“If everything is equal it isn’t actually fair.” Molly Burke

Humor, joking, and laughter seem to be universally accepted as positive. What’s often misunderstood is that this is only true when everyone involved feels the same way. A problem arises when the object (target) of humor, joke, laughter, and the subject (target) feel the opposite. On numerous occasions, this has been my case while interacting online. I am a disabled person and have had no other experience in living life other than this because I was born this way. A reality I live with is being labeled unique or odd because I live in a world with mainly abled people. Particularly online the power dynamic that exists between those who are able and disabled is harder to notice. Even visible disabilities become largely invisible online due to how accessible the platforms are for independent navigation with a disability. Just like in the real world, online platforms are places largely consisting of abled people, Mainstream media paints an image of disability as something that is inspirational or tragic. It also only gives and sees value from a third-party perspective. This means the view of disability that most of society is familiar with is from either medical professionals or support people, not disabled people. Disability can indeed be the result of something tragic. However, people lack the awareness that disability is an umbrella term NOT a universal one. There is a widely accepted view that disabled people are unintelligent and incapable, which results in many disabled people being perceived as or accused of being fake when appearing capable and intelligent online.

“As a society, we tend to celebrate those who perform well hurt and we criticize or even demonize those that ask for help or otherwise show weakness.” Dr. Jamie Marich. As a disabled person, when I heard this said during a TEDx talk, it spoke to me leaving a lasting impact. As if the words would disappear from existence, I had to create a meme. In my meme, it shows two versions of disability on one side and the quote on the other. The words hurt and weak appear on either version of disability to depict the way those external to disability view different versions of it. The quote has a green background with two hulk arms at the top and bottom of the quote to depict how my everyday life is seen as inspirational.

Inspiration porn, a term coined by the late Stella Young, is the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part based on their disability through the use of images, videos, and memes featuring disabled people for the purposes of motivating abled people. Stella’s decision to refer to these types of media portrayals as porn was deliberate because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another. As Stella did, many members of the disabled community reject the idea of being seen as exceptional for doing ordinary activities. In reality, while many things seem to be a struggle to onlookers, the way disabled people do ordinary things is merely adapted or modified in a way that makes the task something they can do. As a result of society seeing disability as it does, abled people are made to feel like they should help those who are unable to help themselves. This becomes problematic when you see a disabled person doing something different from how you would. As an abled person, you view it as being done wrong or struggling with a task. In response to that perception, you do as society tells you and jump in to help with statements like “let me help you with that” proceeding with an action. While this is something you see as kind to the disabled person it becomes an exertion of power and control. Additionally, making a statement rather than asking a question, took away the disabled person’s power of choice. To the opposite end, mainstream society holds much hatred toward the disabled community as a result of inspiration porn. Let’s face it, it really doesn’t feel nice when you don’t accomplish something you desire to without the guilt that comes with having a disabled person’s perceived accomplishments thrown in your face. While inspiration porn is used to motivate abled people, it also weaponizes disabled people. I am often faced with memes showing up on my personal social media feeds that are insulting to me as a disabled person. The reason memes weaponize disabled people is due to memes that are often created by able people. Upon expressing this I am often met with attacks from abled people.

When people create memes featuring a disabled and abled person together, they often view this as an example of inclusivity. When it is in the form of a cartoon it is viewed as not real. The thought seems to be as long as it isn’t real it has no impact. Oftentimes, intentionally, or unintentionally, memes have hidden messages. In my personal experience, the memes that are the most dangerous are the ones rooted in some form of truth. When applied to mainstream society they are harmless. To the disabled community are harmful.

Harm may actually be the intent of a meme. What?

Richard Dawkins coined the word meme from the Greek word “mimeme” meaning imitated thing. He used it to describe an idea, behavior, or style that rapidly spreads from person to person in a culture. Memes are virally transmitted images embellished with text, usually sharing pointed commentary on cultural symbols, social ideas, or current events. The more widespread a meme becomes the great power or damage it has.

Here are some examples of memes that display disabled people intended to motivate others while weaponizing, insulting, offending, even discriminating against those who are disabled.

Remember that time you got polio? No, you don’t. Because your parents got you fucking vaccinated.

Clearly, this is a meme meant to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. It is not a bad idea in the middle of a global pandemic and certainly not something I am against. However, it fails to realize the challenges faced by those who are disabled in getting vaccinated and the fight that there was by the disability rights movement to implement a law making it mandatory that people with disabilities are not refused vaccination based on their disability. Meanwhile, during the entire pandemic people were fully aware that those with disabilities are high risk but completely unaware that disabled people were refused treatment and made to sign DNR orders based on not having a quality of life. Plus, there are real people still living today with the after-effects of polio! One of those is Judith Heumann, who is one of the original influential people to spare head the disability rights movement in the US.

Growing up in the ’80s. This was our “gofundme”.

The image to go along with it is an able-bodied preteen male mowing a lawn. It’s true that mowing the lawn in the ’80s and doing other odd jobs for neighbors was the way money was made when you wanted something extra or of great expense. Also true of the time was the reality that many disabled people were being housed in institutions and abused. While today disabled people are the largest group that are unemployed and live below the poverty line. Contrary to popular belief not everything is funded and paid for through assistance programs. Many disabled people depend on crowdfunding for such things as adaptive tech, assistive devices, offsetting this cost of therapies, medications, or living expenses. This is particularly the case for people who are born disabled though it can also be true of those who become disabled.

Disability can never steal your beauty.

The image is of a puppy missing an eye. The likely intent is to raise awareness for pet adoption of senior, ill, or disabled pets. Disability is not something solely belonging to humans. The reality of disability is that for the owner of a disabled pet, or human adopting them is not a desirable choice. Both pets and disabled children are viewed as unadoptable. To compare the loss of an eye in a puppy versus a human is not comparable. Any attempt to do so is a twisted version of dehumanization by comparison. The less obvious message that can so easily be overlooked is that what is being said is that a physical disability makes a person ugly. There is an unspoken assumption that those with disabilities feel ugly.

Never let your disability limit your ambitions.

The image is a duplicate of a male amputee on crutches. In one image the man appears to be walking into a location and in the other image, he is balancing on his crutches while holding a gun. In case anyone wasn’t aware, robbing a place of business or a home is a criminal offense. The image could be intended to draw attention to how people misuse the systems put in place to help disabled people, which is true. The flaw in this way of thinking is that one must assume disability only looks or presents in a certain way or is a one-dimensional concept. Nothing could be any further from the truth. It was probably intended as some way of getting across the message that those with disabilities are not different than anyone else. If that truly was the intention it was not well thought out by whoever created the meme because there are already plenty of people who think disabled people’s existence is criminal.

As a disabled user of social media constantly exposed to memes like this is offensive. Inspiration porn has the same impact on me as the countless images all over media of any form that sends a message to anyone about their body being not good enough, bad, wrong, or flawed. Even when memes may be unintentionally hurtful or the negative messages about me, as a disabled person, are hidden within a meme that appeals to abled people they are still damaging. Memes created that appeal to abled people while hurting disabled people is unacceptable. Including disabled people is not equal to being fair.

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