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Inspirationally Disadvantaged
aka: Inspirationally Disabled

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"Mental illness. It's the thing actors pretend to have in order to win Oscars."
John Oliver, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

"I'm going to put you in a paralyzing diving accident so you can inspire people with watercolors you paint with your feet."
Maria Bamford (with Irish accent reminiscent of Roma Downey)

A.k.a. the Magical Disabled Person (to go with Magical Negro, Magical Asian, Magical Queer, Magical Native American, and all their outdated magical friends).

Sometimes a Girl of the Week (in which case, see also Disabled Love Interest) 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:

Patronizing: 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.

The late Australian disability activist Stella Young referred to this as "inspiration porn," as it can be seen as a way of objectifying people with disabilities to make non-disabled individuals feel good. Her TED talk on the subject can be found here.

Superpowered: 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. In certain cases, the story goes out of its way to paint the handicap as a good/bad thing that influences (or is influenced by) the character's capacity to interact with whatever magic is in the setting, meaning that Neurodiversity Is Supernatural.

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.

Magical: 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 Magically 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, Waif Prophet, Ironically Disabled Artist and its subtrope Deaf Composer, and Whoopi Epiphany Speech. Dream-Crushing Handicap and Wheelchair Woobie are essentially inversions 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.


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  • An unintentional example happened with the advertising for the Swedish market ICA. In the commercials, a trainee joined with Down Syndrome. However, the trainee was portrayed as both sly and clever, instantly recognizing the local Butt-Monkey and taking advantage of his boss's 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 Down Syndrome had it a lot easier getting jobs.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
  • Issue #81 of the Italian comic Dylan Dog, "Johnny Freak", checks many tropes of the "Magical" type of inspirationally disadvantaged, with Johnny being a Too Good for This Sinful Earth victim of human trafficking, Dylan himself filling the role of the white male lead that 'learns' things while taking care of Johnny as a surrogate son, everyone getting Glurge-y whenever Johnny displays his talents such as playing Dylan's clarinet or making stunning Surreal Fantasy paintings on walls, and in the end he proves to be so pure and incorruptible to the point of asking to donate his heart to save his abusive brother, despite being shot to death by him. "Johnny Freak" is considered by fans to be one of the greatest Dylan Dog stories despite it all.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • 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.
    • Parodied in Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes. Hank Pym's ants praise him for performing feats of heroism with only four limbs and believe he must be an inspiration to cripples everywhere.
    • 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.
    • In one issue of What If?, Spider-Man is unable to reverse the process to remove his extra arms, even with the help of both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Professor X suggests that he should use his extra arms to his advantage and inspire other people, though he privately admits it's for more selfish reasons to hold off the rising tide of anti-mutant hysteria. Ultimately, Spidey's luck improves and he's treated as the inspiration that Professor X hoped he would be.
  • Averted in "Emilka Sza." The series initially portrays Natalia, the blind musician, as an impeccable saint, but near the end Natalia address this misconception by explaing that her friendship with Maya, despite Maya's many flaws and iresponisble nature, is valued because Maya treats her on equal terms, just like anyone else. While at first glance others might perceive Maya's behavior as insensitive toward a blind person, Natalia sees it as a commendable quality. Maya's treating Natalia without any special treatment resonates deeply, making her approach a cherished trait as Natalia can be truly herself around Maya. This revelation is followed by a instance of Natalia acting goofy toward a guy (in the same over the top style as Emilka and Maya did trueout the story). Despite akward situation Maya and Emilka share a warm smile, accentuating that Natalia, despite her virtues, is as fallible as anyone else in the series making her not above their pack of misfits.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • 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 whenever her daughter is involved. One example includes Bubbles.
