Sometimes a Girl of the Week or part of a Very Special Episode or Made-for-TV Movie, the Inspirationally Disadvantaged Person superficially appears weak or downtrodden, but has hidden reserves of strength which often results in An Aesop.
This trope comes in three flavors:
Type A:A lot of the time, especially in the Sitcom, the Inspirationally Disadvantaged person's reserves of strength are applied to doing some perfectly ordinary task such as competing in the school talent show, graduating, or going on a date. It's only elevated to the heights of heroism because the person doing it is "differently abled".
Advocacy groups have spoken out against the practice, since it's more than a little patronizing to portray a disabled person as heroic for doing something the rest of us do all the time - comparable to You Are a Credit to Your Race. That's one reason that this trope is a lot less common than it used to be, though a few shows that aren't afraid of a little Glurge still do it from time to time. It's also been noted that people seem to like to shower actors who portray these kind of characters with awards, thus prompting more than a little cynicism about the motives of actors who take on these roles.
Type B: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. In some cases, the character turns out to have a special talent or skill that no other character can beat, sometimes implicitly "making up" for the disability, sometimes bordering on Disability Superpower.
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.
Type C:This Inspirationally Disadvantaged person is of the Magical kind, with shades of Incorruptible Pure Pureness. This flavor of Inspirationally Disadvantaged is there to be a good influence and teach the non-disabled lead, who is often white and male (but with some exceptions), a Very Special Lesson. Quite often, the person who is Type C Inspirationally Disadvantaged is Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
All types are seen as exploitative, with disabled characters often being little more than gimmicks to tug the heartstrings of able-bodied and able-minded viewers and make them feel "inspired" without actually challenging them to do anything about the systems that make life so difficult for the disabled in the first place, objectifying actual disabled people (hence the reason why disabled people refer to this trope as "inspiration porn"). In addition, the trope is so well known that many people slap ANY disabled character with the label regardless of how they're portrayed.
See also Idiot Savant, The Rain Man, Waif Prophet, Deaf Composer and Whoopi Epiphany Speech. Dream-Crushing Handicap is essentially the inversion of this trope. Also somewhat related to Littlest Cancer Patient. Can result in Glurge if handled poorly. Compare Graceful in Their Element, contrast Evil Cripple.
- An unintentional example happened with the advertising for the Swedish market ICA. In the commercials a trainee joined with Downs Syndrome. However the trainee was portrayed as both sly and clever, instantly recognizing the local Butt-Monkey and taking advantage of his boss' subconscious prejudice against trainees. This made him surprisingly popular among viewers but also had a rather positive side effect. All of a sudden, people with Downs Syndrome had a lot easier getting jobs.
- The DCU:
- 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. Ironically her abilities as some kind of info-genius never came up until she lost the ability to walk and they rapidly declined once she regained her legs again, leading to the question, 'Would Batman have given a rat's ass if she wasn't a genius?'.
- A new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, is barely able to speak and read. The martial skills that earned her the Batgirl position were a result of Training from Hell that destroyed her ability to comprehend language. Despite her speech impediment and illiteracy, Cassandra is by no means stupid, but watching her struggle to read books with the complexity of Hop On Pop, as well as communicating in language not much more complicated than can be found in said book, can make her appear as an Idiot Savant.
- Marvel Comics:
- Daredevil who has a Disability Superpower: he is blind but his other senses are heightened to a superhuman degree due to toxic waste. His mentor was a blind, old martial artist named Stick who seemed to do everything Daredevil can do... but he technically had no superpowers. He just trained himself that well.
- Silhouette 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.
- Cruelly parodied in the Ultimates Annual. The Ultimate Defenders welcome wheelchair-bound Whiz-Kid into their ranks, but they don't respect him in the slightest; they only let him join in order to con their sponsors into giving them money for a new vehicle on the grounds that their old one wasn't handicap-accessible. Just in case their insincerity wasn't already glaringly obvious, their new vehicle turns out to be a sports car.
