The posts are all over the internet, giving people warm, fuzzy feelings. A grocery employee squishes a loaf of bread and the patron writes a letter to the grocery, but she isn’t angry, she praises the grocery for hiring an Autistic employee. A man buys a cake and asks for something written on it, but when an Autistic employee writes on it in spite of not being supposed to, he shares the story with the world. A disabled man wets himself, but a non-disabled person comes to the rescue, escorting him to the restroom and calling for clean clothes. I could give hundreds of examples that circulate daily. But I won’t like a single one because I hate them.
A friend recently shared the story about the lady in the grocery with squished bread. The employee counted her change multiple times, squished her bread, and she went home and wrote a letter to the grocery praising them for hiring an Autistic employee. I won’t like it because I don’t want to give them traffic. But I do want to discuss it and posts like it.
What is wrong with it? First of all, the lady assumed the guy had Autism. She didn’t know, he could have been having a bad day, he could like numbers, he could have anxiety, he could have Tourette’s or a stutter or OCD. Maybe he is bad at math or it was his first day at work or he miscounted his drawer yesterday and was nervous? Maybe he justed liked squishing bread or was bad at bagging. I mean repeating stuff and squishing bread isn’t exactly in the DSM 5.
Now, that part aside, let’s look at what makes this story worth sharing. Is it because someone with Autism did something awesome? Because it is spreading awareness or acceptance about Autism? Because it is helping others understand what it is like to live with Autism? Nope, none of those things. It is literally shared because it makes “normal” (ie. non-autistic or non-disabled) people feel warm and fuzzy inside because they aren’t Autistic.
Let’s replace the guy in the story with a non-disabled person. Suddenly, the story is uninteresting, isn’t it? It’s pretty boring when it is about a normal person writing about a normal person who counted some stuff twice and squished some bread. It is only when a normal person acts like a decent person should to a disabled person that non-disabled people get all squishy inside and feel the need to share the story.
Imagine you were the cashier – would you want this story shared about you? What if it were your child? Your parent or sibling? We might be Autistic, but we are people. We have lives and feelings and emotions and believe it or not, we don’t exist solely for your inspiration.
This type of story is known in the disability community as “inspiration porn.” They are at best pointless and at worst ableist and objectifies the disabled. The sharing of this type of story needs to stop. A good way to draw the line is to replace the disabled person in the story with a non-disabled person. Does the story suddenly become really boring? Then don’t share it. That story about the grocery store is a great example of this. On the other hand, the story I just read about the four Paralympians who ran faster than the Olympians at Rio in the 1500m? That is pretty darn cool disability or no!