Disparagingly known as the "super-crip" by disabled people, these are characters with disabilities shown as going above and beyond the level of even non-disabled people in spite of their disabilities. This has led to the belief that a wheelchair user should be training for the Paralympics or a Genius Cripple, the mentally handicapped and blind should be practicing to be famous artists, and that having clinical depression should turn you into an awesome writer.
While it's certainly an improvement on pity, it can get irritating since most disabled people really just want to get on with relatively normal lives, with maybe a few accommodations like ramps, appropriate medication and as little patronising as possible.
See Handicapped Badass and Disability Superpower.
Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl. She was crippled after an attack by the Joker, and instead of giving up her career as a superhero, she became the Badass Bookworm / Genius Cripple Oracle and did more good from a wheelchair and a computer than she ever could have done on the streets. A rare example of such a character being almost universally positively received, to the point where Babs regaining the use of her legs in the post New 52 Retcon led to quite the backlash.
Silohuette of New Warriors fame. She was partially paralyzed when she was younger, resulting in her having to walk with braces. Despite this, she is an agile martial artist that can not only use her braces in her fights but has them tricked out with weapons.
The Other Sister attempts to avoid this trope, but much like Shallow Hal's utter failure at being "fat positive", the movie falls short of showing a developmentally disabled girl's moving out of her parents house and falling in love as anything other than a Narmy "triumph of the human spirit."
Mask avoids most of the pitfalls associated with this trope, given that Rocky doesn't suffer from his condition even though it is killing him. In fact, it is rather spectacularly lampshaded in an early scene, when an idiot schoolmaster doesn't exactly realise that Rocky is not "special needs"
Being There (and the Seemingly Profound Fool character type in general) was actually an aversion of this, and now can be seen as a subversion of straight examples such as Forrest Gump. Chance is mentally challenged and is forced out on the streets when the master of his household dies. He rises to great heights and inspires others - but not because of any of his own qualities. Instead, he happens to encounter powerful people who think he's extremely intelligent, and interpret his concrete statements as metaphors. He's a sweet fellow but has no great inner reserves of strength or wisdom.
Tommy is actually not about a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid (who) sure plays a mean pinball!" and is an aversion of this. Tommy's father was a WWII soldier mistakenly listed as dead. His mother became involved with another man. Then his father returned home, and was killed in a fight with the lover. Tommy saw this, and was told repeatedly not to tell anyone, that he didn't see or hear anything. His life from that point was anything but inspirational or idyllic. His ability to play pinball well was not an inspiring message, it was just the last tenuous link back to the outside world that he had left before finally breaking through his mental block.
The stage adaptation The Who's Tommy (written in The Nineties) has the post-recovery Tommy telling Sally Simpson that she and others who see him as an inspiration shouldn't want to be more like him, given what he went through. Since he won't give them the answers they're seeking in life (and play this trope straight), they turn on him. Ironically, he almost regresses back to his old state after this rejection, but pulls himself out of it and reconciles with his family instead.
"A black dude who plays a slave that gets his ass whipped gets the nomination, a white guy who plays an idiot gets the Oscar. That's what I need, I need to play a retarded slave, then I'll get the Oscar."
The Wizard concerns a young, implicitly Autistic boy who turns out to have a talent for beating arcade games. The Family Unfriendly Aesop comes along when his older brother decides to use this skill to gain money — and everyone he meets encourages him to do so.
Even Biopics are not spared. The blind pianist Ray Charles comes to mind.
Bollywood uses this in their recent movies in order to win a Filmfare Award. Blind Michelle McNally (played by Rani Mukherjee) in 2005's Black and mentally-disabled Rohit (played by Hrithik Roshan) in 2003's Koi...Mil Gaya are examples. Naturally, they won.
Averted in Sling Blade. Karl is mentally retarded and the film focuses predominantly on how difficult everyday life is for him, displaying no Rain Man-esque abilities save for a knack for mechanics. He has just been released from an institution after murdering his mother and her lover when he was twelve and finds it almost impossible to adjust to life outside. Karl's early hardships are also deeply horrific (his younger brother was stillborn and his father forced him to bury the body), but never played for inspiration or a source of glurge.
Even more common in Dean Koontz's books, especially his more recent ones. If none of the main characters have a disability, they will often either work for or visit a place where such people are treated or live.
