Tonight is the yearly Children in Need appeal here in the UK. BBC One is taken over by a telethon for about seven hours. The idea is to raise money to help disadvantaged children. So you see video clips of children from other countries walking miles for water, young carers helping their mum or dad and disabled children doing things too. And it’s a given that those children will either look sad or have their story told using emotive language such as “suffers from…” Or “whilst other children are playing little Johnny must…”
Interspersed with those clips are famous people doing silly stuff, frequent updates on how much has been raised and brief mentions of members of the public doing sponsored silences. Locally a lot of schools have had PJ days to raise money. Those can sometimes be funny and a child I was a big fan of Children in Need.
Now? I hate it.
This is what’s known in disability circles as “inspiration porn”
Inspiration porn is something which is designed to highlight the differences disability brings and invoke pity. In some cases this pity is to raise money for charity, in others it’s to encourage people and sometimes it’s designed to make them think. It’s a bit like the ultimate embodiment of the phrase “there’s always someone worse off than you”. I am disabled and therefore, automatically, my life is terrible, I am an object of pity and you have it much better than I do.
The phrase that will be heard a lot on telethons is “can you donate to make a difference to a child like little Johnny” invariably after they’ve just told you how terrible his life is. The inference being that if you can’t you obviously don’t care about him.
It’s the picture doing the rounds on Facebook with the “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Attitude is huge. But I can’t put on my Bolshie face, wheel up to the local shop that doesn’t have wheelchair access and stare the step down until it magically turns into a ramp and lets me in. And as much as I do my damnedest not to let my CP stop me that doesn’t make me amazing and I’m sure as hell not inspirational. The idea behind that I believe is that it makes nondisabled people think “if she can do that with all she goes through why am I moaning?” And such like.
Or it’s the advert at the train station which shows a little boy in a wheelchair with the phrase “he wishes he could leave this behind too.” And the details of how to donate to one of the disability charities. Because clearly he’s trapped by his chair. The idea as with all of these is to make you pity him. Only when I saw that poster I was sat in my wheelchair. On the train as it pulled out of the station. Fail.
Disability does make me different to other people. Wearing glasses makes to me different to other disabled people. The fact I like to dye my hair, live alone and am a big NCIS fan makes me different again from other glasses wearing disabled people. It’s a fact of life and a characteristic of me as any other for anyone else in the world.
I knew, growing up, that at least one of the organisations I was involved with had received money from Children in Need (although I don’t think it was ever featured). But I never realised that I was one of those kids. One of the ones who were shown “leaving the confines of their wheelchair behind for an hour once a week whilst they ride a horse.”
I’m glad I didn’t realise. It took me a long time to become the vaguely confident outgoing person I am now. It would have taken longer if I’d grown up with the knowledge that my life meant I was an object of pity who needed charity lives a terrible life and who is held up to others as a reason why they’re lucky. Because obviously the fact I survived being deprived of oxygen at birth at a time when the medical world wasn’t as developed as it is now means I’m terribly unlucky.
More than your charity I want your support. And for me that comes from being treated with respect. From people recognising who I am and my individuality, not making assumptions and letting me be me. That’s going to make more of a difference to more of those “children in need” then all the money donated in it’s entire 30+ year history.
If you want to help people donate direct to organisations and bypass those events that thrive on making people feel bad.
See the girl, see the truth, see the life. Accept me and those like me. I’m here living me life. Like you I’ve only got one shot at it and I don’t have a choice but to do what I do. I’m here to enjoy myself, not to inspire you or be pitied. Open your eyes and say no to inspiration porn.