Saturday, July 5, 2014

Conflict of Inspiration

This week's post strays somewhat from the tone of our usual posts, but it is something that I personally find very important and relevant, especially given the kinds of things I do with the social media aspect of the Portland State University Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone.

So, just a little disclaimer, this post is representative of my point of view, not necessarily the points of view of all people associated with MHKC or the MHKC capstone.

I was looking on the Humans of New York Facebook page earlier this week, and at the top was a photo of a man without an arm, carrying his garbage. “No struggles,” he said. Something about the implication of the image and the chosen quote were off-putting to me (though I couldn't say why), and as I glanced to the left of the screen, I saw I wasn't the only one to feel this way.

I read on, followed the link to the video (conveniently embedded below!), and thought, “Yes! That's it!”

(Apologies for the poor photo quality. Click the embedded links above for original sources.)

I consider it part of my job to find neutral-positive things to post in order that people will see them, think, “I agree with that,” or, at the least, “I don't disagree with that,” and then 'like', share, or comment, which helps spread the MHKC name and the PSU capstone. I want to educate people about social stigma and promote disability and ability awareness and perpetuate the idea that variation is the norm. However, the social media world is fast-paced: eye-catching images with a few words that sit well in the minds and hearts of an audience; maybe five seconds of interaction between that audience and a given image; then the click (or not) that results in promotion (or not) of the image.

How does one educate, open eyes and minds, in five-second images?

It is a tricky line that divides and connects education and promotion. After all, so much of learning comes from sharing ideas between people. But the necessity of such rapid exchanges—the decision to click or not click—seems to set up an “inspiration trap”. People like (and 'like') inspirational quotes, images, and videos; they make people feel good. Luckily, they tend to have some educational benefit, too. These words and visuals are easily digestible nuggets of wisdom that often provide just the right amount of perspective. It seems like a good balance.

Except sometimes it isn't, and those are the times when I get confused and conflicted about my job and what exactly it is I should be doing. Although I do not have a disability of any sort, I do subscribe to the social model of disability (the belief that society is more disabling than diagnoses), and because of that, I find myself embittered in spite of the apparent progress made toward dis/ability awareness and acceptance.

In the social media world, inspiration is good. In the very specific social media world of dis/ability awareness, I'm skeptical of the pairing of inspiration and disability as a means of education.

Objectifying people with disabilities as automatic sources of inspiration simply because they exist with disabilities is not promoting an equal world. I am happy to say that things like the Ugly Law are no longer the norm, but have we overshot a little? When will we get past shunning and glorifying? Past seeing types of people and past the justification and perpetuation of typifying? It has long been time to see people—just people—varied, and rightfully.

What do you think? Help start a dialogue and get the ideas stirring!

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