The other day someone very dear to me shared a short video clip on Facebook, featuring a young girl auditioning for a Romanian talent show.
“Girl with no hands playing piano and singing,” the title said, followed by, “A wonderful life lesson.”
The girl in question vowed the audience with her lovely voice, and rightly so, but I couldn’t help feeling she was being patronised because of her disability. To me, the clip came awfully close to being an example of ‘inspiration objectification,’ which implies that disabled people are seen as exceptional because of their disability and as objects of inspiration.
To really appreciate what inspiration objectification is (or ‘inspiration porn’ as some call it), watch this TED talk by the late Stella Young, comedian and disability rights advocate.
Young argues that disabled people are often not seen as real people but as exceptional on account of their disability and as objects of inspiration for the benefit of non-disabled people. But the truth is that disabled people are no more exceptional than non-disabled people; they’re normal.
Another comedian and disability rights advocate, Francesca Martinez, begins her laugh-out-loud memoir, What the **** is Normal?! with a hilarious take-down of the disability-as-inspiration nonsense:
‘Oh my God! You’re disabled and you don’t want to kill yourself? Inspire me now!’ Yep, most folk think that if a disabled person manages to achieve pretty much anything in their life beyond putting their own clothes on, taking a shower without the use of a pulley system, and undressing themselves before bedtime at 7 p.m., then they are…An Inspiration. And if this plucky individual can combine one or more of these awe-inducing accomplishments (brushing their teeth, flushing the big loo handle, etc.) with a smile or – dare I say it – A Positive Attitude, then they’re in imminent danger of being hailed as An Example To Us All.
As for the girl on the Romanian talent show, and as I pointed out to my Facebook friends, the fact that she has no arms and therefore uses her feet the way non-disabled people use their hands, has no bearing whatsoever on her ability to carry a tune. If she’s an inspiration, then it’s not because she lacks arms, but because she sings beautifully.