  • Codex Equus: Averted and deconstructed. In the Codexverse, disabled people are depicted as well-rounded people with their own strengths and flaws despite their handicaps, and are no more good or evil for it. While some are willing to joke about themselves, generally they hate being treated as 'inspirational' as it's demeaning and implies they're lazy wastes of spaces who can't look after themselves if they don't work to compensate for their disabilities. Some deities who have some kind of handicap, like albinism, blindness, and mutism, have accepted their handicaps as part of them and use their powers to make their own lives a little easier.
    • Prince Healing Song is a Blind Musician who lost his sight during infancy after undergoing a medical operation to prevent the spreading of a rare ocular cancer. While he's a famous musical prodigy-turned-teacher who learned from the likes of Blue Suede Heartstrings, and later became an Alicorn on his deathbed, he isn't treated any differently for it and his Ascension happened purely because of a Karmic Jackpot for his good deeds. He also feared dying one day, but his friends helped him accept his mortality. In-Universe, Healing Song himself hates the 'inspirationally disadvantaged' trope because of the toxic mentality it promotes, and helps students defy this by teaching them how to succeed while also acknowledging their own limits. If they manage to Ascend like he did, then it happens, but it's still an achievement worthy of praise.
    • Guiding Light is also a blind Alicorn and has several abilities/skills to make up for it, but it's noted his Ascension came about solely because the Shinseina Pantheon was impressed by his compassion and altruism. And like his friends in the Black Heron Corpse Investigation Team, he's a cynical person with a morbid sense of humor (due to being around corpses all the time) and opportunistic greed, which his divine peers genuinely find off-putting and potentially detrimental to any good he might do in the future. Despite their constant ribbing, Guiding Light is close to his friends since they treat him as part of the gang instead of a helpless invalid.
    • Spell Cyclone of the Nightmare Breakers is a paraplegic Magical Filly and requires a wheelchair to get around. This would normally make her an easier target in Meridia, with Everything Trying to Kill You in full force, so she developed her sniping skills and magic to make up for this. She hates the idea of pushing herself beyond her normal limits in order to be something of worth to others, a view shared by Prince Healing Song, who is blind and would later become her friend. She welcomes Maelstrom's insults because it means the latter really cares for her and treats her like an equal.
    • Prince Crimson Star originally wasn't blind, but he was such an Insufferable Genius that after he was blinded saving a classmate from a runaway carriage, he was rather depressed by it, and eventually saw his blindness as a "punishment" for his own foolishness. He did manage to become an Alicorn demigod later on, but it's because he made amends for his bad behavior and used his knowledge and talents for good, not because he became disabled. In addition, despite his royal demi-divine status and great power, he is flawed like any other person, and his relationships with his brothers, like Fanged Paw, can get vitriolic.
  • 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.
  • An In-Universe version in A Vicious, Vengeful Sea, where Asha was treated as an amazing inspiration by most of the adults in her childhood for being a smart girl with cerebral palsy. She still resents as an adult.
  • Referenced In-Universe in With Pearl and Ruby Glowing: Crushed Ice Chilla is an Olympic ice dancer with two prosthetic feet, and he hates this trope.
    “I don’t mind talking about being disabled. I want to talk about it. But the way people are treating this… is wrong? Harmful? I did work hard to get where I am now. I worked very hard for a very long time and I’m going places I never thought I could go.”
    He exhales heavily. “But none of that would ever have mattered if someone hadn’t come along to help me. [...] Don’t look at me like I am a fucking inspiration. Look at me, hear my story, and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t fucking happen again.”