Many stories in the Chicken Soup For The Soul are stories written by disabled people about living with their disabilities or by nondisabled people about disabled people they know. Either way, readers are meant to find some "inspirational" value in the disability element.
The Cadfael novel "The Pilgrim of Hate" features a type-C example. Rhun is a teenager who has had a crippling disability since he was a young child, but his serene acceptance and uncomplaining nature ultimately make him deserving of a miracle cure from the local saint. In contrast, the titular pilgrim Ciaran has chosen to walk barefoot across the country with a heavy cross around his neck, and his wallowing in his "chosen disability" is depicted as self-serving and arrogant.
Heather Kuzmich was a 21-year-old college student when she went on America's Next Top Model. On her application, she listed her Asperger's, which she had been diagnosed with at fifteen, only under "medical disabilities". She was put on the show and, much to her befuddlement, portrayed as Inspirationally Disadvantaged. And the other models became All of the Other Reindeer thanks to Manipulative Editing.
Parodied in a sketch by The Kids In The Hall (& double parodied with Oscar Bait): At a movie award ceremony, three of the four actor nominees played characters with some sort of handicap and each "Oscar clip" shown is an impassioned speech against one-dimensional, ridiculously evil antagonists. One is deaf, one is paralyzed, and one has a railroad spike through his head. The fourth guy played Hamlet, and it ends up being a three-way tie between "everyone but the Hamlet guy".
Corky, a kid with Down Syndrome who goes to high school, from Life Goes On. (The actor himself, Chris Burke, has the syndrome).
One episode of Saved By The Bell had Zack falling for a girl who uses a wheelchair, and part of the plot included the gang putting on a wheelchair basketball game as a fundraiser. The episode has a similar subversion to the South Park examples below, as the girl berates Zack for calling attention to her disability to the crowd after the game.
7th Heaven featured a number of these. Laying the patronizing aspect on extra-thick, years later, in a Clip Show framed as Simon's art film, each of the characters appears in a montage. While other characters in the montage are identified with labels explaining their roles (Such as "fireman" or "teacher"), the Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters are each identified with the label "Angel". Y'know, because they're closer to God and all.
Averted with Jake on Becker, who happens to be a blind black man. He's not treated as 'inspirationally disabled' by the show, and his blindness is often used for jokes, as well as being shown to be just as flawed and human as the others.
Deconstructed in a first season episode of The Golden Girls with Rose's sister. She tries to be one of these, but reality gets in her way. Best shown in a scene where where Rose tries to get her a cane so she can make her way through the room without falling over the various stuff the girls have spread around for the garage sale they're throwing, but she insists that she'll be fine because she memorized the layout of the house. Cue Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche dashing back and forth moving things out of her way. She then has a Heroic BSOD after setting fire to the stove. Reconstructed in the end when she goes back to a school for the blind to learn how to take care of herself, gets a seeing-eye dog, and is even driving by herself.
The Golden Girls had several episodes where a disabled character appears, but none are never portrayed with this trope. In particular, Blanche dates two: a blind man, who she ends up pushing away after starting to fall for him, not because he's blind, but because she relies so heavily on her looks that she can't trust herself to keep the interest of a man who can't see her, and a man in a wheelchair, who appearsInspirationally Disadvantaged, until it's revealed he's cheating on his wife, and Blanche realizes that he's just as much a jerk as any guy, he just happens to be sitting down.
Tom from The Secret Life of the American Teenager is portrayed rather realistically as a young adult with Down Syndrome. Some of his family and friends will patronize him sometimes (which is, unfortunately the truth for many people with developmental disabilities) but they usually treat him just the same as anyone else. He gets in just as much trouble as his sister when he screws up, and gets equal praise when he does well.
A favorite form of Stunt Casting on The Amazing Race, but they usually work this angle so hard that these teams become Annoyingly Disadvantaged. Includes a woman with dwarfism (Charla, Seasons 5 and 11), a woman with one leg (Sarah, Season 10), a deaf man (Luke, Season 14), and a man with Asperger's syndrome (Zev, Season 15).
Recurring character Scotty is a paraplegic who, in his first appearance passes the bar exam despite his handicap. Scotty makes appearances in later episodes where his law firm is failing, but then succeeds because he doesn't quit and partially because he helps others with perceived disabilities.