- Since one of the Alternative Character Interpretations of Derpy Hooves of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is that she's severely mentally handicapped,note she becomes this a lot. Dialed Up to Eleven whenever her daughter is involved. One example includes Bubbles.
- The titular character of the Friendship Is Magic fan animation, Snowdrop, is an innocent, downtrodden, blind pegasus filly who sculpts snowflakes while trying to imagine what stars look like.
- Roar of the LION: Leon's younger sister, Terra. When they were children, they were attacked by a Grimm, and she suffered horrific injuries to her legs. While they were rescued by a Huntress, Terra's leg injuries were so serious that she may never walk again, and she currently lives at the physically disabled ward at Vale General Hospital, undergoing weekly check-ups and taking constant painkillers to soothe the chronic pain. Despite this, Terra remains chipper and optimistic for the future. When he sees her, Mercury actually feels sorry for her enough that he makes powered leg braces for her and gives them to her in secret.
- Jane Wyman's deaf-mute Belinda in Johnny Belinda. She's deaf and mute! She's learning to read and raising a child! Isn't that inspiring?
- The title character from Forrest Gump. Later, Lt. Dan.
- Dustin Hoffman's autistic savant character Raymond in Rain Man is a quintessential example. The film's use of this trope as Oscar Bait combined with its pop culture infiltration, which has spread the stereotype that all people with autism are genius savants makes its legacy controversial.
- 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 has an intellectual disability 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. He's just very lucky.
- I Am Sam is about a single dad with an intellectual disability fighting the state for custody of his daughter. Unfortunately, Roger Ebert was just one of the critics who thought the movie represented a bad case of Strawman Has a Point when it came to portraying Sam as in the right.
- 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 '90s) 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.
- Tropic Thunder mocks this trope with the Oscar Bait Film Within a Film Simple Jack, which provides the trope image. It wound up backfiring on its star, Tugg Speedman, and it came to be viewed as one of the worst films of all time (though it's inexplicably popular among Golden Triangle drug lords). Kirk Lazarus attributes the film's failure to the fact that the character was portrayed as too mentally disabled (or, in his parlance, Tugg "went full retard" in his performance) and lacking the "inspirational" part of this trope, citing I Am Sam as an example. As a result, Tugg's performance was just plain insulting and uncomfortable to watch.
- The Oscar Bait angle also gets a brief mention in Bowfinger:
"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.
- Speaking of autism and Fred Savage, there's a little Glurge-heavy brain tulip from the mid-80's entitled The Boy Who Could Fly (reviewed here, and it is about an autistic boy who is so Too Good for This Sinful Earth that he can... well...
- Even Biopics are not spared. The blind pianist Ray Charles comes to mind.
- That film can be seen as somewhat of a subversion, as Charles' flaws are not glossed over or sugarcoated (most notably, his womanizing.)
- 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.
- My Name Is Khan would like to have a word with you.
- Averted in Sling Blade. Karl has an intellectual disability 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.
- The title character of Pumpkin.
- Deconstructed in the Joseph Merrick biopic The Elephant Man. The deformed title character, a former circus freak, is indeed an intelligent, sensitive, and very kind man, but the film takes a very dim view of any attempts at making him into a symbol.
If you want my advice, he's only being stared at all over again.
- The Ringer is a film about a guy who fakes being intellectually disabled in order to join and rig the Special Olympics. Surprisingly, it manages to avoid being as disparaging to disabled people as one would expect from the premise, but it's also been praised for not going in the other direction, either. The Olympians are treated more like actual people (it helps that people with actual mental disabilities were hired to play them) crowd-favorite Jimmy Washington has a massive ego and is hated by the other Olympians, and uses their disabilities for one or two jokes (like when main character Steve has to break out a whiteboard and provide visual aids to explain his plan once he's caught) while the Olympians also get to crack a few jokes of their own.
