inspiration Porn is what non disabled’s use to camouflage their general pitying attitude to people with a disability. More appallingly they use it to cover up the basic limitations that society places on people with a disability. People with a disability are not achieving things despite their disability. Rather they are achieving things despite a society that wont or can’t meet their needs. In this sense Inspiration Porn papers over the cracks. These cracks are the lack of infrastructure and support for people with a disability. Things like transport, access to buildings, accessible toilets or captioning to name a few.
Last week Inspiration Porn was flourishing on the Channel 9 TV show The Block. You see there was a deaf carpenter on the show, golly gee! While it is great to get exposure for deaf people in this way I could not help but think that promoting this carpenter because he was deaf was way over the top. And after watching the show on Youtube with automatic captioning I am convinced that the exposure of this carpenter because he was deaf is Inspiration Porn, even though it is a milder version. (I am well aware that by dubbing this feel good episode as Inspiration Porn I will be labelled as a kill joy, but someone has to say it.)
I tried my best to make sense of the automatic captioning but after reading, “ Yeah I’m on taking it on has invested in hoovers.” I gave up. I asked my friend Samantha to transcribe the dialogue of the clip for me over Facebook.
As I said it was a milder form of Inspiration Porn but with comments like:
“It’s been really awesome working with James um he’s such an inspiration to see what he does and he has such a solid crack at everything.”
“I guess at the end of the day it shows that it doesn’t matter what hand you’re dealt with in life that you can do anything you want.”
You can be in no doubt that the show is trying to highlight that James is a carpenter despite of his deafness and they believe that’s awesome.
Of course being deaf in no way impedes on your ability to hit a nail with a hammer or be able to utilise a power tool. But for some reason James being deaf and a carpenter is newsworthy. I am not sure why because there was a time that kids who were deaf at school were encouraged to work with their hands in trades because communication in other jobs like say a social worker or a lawyer was just far too hard. In Australia there are any number of deafies who are tradies and have their own business. They are awesome because they are good at it not because they are deaf. They are common place.
Now if the show had highlighted some of James struggles with the system like lack of interpreters because the $6000 Auslan for employment scheme doesn’t last long, or a TAFE system struggling to meet support needs because of Government cut backs or an education system that leads to many being semi-literate because they are mainstreamed in a system that doesn’t provide enough support – then you have a story to highlight why James is a carpenter despite of … And it’s not because of his deafness.
But it’s so much nicer and easier to make James an inspiration isn’t it? But in doing so it hides the real issues. And that’s the real bastard of Inspiration Porn.
With thanks to my friend Samantha Connor who transcribed the Youtube version of the Block Story for me. To witness the appalling automatic captioning click on the following link –