In the same episode that introduces Scotty, a high-school student with a promising career in sports loses the use of his legs, but thanks to the inspiration of Scotty and the boy that caused him to be paralyzed, the boy learns gymnastics, which is something of a head-scratcher, considering that the event he learns to do is the pommel horse, which probably isn't possible with a pair of paralyzed legs flopping around.
The homeless boy in "Alone". All he wants is someone to love him. He manages to reunite a family and gain one of his own in the process.
In "A Special Love", this two-part episode has Todd, a boy with Down Syndrome, afraid to participate in any sports until he meets the inspirational Scotty (see above).
"You know, it's interesting you should say that, because I've always wanted a peg leg. It's a boyhood thing I never grew out of. I'm not being flippant, I've given this a lot of thought. I mean, if you have a peg leg or hooks for hands then maybe it's enough to simply keep on living. You know, bravely facing life with your disability. But without these things you're actually meant to make something of your life, achieve something earn a raise, wear a necktie. So if anything, I'm actually the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a peg leg, I'd quite possibly be more happy and more content not to be chasing after these creatures of the unknown."
Averted in Seven Days. The fact that resident genius Dr. Ballard uses a wheelchair is almost never mentioned in the series. There was one episode that focused on it, and every now and then he'd make a joke regarding it, as real people might, but that's it.
The main character on M.A.N.T.I.S. was a wheelchair-bound genius who built a suit of Powered Armor that let him walk - and fight crime. Not quite a straight example, as the protagonist was already a brilliant robotics engineer before being rendered paraplegic. He built himself a cool wheelchair in the form of an exoskeleton that compensated for the loss of motor function, then belatedly realised that he had in fact created the technology for fully functional Powered Armour and decided to just run with it.
Doctor Kevin Casey is an incredibly skilled surgeon with OCD. He attributes his skill directly to this, explaining that he was forced by his condition to read reference books obsessively until he memorised them. However, the trope is subverted at the end when the main characters get jealous and go to confront him, only to see him several hours after surgery still obsessively washing his hands, leading them to realise how much he really is suffering.
Also subverted with one of the security guards. No one ever comments on his hook hand, because everyone knows him as the guy with the gigantic afro.
Averted in Glee with Becky Jackson, Cheerio, Badass Adorable administrator, mean girl in development, and The Dragon to Sue Sylvester, who also just happens to have Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, also played painfully straight with Sean the quadriplegic football player, whose injury and subsequent development into a singer and maths genius is used to teach the series' heroine an Aesop about how there's more to her than singing after she temporarily loses her voice due to a bout of tonsillitis. If this was intended to be satire, it monumentally failed to land.
In Community episode Debate 109, their debate opponent from City College is Jimmy "Soulpatch" Simmons who is rather aggressive about using his handicap status to win debate arguments.
Generally averted in Community however with the character of Abed. He is given a stunningly accurate depiction of someone with Asperger's Syndrome.
Deconstructed and then reconstructed on an episode of Quantum Leap which featured a young woman deafened as the result of a childhood accident. As such, she had been unable to keep a job, yet refused to admit that she needed help. However, she had become a very talented dancer (she could map out the tune of the music by feeling the vibrations). Sam convinced her to audition for a dance troupe. Although she initially performed well, she was unable to understand that she was to improvise her own routine because she had been unable to read the instructor's lips (not knowing of her condition, the woman had turned away from her as she was speaking). Humiliated, she prepared to begin working for an escort service, only to have Sam show up and convince her and the dance troupe leader to give her another chance.
A character on the show Guiding Light, Abby (and the actress playing her) had been deaf from birth, but could read lips so well that other characters often forgot that she couldn't hear them. Aside from this, the character was given typical Soap Opera storylines, all of which never made her disability an issue—aside from her Attempted Rape, where she was unable to hear her attacker creeping up on her—and eventually, the actress' Real Life decision to have a cochlear implant was incorporated into the show.
Canada's Worst Driver had an Incorruptible in Season 7's Aaron. Subverted in that he was a genuinely terrible driver—as bad as any other candidate—but he invoked this trope by insisting on staying through every episode, so that the other contestants would be inspired to be better drivers because of what happened to him (he spent six months in a coma and is physically disabled because of a car crash). He was the last graduate.
