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Challenging jokes & stereotypes misdefining disability: Part II

In our last post, we began a discussion about internet “memes” that many find to be disparaging of the disability community. The issue was recently discussed in a Slate magazine article written by a man named Scott Jordan Harris.

The first is a kind of comedy thread that Harris refers to as the “miracle meme.” One example shows a woman standing up from a wheelchair to reach a bottle of alcohol on a store shelf, sarcastically calling her feat a “miracle.” The second kind of meme – which is not as graphic as the name suggests – is commonly referred to as “inspiration porn.”

Disability-related memes of this nature are meant to be inspirational. One example is a picture of a man with no legs doing pull-ups. The caption on the picture asks: “What’s your excuse?”

On the surface, such a message might seem complimentary and inspirational because it sends the message to focus on what you’ve got rather than your limitations. But Harris notes that the caption suggests that our limitations and disabilities only hold us back because we’re not putting in enough effort to overcome them. This is simply not true. Many people with disabilities work very hard just to perform tasks that are easy for the able-bodied.

Moreover, Harris adds, “inspiration porn suggests that disabled people only exist to inspire the able-bodied, just as memes that mock us suggest we only exist for their amusement.”

Why get so upset about internet memes like these? Quite frankly, the way we think about disability informs the way we treat the disability community. These memes spread ignorant ideas that are both untrue and offensive. Additionally, the fact that they are so widely shared means that thousands of people already hold these views.

If we want to change the way that disability is regarded, we must change the way it is discussed.

Source: Slate, "Despicable Memes," Scott Jordan Harris, Aug. 13, 2014

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