The Problem With Being “Inspiring”

Posted: November 30, 2014 in Disability
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So since my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that disability issues play out in fitness. And it keeps bringing to mind the “supercrip” stereotype. This something I’ve been thinking a lot about but struggling to put into words my thoughts. Particularly because those identified as “inspiring” are typically folks with different disabilities than me- typically folks with visible disabilities. All my disabilities are invisible, people look at me and they see a healthy, able-bodied girl. That’s not who I am, but it’s what people assume because I don’t use a wheelchair or a cane or have any other visible identifier of disability. That assumption is frustrating, but that’s a topic for another time, right now I merely am trying to explain that my experiences with disabilities are very different than those who have visible disabilities.

Still, there something that doesn’t often sit right with me about the frequent use of photos and videos of people with visible disabilities engaged in various fitness activities as inspiration. It does bring to mind this quote from the bitch magazine article though:

Supercrip provides a way for non-disabled folks to be “inspired” by persons with disabilities without actually questioning—or making changes to—how persons with disabilities are treated in society.

I think this hits the nail on the head for what makes me uncomfortable. For all the times I’ve seen photos or videos of people with disabilities lifting/running/swimming/doing yoga/et cetera with commentary on how inspiring it is, I’ve never seen those posts include commentary on the experiences of people with disabilities in the fitness world. Especially given barriers to access, stereotypes, and discrimination that people with visible disabilities often face. There are many who would assume those with visible disabilities are not capable of engaging in these activities, and so I doubt that these individuals have never run into problems with gyms of people, possibly even staff, assuming they shouldn’t be there or using certain equipment. Given the issues of accessibility people with certain disabilities (especially those who use wheelchairs) face all the time, it would be odd to me if gyms and fitness related events where the one area where this is never a problem. But this is never the discussion. Rather, it’s people without disabilities sharing images/videos of people with disabilities, for the purpose of inspiring other people without disabilities. It treats people with disabilities as people who exist solely to make people without disabilities feel good.

And it also veers often into assuming that all disabilities are the same or can be hierarchically ranked. I mention in my most recent post on spoons, the experiences of a particular disability is different for different people, and can even be different for the same person at different points in times. As well, as I’ve discussed before, different disabilities are different. It’s not always a matter of better or worse, just different. I don’t have the same experiences as a person who uses a wheelchair, and they do not have the experiences as I do. The experiences are simply different.

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