Pity and The Prom

We’ve reached that part of year once again folks, prom season; a time of excitement, overpriced gowns and ableist memes. Most of us, disabled or otherwise, have at one point seen viral photos and stories that involve disabled high schoolers being asked to prom. Generally accepted as feel-good lessons about faith in humanity, these type of posts harmfully exploit disabled people and reinforce the concept that disability should be regarded with pity. Stories of this nature all too often focus on an abled person’s “selfless act” rather than the actual experience of the person who’s been asked. Disabled teens certainly deserve every opportunity that their non-disabled peers have but also deserve the dignity of not being used as Inspiration Porn.

13001225_214958825544416_665824316820150497_nThe most recent example of these parasitic memes making it’s rounds on Facebook, is a photo of a young woman in a wheelchair wearing a dress and holding hands with an able bodied young man in tuxedo. The text in the photo reads: “He asked her to prom even in her condition! Like and share=respect.” First of all, this particular image has been shared without context which creates the impression that it’s being used without the knowledge or permission of the young people shown. It is clear that the purpose of the photo is to generate online traffic and even possibly to make money, much like the posts which encourage users to type “Amen”. Many times, these “like and share” style images are part of a scam known as “like farming”, in which users elicit a massive amount “likes” and then sell the post.

Secondly, the language of the post is very demeaning to those of us who are disabled. The phrase, “Even in her condition!” implies that her disability is a burden and that disabled people are ultimately undesirable. This troubling message indulges the idea that interacting with us is a heroic sacrifice instead of a meaningful two-way encounter. We are meant to believe that this boy couldn’t possibly enjoy spending time with a sad disabled girl or, God forbid, actually find her attractive. This degrading narrative unfortunately extends far beyond the realm of Facebook scams, prevalent in the news media and even among parents of disabled high school students.

DSC02148Being a former disabled prom invitee myself, these kinds of stories have always made me a bit uncomfortable. When I was in high school, my best friend at asked me to the junior prom; not to be a hero or because she felt bad but simply because she liked hanging out with me. My personal experience could have easily been used as a sappy human-interest piece, when in actuality in was a fairly average story. Going to the prom wasn’t a spectacular, life-changing event for me, I honestly had far more fun playing video games with my friend after. Not only can these “inspirational” tales be condescending but also downright misleading.

The problem is not that these prom stories themselves exist but rather how they are told and the intent behind them being shared. I think it’s wonderful when disabled people are accepted—so many times we are not sadly—but we should be normalizing disability, not exploiting it. The way to tell a compelling and truly respectful story is to talk to the people who experienced it firsthand, the people who are disabled. The most effective strategy to avoid being ableist is to talk to us, not for us. Disabled people are more than just viral photos or uplifting anecdotes, we are real human beings with the full range of emotion, that don’t want or need pity.

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18 thoughts on “Pity and The Prom

  1. […] Source: Pity and The Prom […]

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    • Andy says:

      Thank you Mike. a very inspiration piece written from the heart.I too have felt distate at reading all this stuff, and feel like giving a slow sarcastic hand clap everytime i see one.I work with people with special needs and strive everyday for them just be accepted as people i dont go out waving a flag they dont either its how it should be a partnership. Reading stuff like this gives me the boost to know were doing the right thing. Thanks again…. best wishes Andy .

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  2. Laura May says:

    THIS! I was just thinking about how ourselves and the able world like to kid ourselves that disability is an accepted normality, when in fact, it’s a source and platform for inspiration porn that makes any achievement a disabled does worthless on its own and only impressive because of the fact they have “something wrong” with them. It’s nice to know i’m not the only one! In Britain we don’t really have dates to prom, but we do copy the American way in finding elaborate ways to get there. I was excluded by everyone because they assumed i wouldn’t be able to transfer into their transport. This example just translates into everyday life…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  4. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  5. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  6. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  7. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  8. ‘Even in her condition’?!

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  9. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  10. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  11. Charvisioku says:

    This actually reminded me of a talk we had back when I was at school. A man in a wheelchair came in to educate us about what it’s like for those with disabilities as well as how not to treat a disabled person. He said he often had people patronizing him, e.g. “Oh can I get that for you?” about something on a shelf at his eye level, or “Oh aren’t you brave?” when he’d done something simple like decline help. That always stuck with me and it really bugs me when people act like having a disability makes a person somehow less than them. Sure, there are plenty of disabled people who really have done something incredible despite their conditions, the paralympics being the main thing that comes to mind, but when you’re being applauded every time you do a mundane task it can’t be good for your self esteem. That’s like implying people don’t expect you to be able to function on your own which is honestly the biggest insult I can think of.

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  12. SueG says:

    Heard you last night on CBC. It’s about time someone shone the spotlight on how condescending the media and society at large can be towards people living with disabilities. Enjoyed your eloquent points both here and during the radio interview.

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  13. sara willig says:

    On a related note. When I worked I was a case manager in group homes. I would frequently be out in the world with a client, on our way to get a cup of coffee or shopping or something…. and some stranger would come up to me (ignore T entirely, and bless me and/or tell me what a saint I was or what a patient person I was. Hello? You dont know anything about me. Like the fact that I’m being paid to do this….

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  14. […] and wheelchair-user living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in New York, has written a piece titled “Pity and the Prom” in response to so called ‘inspiration […]

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  15. Tara says:

    You sound like someone who was left out. You sound bitter. I’m a mother of 2 disabled kids and you can go to hell. I’ve watched my son be excluded from the prom.

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    • mmort91 says:

      I don’t feel left out or bitter, I’m simply stating my opinion that many others happen to share. I am truly sorry that your son was excluded, I think that is also unfair. My point is disabled people should be included because we are people, not out of pity.

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