As It Happens

Blogger decries 'inspiration porn' of disabled students being asked to prom

It's prom season and teenagers are full of angst and questions, usually about who is going with whom. But blogger Michael Mort is concerned that some "promposals" to students with disabilities are trending toward what he calls "inspiration porn."
Blogger Michael Mort had a great experience at his own prom with one of his best friends as his date. (Courtesy of Michael Mort)
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It's that season when teenage fancy turns to asking a date to the prom. 

Prom proposals — or "promposals" for short — are now a major production. It's no longer enough to secure a date with that special someone, you've got to post the proposal online and score a viral hit. 

But Michael Mort, a 24-year-old blogger with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophyis, is concerned that some elaborate promposals are trending toward what he calls "inspiration porn" to maximize likes and shares. 
Blogger Michael Mort (Courtesy of Michael Mort)

In a blog post entitled "Pity and the Prom", Mort outlined his concerns over able-bodied prom-goers reaping online accolades simply for asking a disabled fellow student to be their date.

Mort spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off about his post and what inspired it.

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.- Michael Mort  in his blogpost , "Pity and the Prom"

"I had recently seen a meme that showed a disabled high-school student in a wheelchair holding hands with a young man in a tuxedo," he tells Carol.  "She was in a prom dress and the caption said, 'He asked her to prom, even in her condition'.

"And this post really bothered me, along with a few other disabled activists who had shared it and explained why it's considered offensive and condescending to disabled people," says Mort.

Mort explains why many disabled activists have taken to describing these types of online posts as "inspiration porn."

"It actually comes from an Australian comedian activist. Her name is Stella Young. She has a TED Talk and sort of coined the term." 

Mort says the offence comes not from the act of asking a disabled person to the prom itself, but the reaction to it.

Disabled people just want to be seen as everyone else. Interacting with us is not special or heroic. It's just interacting with another human being who happens to be disabled.- Michael Mort , blogger

"It's not that these stories exist, it's the way that they're told. It frames the abled person asking the disabled person as a hero — almost as if they're performing an act of charity. Disabled people just want to be seen as everyone else. Interacting with us is not special or heroic. It's just interacting with another human being who happens to be disabled."

A high-profile example of such a story made headlines over the weekend, when Brock Boeser, a top prospect for the Vancouver Canucks, accepted an invitation from a fan with Down Syndrome to her prom in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

I think we have to ask ourselves, 'Is this story inspiring because the person in it's disabled? It affects how [we] as a culture view disability.- Michael Mort

"I had a little bit of a different response," says Mort, "because Baylee — the young woman in the story — she actually asked him to prom. Much of it focuses on her experiences, what she has to say. At the same token, it still had some of the same tone — you know, it's a heroic act to take a disabled person to the prom. And obviously with this story there's a little bit of a celebrity element to it. It still straddles that fine line between a feel-good story and 'inspiration porn.'"

Mort appreciates that Boeser himself didn't make a big deal out of it and didn't seem to be courting attention since he didn't publicize his attendance to the prom.

"I think that's fantastic and I really give him credit. He did it because he wanted to. I think we have to ask ourselves, 'Is this story inspiring because the person in it's disabled? It affects how [we] as a culture view disability."

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