- Taylor Lautner's ill-advised role as Lil' Pete in The Ridiculous Six.
- The Room gives us a bizarre subversion of this trope with Denny, an orphaned teenager who's essentially Johnny and Lisa's adopted son. Though he apparently came from poverty, and he struggles to put himself through school, he's never actually said to be disabled at any point in the film...but Tommy Wiseau himself went on record saying that he's "r*tarded, a little bit", apparently to explain some of the character's more bizarre behavior over the course of the film (most memorably, he tries to creep into Johnny and Lisa's bedroom mid-foreplay at one point). Hilariously, Wiseau never actually told Denny's actor about that little detail, leading most fans to conclude that it's a Retcon.
- A rather blatant example of "Type C" can be seen in a Colorado made short film Menschen that has been making rounds on the festival circuit. It deals with a group of runaway Nazis in the last days of World War II who come across a sickly sweet boy with Down Syndrome who is just so precocious and adorable, he redeems their evil genocidal hearts and makes them see the error of their ways through the power of love. What makes this even more obnoxious is that the filmmakers unknowingly repeated a joke from American Dad!, but under the pretense of them making a serious historical drama. Real Nazis would more likely have killed the boy, as people with Down Syndrome were among the first targeted for involuntary "euthanasia" in the Aktion T4 program.
- Mark O'Brien in The Sessions has to deal with this within the film. One of our first introductions to him is a news program making a big deal of the fact that he graduated despite his polio.
- Elijah Price in Unbreakable has brittle bones, which confines him to a wheelchair for a good deal of the movie, but is a successful comic book museum owner who encourages the protagonist David Dunn to find the hero within himself. However, this trope is ultimately subverted, with the ending coming off as a grotesque mockery of the trope. He declares that he's finally found the meaning in his life...becoming a supervillain responsible for the deaths of hundreds.
- Played unerringly straight in The Kid & I, where Aaron Roman's cerebral palsy does not stop him from demonstrating tenacity, optimism, and friendship to washed-up actor Bill Williams.
- In Master and Commander, there's this moment where this gets invoked. Poor little Midshipman Blakeney has to have his arm amputated after it gets riddled with shot. Captain Aubrey visits Blakeney resting in his hammock after his surgery. The two share some very typically British Stiff Upper Lip dialogue and Aubrey recommends a book to the boy; an account of the Battle of the Nile, with several fine illustrations. Aubrey departs and leaves Blakeney to skim through the book, which opens with an illustration of the famous Lord Nelson, also missing an arm. It's quite obvious that Aubrey offered the book to the young lad intentionally to inspire him, and true enough, little Blakeney rises up to the challenge.
- Surprisingly averted in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Charles' brother David is deaf, but also happens to be a quite normal person with a fondness for sexual humor. The only things he does which can be described as being "inspirational" is giving his brother an occasional "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- The Imitation Game applies this heavily to real life wartime code breaker Alan Turing - who was reportedly not like this in real life (a notable scene is where he's shown to be Sarcasm-Blind; the real Turing was described as quite witty and charming by people who knew him). One of the film's main criticisms came from focusing on this and downplaying his homosexuality to the point that it was almost an Informed Attribute.
- The Theory of Everything naturally has Stephen Hawking shown this way, as he overcomes his body getting weaker and weaker from ALS. But it also deconstructs this trope. While Stephen's mind remains brilliant, he is shown as a flawed human being while his body deteriorates. He makes references to sex like a normal man would, sneaks beer into church to drink it with Jonathan, gets frustrated as he loses motor control, and eventually leaves his wife Jane despite her years of faithfulness and being The Caretaker.
- Mostly averted in Margarita With A Straw, where Laila's struggles are much the same as any foreign college student away from home, just with cerebral palsy added to complicate things.
- Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol is the Trope Codifier, if not the Ur-Example, for being unusually hopeful and big-hearted despite his difficult circumstances.