Averted with The West Wing's Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin), a polling genius who just happens to be deaf and use an interpreter (named Kenny). The characters never go out of their way to avoid mentioning the fact - it just is and has no effect on her ability to do her job or her interactions with the main cast. One suspects Matlin herself had a great deal to do with this portrayal, as she is deaf in real life. It also provided one of the funniest moments in West Wing history:
Joey (through Kenny): Joshua Lyman, you have the cutest little butt in professional politics.
Josh: Kenny, that really better have been her talking.
Averted in Game of Thrones with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). He has been born with a hereditary bone condition leading to dwarfism. Despite his family's high status and immense wealth he is often mocked as "half-man" and "imp". He himself is very aware of this: "All dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes."
Subverted, and then some, by a scenario on What Would You Do? in an episode based on viewer ideas. A wheelchair-using woman, who had sent the idea in, played herself in a supermarket as an actress not only went up to here and gushingly lampshaded the trope, she went on to patronizingly do things for her that she was clearly capable of doing for herself, even wheeling her around at one point. All were things the woman said had actually happened to her. Most of the passersby reacted by telling the actress to calm down and back off.
Parodied in Chappelle's Show which had a clip from a fictional movie "Little Foot, Big Foot", where the main character has one of his legs severely atrophied. He gets a standing ovation from accomplishing the monumental task of getting up on a bar stool without help.
On My Name Is Earl, the one-legged Didi has a chance meeting with a young man who has lost both of his legs and one of his arms, and the two fall in Love at First Sight. He's always willing to protect Didi, especially from Earl (who wronged her in the past, and whom she resents.) He's kind of a subversion, though, because he beats up Earl before the latter even says anything.
Earl: "And as handi-capable as one-legged Didi was, her no-legged boyfriend was even handi-capabler."
Forrest Gump was spoofed by The Fast Show, with a trailer for a fictional film about 'a cute disabled man'. It won an award for 'best portrayal of a disabled man by a fit and healthy young actor'.
ER's Kerry Weaver. Despite walking with a crutch throughout most of her time on the show (due to congenital hip dysplasia), she was consistently portrayed as an excellent physician. Even more remarkable, this was in a specialty like Emergency Medicine which requires considerable mobility. As well, her abrasive personality, rather than warm and fuzzy, might even subvert this example.
The radio form of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy played with this by featuring a device that simulated this effect. Since all forms of diseases, death and discomfort had been effectively removed from the most advanced parts of the galaxy, people started to realize the importance of this trope, and so anybody out to become famous in the galaxy took to wearing a watch-like device that would simulate the challenges of being deaf/blind/retarded/crippled/chased by assassins without the inconvenience of actually being disabled.
In Mass Effect, your pilot, Joker, has Osteogenesis Imperfecta a.k.a. brittle bone disease, but is a very good pilot. It's also subverted on two accounts: piloting a ship is something that doesn't require strong bones, and Joker is still the best pilot in the Alliance, and if you ask him about his background, he says, "If you're looking for an inspirational story about the crippled kid who overcame impossible odds, you're gonna be disappointed." Turns out that since his parents were spacers, he was going to join the Academy regardless of whether he had his disability. In Mass Effect 2, you even play as Joker for a brief period near the end and he manages to get around the ship just fine with a slight hunch and a limp. He does break bones semi-frequently, though. In the third game, however, his love for EDI convinces him to get off the ship more and overcome his disease, something that nothing else was able to do.
Averted in Katawa Shoujo. The story is set in a school for disabled students and all of the main characters have some form of disability, but all of them are much deeper than merely this and their setbacks are always portrayed realistically, neither overdoing them nor ignoring them completely. Many of the characters are perfectly comfortable with themselves, with Emi proudly labeling herself 'the fastest thing on no legs' and Lilly becoming very amused when people get flustered over saying things like 'see you around' in her presence.
It's discussed a little as well - if Hisao patronizes Hanako, she will become extremely pissed off with him and a Bad End will result. Also, in Rin's route, Hisao gets uncomfortable when the art teacher suggests mentioning Rin's disability (she has no arms and paints with her feet) to attract attention (the art teacher himself says that if they play up Rin's disability, they'll be accused of exploiting it, but if they hide it, they'll be accused of discrimination), and when Hisao sees that Emi is an extremely good runner, he resists the urge to say something like 'especially since you have prosthetic legs' when telling her that she's very impressive for fear that it would take away from the compliment.
