Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

When Inspiration Porn is Counter-Inspirational

The only disability in life is a bad attitude
Source: QuotesBuddy.com

This has to be the most confusing piece of inspiration porn I have ever seen.

Let’s start with the text: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

Oh really?

Never mind that there are actual physical conditions that people have — some of them painful, many of them fatiguing, all of them quite undeniably real. Never mind that there are actual architectural and social barriers that render such conditions disabling. And never mind that all of these barriers result in massive unemployment, poverty, isolation, and exclusion.

Because all you have to do is adjust your attitude and all of these conditions and barriers will disappear. You live in a third-floor walk-up without an elevator? Turn that frown upside down, and your wheelchair will magically bring you down the stairs and out the door! Having difficulty finding work? Adopt a sunny disposition and no one will discriminate against you. Feeling socially isolated because other people shun you? Adopt a can-do attitude and you’ll have friends galore! Living in poverty? Cheer up, and you’ll soon have a house with a pool.

See how easy?


Of course, like all inspiration porn, the message is not directed at disabled people. It has an impact on us, of course. In this particular instance, the clear implication is that if we’re not able to make our hopes and dreams come true, it’s because we’re all the things that the average person mistakenly believes we are: narcissistic, angry, complaining, and lazy. But the graphic itself is directed at able-bodied people, with the aim of shaming them out of being upset at actual problems.

Usually, this shaming takes place by way of a visual image that shows a disabled person doing something that the average person wouldn’t imagine a disabled person could do. Like smiling. Or skiing. Or enjoying breakfast. You know, something incredibly heroic. But in this case, the disabled person is doing exactly what most people think disabled people do: sitting in a chair. In fact, you can barely see the disabled person, because the power chair takes up most of the frame. So what’s so inspirational here?

Nothing. In fact, the image of the disabled person is a warning:

You don’t want to be like him, DO YOU?

The visual image is counter-inspirational. It’s an example of who the viewer is exhorted not to be. In fact, at its most visceral level, the graphic is suggesting that the guy is in the power chair because he’s got a bad attitude. I mean, if the only disability in life is a bad attitude, then what’s the guy doing in a power chair? In the logic of the graphic, this guy must have so much bad attitude that he’s rendered himself unable to walk.

So let this be a lesson to all your able-bodied people griping about the fact that you lost your job, or you have no health insurance, or your spouse left you, or you’re one paycheck away from being on the street, or you live in a society in crisis. Quit complaining, do you hear me? Because things could be worse. You could be disabled. You could be like the guy in the power chair. And it would be your own damned fault.

Inspired yet?


Quotesbuddy.com. http://www.quotesbuddy.com/attitude-quotes/the-only-disability-in-life-is-a-bad-attitude/. Accessed June 4, 2012.

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

    6 comments already | Leave your own comment

  1. 6/5/2012 | 4:41 pm Permalink

    Awesome post, Rachel. You’e hit the nail right on the head. :)

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  2. 6/5/2012 | 5:42 pm Permalink

    The other thing I’ve noticed- nine times out of ten, the people in such photos are white.

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  3. 6/5/2012 | 6:32 pm Permalink

    Excellent observations I may have to use this to show as an example to others who don’t get the “disability is not for your inspiration” message. Well done

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  4. 6/10/2012 | 3:20 am Permalink

    That really is a bizarre juxtaposition.
    And let’s not forget that the only disability to consider is a visible one. The rest really ARE just a matter of attitude, don’tcha know?

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  5. 10/17/2013 | 1:55 am Permalink

    This merely confirms the twinned notions that underpin the bulk of Normalistic ‘Magical Thinking’:
    1) Everyone starts out from precisely the same place in life, that of a blank slate. (Conveniently ignoring the obvious, but hey, magical thinking is defined by doing so…)
    2) Life is altogether just, in that good things happen to ‘Good’ people, and if bad things happen to you, it’s because you’re morally deficient.
    The two thought-trains above, when convolved, are the foundations of statements like ‘the only disability in life is a bad attitude’. The reality, however, is darker: ‘all failure is ultimately moral failure’ and ‘full and complete control – of all facets of life – from conception to decomposition’.
    Hence, if you faill, you can only blame YOUR lack of effort.
    Can we have a cheer for ‘Blaming the (REAL) victim’? We do not NEED
    to help him or here, do we? Not if we CURSE him enough – make him
    feel guilty, manipulate him into ‘laboring unto destruction’ and thereby ERASING himself from our consciousness, so he’s either utterly invisible or in grave WHERE HE BELONGS? (The whole concept behind the ‘ugly laws’ of the past – out of sight, and therefore out of mind…)

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