- Stephen King has one or two of these per book. They tend to have Psychic Powers. Tom Cullen from The Stand is a great example.
- And Duddits from Dreamcatcher.
- 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 non-disabled people about disabled people they know. Either way, readers are meant to find some "inspirational" value in the disability element.
- The Brother 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.
- Michael Jackson's book of essays and poems, Dancing the Dream, features a Type C in "Wise Little Girl". He met a wheelchair-bound girl who smiled at him when he arrived, and he was inspired by this — she had, in his view (she isn't quoted as saying anything along these lines) not let herself be influenced by adults' pity and sympathy and clearly didn't want pity or sympathy herself, not being bothered by her "disability" and seeing herself as normal. This crosses over with Children Are Innocent, a core Jackson belief, in that they do not realize they are different from others and thus are "wiser" than adults who can only see differences.
- In The Fault in Our Stars, Isaac lampshades this after he becomes blind by jokingly saying, "come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could." Even though all three of the teenage leads are disadvantaged Isaac with his blindness, Hazel and Augustus with their terminal cancer they're all pointedly portrayed as fully human, flawed, normal, and not "inspirational."
- Journey to Chaos has an in-universe example. One of the reasons Dengel is looked upon so favorably by humans is that he became a powerful mage despite possessing a magical disorder called Low Mana Inhibition, which makes controlling mana substantially harder. Thus, he is the "super crip". Eric, who knows him to be an arrogant jerkass, is not at all inspired.
- Defied by Jacqueline Wilson in Katy, a modern re-writing of What Katy Did. Wilson has stated that she is concerned about the messages children get from the original book's use of the trope.
- The Blue Rose by Gerda Klein. The main character, Jenny, is pure, raw, unfiltered Types A and C, complete with kids who make fun of her for having a developmental disability. The author hammers in Jenny's specialness with a generous helping of Glurge on the side.
- Kevin, a.k.a. "Freak" in Freak the Mighty, a preteen Genius Cripple and witty Disabled Snarker who eventually suffers Death by Newbery Medal.. Averted with Max, the mentally disabled protagonist whom he inspires.
- Downplayed in the "I Funny" books with protagonist Jamie Grimm. While he's considered an inspiration by the hospital that got him up to wheelchair-bound from total bodycast, it's because of his optimism, not being handicapped. Jamie has also gone on record repeatedly as intending to get the use of his legs back if procedures to do so become available and when media tries to paint him as this trope, he gets annoyed and even suffers a Heroic Blue Screen of Death over it at one point (and it doesn't help that since the reason that he's in his chair is a car accident that killed his parents and beloved little sister Jenny, this is just salting the wounds the tragedy left and that he spends most of the series dealing with, as much as he skips over the topic to get back to jokes). That said, he does enjoy being an inspiration to other handicapped kids though he prefers it when it's of the "I won't let my limitations prevent me from being the best me I can" variety (a healthy way of looking at it).
- America's Next Top Model:
- Heather Kuzmich was a 21-year-old college student when she went on the show. 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.
- They fared slightly better years later with contestant (and eventual winner) Nyle DiMarco, whose deafness was treated with a surprising amount of respect from Tyra and the editors. Cynics could accuse Tyra of handing him the win because he's deaf, but it just so happened that he was one of the strongest models of his season and simply deserved it.
- Blair's cousin Geri on The Facts of Life. She was played by Geri Jewell, an actress and stand-up comedienne who, like "Cousin Geri", has cerebal palsy. She was the first performer with a disability to have a recurring role in a TV series. Cousin Geri was treated as inspirational by some of the girls, but Cousin Geri herself was rather snarky about her condition as well as not having much use for being seen as anything but a person. Jewell continued as a recurring regular for four years; when, in the sixth season, the showrunners wanted Cousin Geri to only appear in Very Special Episodes once a season, Jewell quit.