Terezi occasionally dons the persona of one of these characters in order to make other people feel awful - for instance, luring John into laughing at her so she can scream at him about how disgusting he is for laughing at a blind girl.
Also parodied with Caliborn, who admits to having learning difficulties and is assured that this doesn't need to hold him back and that if he tries hard he can still achieve everything he wants...except Caliborn is a villain and a sociopath at that, so his achievements would mostly involve indiscriminate murder.
You are going to prove all the haters wrong, exceed your own limitations by miles, and accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible.
Yours is quite an inspiring story, actually. It's just a shame that all of your accomplishments will be so horrible.
Helps when your mum builds you a wheelchair capable of flying and includes heavy weapons.
It's also played for laughs with Ron, who treats Felix like any other guy. Felix is glad Ron doesn't give a wet slap, but it seriously bugs Kim.
Jimmy and Timmy have been used to both lampshade and subvert this trope on South Park.
And there's also the "Conjoined Fetus Lady" episode. Nurse Gollum is a school nurse who has had her dead twin attached to the side of her head since birth, and who only wants to do her job without being fawned over for her "courage." She doesn't even mind kids getting freaked out by her appearance. But when Kyle's mom finds out about her she not only lectures the kids on being sensitive to the disabled, but eventually convinces the town to throw an awards banquet for the nurse and a parade complete with dead fetus headbands! Nurse Gollum ends the episode by calling them out on their behavior, and she became a minor reoccurring character for a while.
Teo averts this trope. Teo might be an excellent pilot, but this is never suggested to be because he is paraplegic, nor does any of the other characters seem to consider him in any way unusual. The only notice anyone takes of Teo's handicap is when Sokka is impressed by his "glider chair". Also, in spite of only being in two scenes in The Day of Back Sun, and not doing much in either, he was on the front lines in the end so we can assume that he was fighting the whole time.
Then there's Toph, though she's more along the lines of Disability Superpower. Also averted, as she's happy to make blind jokes about herself as well as jokes at other peoples' expense about her blindness, and her genuine setbacks (being functionally illiterate in a world without Braille) are merely acknowledged.
Avoided with Garrett of Extreme Ghostbusters, paralyzed from birth, but is the jock of the group. Not only does he enjoy sports (character profiles stated he is one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the Buorghs), but he often does things like getting across the city by holding on to the bumper of a bus, and jumping off a building with a parachute. Given these activities, the writers could be accused of trying just a bit too hard to show that his disability didn't limit him, but he was still praised for his portrayal. He's also willing to crack jokes about his condition, and the one time he shows any offense is when he thinks Egon is patronizing him by telling him to stay back (He wasn't, Egon was just having a mid-life crisis and trying to take a more active role in the group).
Joe from Family Guy started as a straight example, before Flanderization made him as much of a jerk as everyone else. Averted in the infamous "Extra Large Medium", in which Chris' infatuation with his Down Syndrome classmate rapidly dwindles as she spends the entire date being a rotten, demanding bitch. Sarah Palin infamously criticized the portrayal, which provoked a response from the actress (who herself has the condition), expressing the opinion that Sarah was no less trying to invoke this trope by shilling Palin's relationship with her own child with a disability for political gain.
In "Petarded", Peter finds out he's functionally retarded. He even gets a social worker who makes a big deal over everything he does, saying "Good job, Peter! High-five! Alright!" Eventually he uses his diagnosis to get away with all kinds of Jerkass behavior, and when that puts Lois in the hospital the state takes custody of his kids from him...
An episode of Clifford The Big Red Dog has Clifford, T-Bone, and Cleo meeting K.C., a dog who's missing a leg. T-Bone and Cleo are afraid of him at first and fear that if they touch him they will lose a leg, and Clifford is worried that he can't play as well as they can. K.C. eventually tells them that they won't lose their legs and proves that he can play as well as a four legged dog.
Invoked in an episode of King of the Hill. Peggy starts making sculptures out of discarded propane tanks, which draws the eye of an art dealer. However, at her first exhibition she learns that the guy has been portraying her as an idiot savant hillbillynote The exhibition is even titled "I Ain't Got No Book-Learnin'". Needless to say, she's not happy, and even less so is Hank, but her spirits get lifted at the end of the episode when a few people express honest love of her "pro-bots".