Representation of

Misconceptions of Disability
Inspiration Porn

Deepening your Understanding

The Paralympic Games is an event for world-class athletes with disabilities that takes place every four years. Please watch the trailer for the Paralympic Games that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

illustration of gears in motion

Checking Your Understanding

In the textbox provided, state some of the positive aspects of disability being portrayed in the video. When you are finished, you can press the "check" button to review the answer.

Please fill in the textarea.

    Right answer:

  • It promotes a sense of possibility and defiance against people and forces who tell people with disabilities that they can’t do certain things.
  • It represents a range of disability and talent.
  • It includes diversity in casting in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • It has a high production quality that surprises and entertains.

While the media promotion of the Paralympics can be incredibly inspiring, this video represents disability in only one way. The Paralympians are elite athletes. For many people with disabilities, the lack of accessibility can make everyday activities feel like a Paralympic event.

Deepening your Understanding

Let’s deepen our understanding of how disability is represented in the media and what kinds of experiences are left out. Check out the parody of the Superhumans! Trailer: Yes, I Can, If...

Please Note:The first 38 seconds of this video are not captioned. The person in the video is lip-syncing a song by Sammy Davis Jr. called Yes, I Can. See the transcript for the lyrics.

Will Pike, who created the Yes I Can … If parody, said in an interview, in the United Kingdom (much like here in Ontario) “it’s the responsibility of the individual disabled person whose got the problem with the establishment to raise a legal claim against that establishment.”

“I think it’s important to show that for a lot of people, every day can feel like a bit of an Olympic event. And we meet that challenge head-on, with gusto, but the whole ‘Yes I Can’ notion exists within a framework of ‘if.’ If I’m accommodated, if I’m allowed to have integrity, if I’m given the space and the dignity, being with my friends, all those things, then yeah, actually I can.” (Etienne, 2016).

Examining Point of View

For a personal response to the Paralympics trailer, please read Lucy Catchpole’s response: I love Channel 4’s Paralympics advert. But we can’t all be superhumansopen new window.

Headshot of Lucy Catchpole

Lucy Catchpole

“I loved the 2012 Paralympics and I’m all for celebrating Paralympians, as visibly disabled and talented people. And I really like that the trailer doesn’t stop at sports people but includes musicians, dancers, cereal-eaters and baby-lifters. However, the hashtag used to promote this film is #yesican – the lyrics to the song used. That in itself seems harmless enough. But it’s a small lurch from “yes I can” to “there’s no such thing as can’t”, and sure enough Channel 4 jumped right in on this. On their Twitter account, a pinned tweet reads: “There’s no such thing as can’t. Introducing our #superhumans trailer. Proud to be the UK Paralympic broadcaster.

This is one of those supposedly “inspirational” phrases that rubs me up the wrong way, because it is silly, facile and untrue. Because, er, can’t IS a thing. It’s in the dictionary. It’s also a useful word. My daughter “can’t” become a mermaid, she also “can’t” eat two chocolate cakes for supper. I “can’t” stop people I love dying. I also “can’t” walk.

We all know that “there’s no such word as can’t” isn’t meant to be taken literally. But if it isn’t meant literally, what does it mean? I suppose it’s meant to encourage hard work, perseverance and self-belief, which are generally thought to be Good Things for everybody, very much including the able-bodied mainstream, at whom this film is aimed.”

illustration of gears in motion

Checking Your Understanding

While the Paralympics trailer has many positive aspects, it is not helpful to be one of the only representations of disability in broadcast media. In the textbox provided state some of the negative aspects of disability being portrayed in the video. When you are finished, you can press the "check" button to review the answer.

Please fill in the textarea.

  • It can encourage frustration towards persons with disabilities for not overcoming obstacles simply by having a positive attitude.
  • It tells only the story of elite athletes and musicians who have disabilities.
  • It makes invisible all the real and systemic barriers that persons with disabilities face.