- 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 in the beginning of the series. This changes in later seasons when despite being a good person he is not the perfect little angel others hoped him to be because *gasp* he is human. (The actor himself, Chris Burke, has the syndrome).
- The Megan Adams (blind book editor) character from The Rockford Files.
- 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. Basically, she was type A on this list to him but not actually treated that way by the plot. She just wanted to be treated like any other person.
- 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 appears Inspirationally 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).
- In Season 25, there's Bethany, who lost an arm in a shark attack. However, she manages to avert this trope, as she and her partner Adam actually do pretty damn good, finishing in third place.
- Highway to Heaven has several:
- 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).
- This trope was lampshaded by Mulder in an episode of The X-Files when Scully tells him he's like Captain Ahab:
"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 7Days. 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.
- In Scrubs:
- 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.
- Made worse by the Reality Subtext of Michael J. Fox 's battle with Parkinson's.
- 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 math 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.
- 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.
- Wonderfully 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 it 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 (without missing a beat): Kenny, really, that 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." (Tyrion has a following in the fandom, because he is one of the funniest, most interesting, and probably most moral characters on the show, and because Peter Dinklage's performance is fantastic, but his being a dwarf has little to do with any of this except to the extent that the discrimination informs the character's worldview and interactions with other characters.)
- 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 her 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, Long 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.
- 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."
- The trope is also played with when Randy says to a young woman "For someone in a wheelchair, you're not very inspirational."
- 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.
- 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'.
- 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 series also featured a small arc in an early season where Peter Benton discovered that his son was deaf. He met a doctor who was marketed as a "deaf specialist" of sorts only to discover that the doctor herself was deaf and relied on an interpreter for communication. The doctor had been profoundly deaf since she was young and still managed to complete medical school in a time where treating the disabled like everyone else was uncommon. She slightly invokes this trope in the sense that her character is primarily used as an example to Peter that being deaf is not the end of the world, but also to other staff as well.
- This is parodied on The Inbetweeners with Alistair. Alistair was a Jerk Ass before he had a kidney transplant and ended up in a wheelchair, and is still one after. However everyone except the main gang treats him like a wonderful person, even holding a fundraiser for him.
- Spoofed in The Michael J. Fox Show, where Mike, a newscaster with Parkinson's Disease, has to keep dealing with people who see him as the trope when he just wants to be seen as a regular guy.
- Doctor Who - Tommy in "Planet of the Spiders", a mentally disabled man with a taste for shiny objects. He appears to represent innocent goodness in the story's Buddhist symbology.
- A Christian show called Kids Praise featured in the 5th episode a firefly with one wing. They talk and sing about how wonderful it is that he only has one wing because that means he can glow and give glory to God...or something.
- Subverted in Parks and Recreation: Leslie reads an "inspiring" book about a woman with no limbs who tried to swim the English Channel, and drowned instantly.
- J.J.'s new school has this reaction to him in Speechless. His entrance is applauded the moment he enters his class, simply because he's disabled. Then he's immediately nominated for class president by his homeroom before they even meet him. When pressed further, the teacher just gives out meaningless platitudes about how brave J.J. is instead of saying it outright.
- Lampshaded in the first episode of Dollhouse, when Echo's programmed personality is a hostage negotiation specialist. Topher explains that her glasses aren't to make her look smarter; her implanted personality is short-sighted and her intellect comes from the drive to overcome such imperfections.
- USA High had Jackson falling for a blind girl in a Very Special Episode. It gets subverted when the girl's blindness is rather incidental to the main conflict - Jackson being afraid of commitment - and the girl only assumes his break-up with her is because of her blindness.
- Touched by an Angel and its spinoff series Promised Land featured a few. Of note is Chris Burke, an actor with Down Syndrome who appeared on both shows. In Promised Land, he's a regular guy named Bob, but in Touched by an Angel, he's an angel named Taylor. This isn't necessarily meant as patronizing, but comes across that way. Other disabilities covered on both shows include autism, Asperger's Syndrome (though this is not specifically identified), and cerebral palsy.
