SCIO Community Magazine
Nikoletta Erdelyi

In Defense of Inspiration Porn

Sunday morning, I crawl out of bed at eleven and make my way to the heart of the city for a late brunch date with friends. This is pretty standard for me; my weekdays are filled with a full-time job paired with high stress levels, and tons of time waiting around for accessible transit or straining my wrist from opening heavy doors whose automatic buttons are out of order. I was born with a joint condition that prevents me from walking, so I use a wheelchair to get around, and most of the time, I’m pretty good at it. Still, deep, luxurious sleep followed by girl talk and pancakes are much needed on weekends, and though to me it’s just another day of nothing too spectacular, a stranger on the subway seems to think otherwise.

“Hi,” says a middle-aged woman with kind eyes and a gentle smile. “I noticed the huge gap on the platform as you were getting on the train. They don’t make it easy for people in wheelchairs, do they?” I quickly put my breaks on and grab the pole before the train takes off to stop my chair from moving and smile back at her. “It’s not a big deal. I’m just glad the trains are flat enough to get into.” I really am. Born in Hungary, where most public transit is not accessible at all, minor obstacles like platform gaps are not worth stressing over. “You’re inspiring,” she says before reaching her stop midtown. “Have a wonderful day.” 

You may be familiar with the term “Inspiration porn,” the concept that people with disabilities are a source of inspiration and hope to the rest of society, regardless of how ordinary our lives may be. Sometimes, people are applauded for simply being out in public while the rest of society is held to higher standards of achievement, commended only when it’s genuinely called for, be it completing a master’s degree while raising a family or launching a business. On one hand, the frustration with this is understandable; nobody craves a standing ovation for merely existing. But to me, being a momentary source of inspiration to a fellow being is no cause for anger and feeling inferior. My frustration is tied to barriers in the very city I call home and the assumptions people make about my quality of life, intellect and employment status among other aspects; for instance, people sometimes assume I am a volunteer even though I work in a fairly senior position. But catalyzing a moment of hope or reflection has yet to shatter my spirit.

I think we ought to take into account that to the average person, disability is tricky to conceptualize in any of its forms, and when one is detached from the reality of living with physical limitations daily, it is reasonable for them to see strength and resilience in the mundane things we manage to achieve, because they often are demanding tasks; whether cooking from scratch in a fully seated position as hot oil sizzles mere inches from your face or sitting in an hour-and-a-half of traffic just to get to work, which on regular transit would be a twenty-five minute trip, navigating a world not designed for your needs is no walk in the park.

But on an even more fundamental level, my problem with the outrage is this: inspiration happens autonomously, not by choice, and more importantly, it’s a subjective experience shaped by countless unique factors. We are sharing the beauties and complexities of being which inevitably comes with struggles, triumphs, and small lapses of time that awaken the spirit and push us forward.

Last night, I was inspired by a lonesome red bird in the snow. The day before that, a purple kite malfunctioning in mid-air on a winter day by the beach. And what moves me next remains a pleasant mystery, because inspiration, you see, is guided by emotion, and who the hell am I to tell you what you’re allowed to feel? 

 

By Nikoletta Erdelyi | Fall 2019

Nikoletta Erdelyi is a writer and SCIO community member living in Toronto. She likes to examine the concept of disability from a philosophical perspective.

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