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I am more than just an inspiring meme

I am more than just an inspiring meme

by: Terry Simelane-Mathabathe - 22 August 2018

We look at how inspirational memes forms part of the discrimination of people with disabilities.

We see the memes floating around our timelines almost everyday. They all look the same; it starts with a picture of a person with a disability, the disability doesn’t matter but the more apparent the better. Then comes the caption, it’s always something along the lines of “The only disability is a bad attitude” or “What’s your excuse?” And then you find yourself glaring at a meme meant to motivate you- the able bodied person- to get off your butt and do something with your life.

Person with disability swimming

Person with disability swimming

But what about the person in the picture? Have you ever thought about who that person is, what their interests are? People with disabilities are often reduced to being inspiring pictures or karma cleansers, just projects that people take on to get good karma/look like good people. With the birth of the meme, the reduction has reached a wider audience. The notion that people with disabilities have overcome the odds is a dangerous one because it rules out the daily discrimination that we face. People with disabilities are often discriminated against in the workplace, with employers reluctant to hire candidates that have “special needs”. This affects our money and since disability is a capitalist exercise; (all our aids, wheelchairs, guide dogs, straws and so on cost money) we are further disabled.

How able bodied people view disability plays a big role in creating an accessible world and right now we are being viewed as inspirations- readily available when you need a boost. Late disability activist Stella Young put it so eloquently

“No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never. Smiling at a television screen isn’t going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf. No amount of standing in the middle of a book shop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into Braille.”

Having a good attitude and finding inspiration from the memes won’t make the life of a disabled person easier. Only interventions by government, reasonable accommodation and the able-bodied society at large can do that.

When we go out into the world we are privy to misconceptions of disability in the able-bodied world. People treating people with disabilities like children when they are clearly adults (that happens a lot) is a form of social ableism.For instance, I Terry, a person with albinism, has to watch my back in certain areas because of the misguided and ignorant belief that my body parts can bring good luck. That’s a form of social ableism.

In order to end social ableism we need to fight what Stella calls “inspiration porn” and start seeing people with disabilities as just people, not inspirations, not superheroes, just people. So no thank you, I am not your inspiration.

Watch Stella Young’s incredible 2014 TEDx Talk “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much”