- Subverted in the Seinfeld episode, "The Jimmy" when Kramer, who's still under the effects of Novocaine (he's slurring his words and drooling a bit) and still wearing Jimmy's strange training shoes, is mistaken for a mentally-challenged adult by an executive of a benefit for "Able Mentally-Challenged Adults" and invited to the event. Kramer, completely oblivious, goes along with this.
- Taken to the point of absurdity in Tom Waits' "Eyeball Kid" from Mule Variations. The narrator is a carnival barker trying to talk up a sideshow performer who seems to be just a disembodied eye. As the song progresses, the Eyeball Kid's tale moves from the gritty to the inspirational to the downright messianic, all to sell tickets.
We're all lost in the wilderness, we're blind as can be
He come down to teach us how to really see
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
So give it up and throw me down a couple of quid
Everybody wants to see the Eyeball Kid
- Spoofed with "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung", who he routinely visits to receive advice from, getting only the sound of the iron lung as a reply.
- Shannon Lake, the classic inspiring high-school classmate from the comic strip For Better or for Worse. True to her origins as an avatar for the author's developmentally-delayed niece, Shannon fulfills this trope very literally. At one point, mocked one time too many in the cafeteria, she gets up on a table and delivers a lengthy plea for understanding on behalf of all special-needs kids everywhere. This did not, to put it as kindly as possible, help her cause as a believable character.
- 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/handicapped/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.
- Sabres of Infinity Type B, Cazarosta, as a Deathborn, his inability to sense or manipulate the Bane and the social stigma attached to the status, would be expected to considerably hamper his military career, yet his skill as a soldier is such, that he frequently outclasses you in combat drills and never falls behind you in rank.
- Captain Novolin, the diabetic superhero, is a Type A; although there's something a bit ironic about a diabetic superhero being the only person in the world capable of defending the Earth from a bunch of aliens taking the form of cookies, doughnuts, cans of soda, and other sugary junk foods, with nothing but his courage, and his odd Jump Physics.
- Averting this is basically the whole point of 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.
- Parodied on Homestar Runner with Li'l Brudder, a drawing of a one-legged dog that Strong Bad uses to reduce Homestar Runner to tears.
- Li'l Brudder however, is not based on Strong Sad. Strong Bad thinks of Strong Sad as a two-legged elephant named Tendafoot, who can power a small city with his whining.
- Latula from Homestuck parodies this: she cannot smell, which apparently is treated as a big deal on Beforan society, and one character even talks about how, with great effort and diligence, she was able to approximate smelling with other senses. Kankri in particular seems to look up to her as an example of this trope.
- 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.
- Avoided by Runewriters. A main character, Tareth, is deaf, but while her deafness affects events, it is not the focus of the story or even of Tareth's character arc. She can speak (with a "deaf accent") and read lips before the story begins, but often avoids contact outside of her small circle of friends and family. She steps up to help a friend when he suffers a magical mishap.
- Averted with Nathan, the one-legged kid from The Scumthorpe Files. He becomes furious when people call him "inspiring" or "inspirational" for doing simple everyday tasks, and can't stand to be pitied for his disability.
- The Onion has spoofed this.
- "Coming up next: Serial killer with Down Syndrome commits fifth inspirational murder".
- Oscar Pistorius, double amputee and Olympic-grade sprinter, was one of the great Real Life human interest stories of the 2012 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, in February 2013 he was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. The Onion article "World Now Down To 5 Stories That Are Inspirational" was written in its wake, as well as the photo caption "Double Amputee Proves He Is Capable Of Anything".
