#useyourvoice: ‘Disabled people are not your inspiration porn’ says BBC presenter Kat Hawkins

Director, journalist and dance artist Kat Hawkins (aka @kats.bailed) lost both legs to meningitis at university, and uses her platform to show what life with a disability is like. Here Kat explains why she’s had enough of being pitied, and how we can change the way we talk about disability

‘You’ve seen the posts. A disabled child using a wheelchair or another assistive device and the text. ‘What’s your excuse?’ or ‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude!’ In the disability community we call this inspiration porn – being inspired by a disabled person who is just existing, or non-disabled people using disabled people to make them feel guilty about what they’re not doing, and to try harder. Because if I can leave my house in my body, surely you can do anything you put your mind to!

So often people come up to me in the street and tell me I’m amazing, that I’m doing so well, that I’ve made them realise how lazy they are. But why? More often than not I’ve rolled out of bed two minutes after I was supposed to leave, not showered and dashed out the door, feeling anything but inspiring.

Just being disabled doesn’t make us inspirations for non-disabled people to feel better about not being disabled.

Now, I’ve not always been disabled, so I used to participate in this really annoying, but also harmful way of viewing disabled people and their experiences. This idea, although feeling well-intentioned, reduces complex and nuanced human experiences. It makes us feel as though we have to be happy, saintly, smiling and active in order to achieve the respect of people who don’t understand our experiences. But all bodies are worthy of respect no matter what they look like or how they operate.

What inspiration porn does is make disabled people feel that they must be inspirational in order to have respect, to even matter to non-disabled people. It’s why I felt for so many years that I had to ‘overcome’ my disability, to appear to be doing amazing in life. But disabled people are every type of person, and that’s ok. Disabled people get married, have jobs, kids, sex, days where they are in pain, can’t move, and days where they can.

The hardest part of inspiration porn for me, is that through saying I’m inspiring just for being outside, what is actually being said is, ‘I can’t imagine living in your body, I couldn’t do it’ (things people have actually said to me). This tells us that non-disabled people view our lives as sad, hard, lonely, and unworthy. And while we feel these things, as most people do, our lives are not only them. They are rich and necessary.  What inspiration porn does, in the huge amount of images and messages we see on social media, in the news and in our personal lives is tell us disabled people are by default tragic. Because if disability wasn’t so horrendous then seeing uplifting pictures wouldn’t be particularly inspiring.

Really importantly, by having so many messages of inspiration around disability, it also glosses over real issues of accessibility and inclusion. These issue are what we should be focusing on instead of patronising and infantilising the disabled people.

So this isn’t to say you must never do this again, but I urge you to think about what you focus on when you talk to disabled people and why. Maybe a ‘hello, how are you?’ could be a good start.’

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