Episode 59:

Inspirational Athletes?

Date released: March 2015 Updated: March 2016, September 2017


It was Australian activist and comedian Stella Young that coined the phrase ‘Inspiration P**n.’ Sport has a habit of depicting athletes with disabilities as inspirational. What do you think—is this good or bad?

In 2014 Australia’s disability rights activist, the late Stella Young, gave a TED Talk entitled ‘Inspiration p**n and the objectification of disability’. We have it in our TIC TEDs so you may have seen it. If not, Stella’s TED Talk is below. It’s the framework for this episode. And it’s thought provoking, controversial, funny and quite brilliant! Just like Stella.

Prior to 2014 Stella wrote about inspiration porn for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the article ‘We’re not here for your inspiration.’ Stella wrote:

“Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration p**n; It’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective…It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think ‘well, it could be worse… I could be that person.’”

Stella Young

Sport is often used as a vehicle to promote the abilities of people with disability in the media—thus shaping community attitudes and perceptions of disability. In this year’s Super Bowl Toyota and Microsoft produced advertisements that featured people with disability with a sporting theme. These advertisements get millions and millions of views. They are significant in shaping perceptions of disability and the role of sport.

Now have a look at the Microsoft advertisement. It features a 6 year old boy called Braylon O’Neill. We see him playing, trying out golf and baseball. This video has been viewed a staggering 6 million times on YouTube!

So you’ve seen Stella Young’s TED Talk and you’ve seen another video that, in many respects, reflects what Stella was talking about. What do you think? Are they positive or negative? When is it OK to refer to athletes with disabilities as ‘inspirational’?


About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.