- The Youtube comedy show My Gimpy Life called out Type A big time in Episode 3: Inspirational. The main character Teal (who's in a wheelchair) bombs an audition of The Vagina Monologues and knows it, but is applauded and called "inspirational" by the members of the company putting it on, all of whom are African American. Eventually Teal gets sick of it and calls out the company, saying it's as if she had complemented them for being articulate or said that they could pass for white. They, of course, are massively offended
- The short story "The Power Chair Pole Vaulter from Paluga County" also subverts this trope pretty hard.
- Felix from Kim Possible. Kim treats him as a disadvantaged boy through the episode, until she learns to accept that he kicks ass. 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. Generally averted with the other kids, who treat both just like they would any other friends or classmates.
- 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.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- 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). Heck; in the first episode, his reaction to Eduardo blatantly mocking his handicap is a "Never Heard That One Before" eye roll and nothing else.
- 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 Down Syndrome child 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.
- They even balance it out with K.C. admitting towards the end of the episode that while it does annoy him when others assume he constantly needs help, he does need help from time to time and he is grateful that Clifford is willing to offer it.
- 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 hillbilly.note 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".
- Another episode deals with Bill being told his legs will fail due to diabetes. Bill prepares by getting a wheelchair in advance, and joins a handicapped basketball team/club. When Bill drunkenly stands up and begins to walk to the bathroom, he discovers that not only have his legs not failed, but his diabetes has reversed. Being branded as a fraud and no longer praised as an inspiration, he begins to scoop sugar into his mouth to regain his diabetes to become handicapped again until Hank and one of his basketball friends stop him and talk him out of it.
- Generally averted with Scootaloo from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Though conceived as a pegasus who simply hadn't learned how to fly yet, she is all but stated in season 4 to suffer from a disability that keeps her from achieving flight. However, this means that Scootaloo has gone through three seasons without facing any grief from anyone over her physical disadvantages, and the only teasing she ever gets for it is done to psych her out of an already impressive stage performance she and her friends put together.
- The PBS series Arthur does a pretty good job of averting this. It has featured at least two characters with disabilities; Marina Datillo is blind and Lydia Fox uses a wheelchair. Both girls are given talents and hobbies outside disability, but none of these are treated like a Disability Superpower. The characters make jokes about their disabilities (ex.: Marina says she can't read super-fast because "[she'd] get blisters.") In general, they are portrayed as normal kids with both good traits and flaws.
- Recent seasons have given us Carl Gould, a boy with Asperger's Syndrome who's a good friend of George Lundgren. Although George sometimes has to act as Carl's "interpreter," explaining what he needs and why, Carl is a three-dimensional character.
- Another good aversion shows up in "Little Miss Meanie." Muffy and Lydia enter the Little Miss Crocus pageant, and Muffy assumes the judges will let Lydia win because shes paraplegic. She even considers asking Lydia to drop out because she can't "win" on her own merits but then hears another girl tell Lydia the same thing, and realizes how mean the assumption is. When Lydia finds out about it from Francine, shes initially angry, but then admits that shes not really one to talk. Lydia initially assumed that Muffy, being from an extremely rich family, was going to bribe the judges so she could get the grand prize, so Lydia was thinking about asking her to drop out of the pageant. She had a similar Jerkass Realization when she saw the same snob who told her to drop out accusing Muffy of using her affluence as an unfair advantage. This shows a character with a disability having to deal with, and overcoming, her own prejudices, which is rare especially in children's programming. Afterwards, Muffy and Lydia decide to team up and help improve each others acts. They end up tying for first runner-up, while the snobby girl receives no honors.
- Both lampshaded and averted in The Simpsons episode "Stealing First Base", when Nelson Muntz befriends Kevin, a blind boy. Upon noticing Kevin's disability, Nelson becomes extremely protective of him and threatens to "destroy" anyone trying to mess with him, to which Kevin answers that one messes with him. Then Nelson tells Kevin that he's not a freak, and when Kevin answers that he doesn't think of himself as a freak, a very touched Nelson exclaims, "So BRAVE!".