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Averted. There are those who see Vanellope's glitching as equivalent to a disability (she even calls it "pixlexsia".) However, she's also a well-developed character and accepts her glitch without Narm. In fact, she ultimately incorporates the glitch-teleport into her post-reset code since it has become part of her identity, and also because she turned it into a really cool superpower.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bowfinger: The Oscar Bait angle gets a brief mention:
    "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."
  • There's a little Glurge-heavy brain tulip from the mid-'80s 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 fly.
  • The Elephant Man: Deconstructed. The deformed title character, John Merrick (based on Joseph Merrick), is a former circus freak and is indeed an intelligent, sensitive, and very kind man despite his severe deformities. But the film takes a very dim view of any attempts at making him into a symbol — and the people who try to do so end up being overcome with guilt after being called on it.
    If you want my advice, he's only being stared at all over again.
  • Forrest Gump: The title character is a mentally "slow" man who wins everybody's approval by unintentionally becoming a star athlete, a war hero, a millionaire, and giving simple but inspiring advice to everybody around him, including famous celebrities and politicians. Later, Lt. Dan becomes physically disabled by losing his legs in the war, but Forrest inspires him to keep living and they go into a million dollar shrimp business.
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral: Averted; 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.
  • 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.
  • The Idiots: The film takes a somewhat postmodern approach to this trope — the title characters are an Upper-Class Twit and his peers who invoke it In-Universe, both to amuse themselves and to take advantage of strangers' hospitality, not to challenge anyone's perception of developmental disability so much as play some juvenile game. The movie clearly depicts them as jerkasses, best shown when actual developmentally disabled people (played by actually developmentally disabled people) are invited to the group's compound, angering their leader.
  • The Imitation Game: This is applied 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.
  • Johnny Belinda: The titular character Belinda (played by Jane Wyman) is deaf and mute! She's learning to read and raising a child! Isn't that inspiring?
  • The Kid & I: Aaron Roman's cerebral palsy does not stop him from demonstrating tenacity, optimism, and friendship to washed-up actor Bill Williams.
  • Margarita with a Straw: Averted; Laila's struggles are much the same as any foreign college student away from home, just with cerebral palsy added to complicate things. When at a music competition her band is given the top prize over Laila being disabled and the judge tries to hold her up this way, she's disgusted, flipping the woman off afterward.
  • Mask: Most of the pitfalls associated with this trope are averted, 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".
  • Master and Commander: Invoked; poor little Midshipman Blakeney has to have his arm amputated after it gets riddled with shots. 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.
  • In the 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.
  • More Than Ever: Defied; the cancer patient Bent deletes all comments on his blog about how brave he is, finding them condescending.
  • The Other Sister: The film 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."
  • Rain Man: The main protagonist's brother, Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant and a quintessential example of the trope. The film's use of this trope as Oscar Bait — combined with its pop culture infiltration, which has spread the stereotype that all autistic people are genius savants — makes its legacy controversial.
  • Ray: Subverted with the titular protagonist, the blind pianist Ray Charles. While Ray did become a famous musician later in life, his blindness stil presented a lot of problems for him and he had to overcome multiple tragedies and hardships to get there. The film also doesn't gloss over or sugarcoat Ray's various flaws and mistakes, such as his drug abuse, his womanizing, and his ruthless business dealings. When the real Ray Charles was given a Braille copy of the script before production began, he only objected to two scenes where he was forced to learn piano (he expressed an interest on his own) and when he shared drugs with Margie Hendricks (he refused to let her try heroin because he knew what it was doing to him).
  • The Ringer: A guy invokes this trope by faking 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 (the Farrellys actively work with intellectually disabled people when they're not filmmaking), 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.
  • The Sessions: Mark O'Brien 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.
  • Sling Blade: Averted with Karl. 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 Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking is 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.
  • Tropic Thunder: The Oscar Bait Film Within a Film Simple Jack mocks this trope. 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 Tugg "went full retard" and played the title character as too mentally disabled (rather than having a vague intellectual/developmental disability) 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 In-Universe.
  • Unbreakable: Elijah Price 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.
  • What's Eating Gilbert Grape: Averted with Arnie, who's been described as an "uncomfortably accurate" depiction of a developmentally disabled person. His brother Gilbert and the rest of his family are extremely protective of him and nobody in the town is shown to treat him poorly, but his complete lack of self-preservation skills and tendency for meltdowns tend to get him in trouble.
  • The Wizard: A young, implicitly autistic boy turns out to have a talent for beating arcade games. His older brother decides to use this skill to gain money — and everyone he meets encourages him to do so.

  • In George Carlin's book Brain Droppings, he complains about the media constantly putting out feel-good "inspirational" stories of disabled people "battling the odds" to distract the public from everything wrong with America.
  • 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. He even says in text that he hopes people find him inspirational.
    Bob Cratchett: He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas day who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.
  • 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.
  • In the Brother Cadfael novel "The Pilgrim of Hate", 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 the "Wise Little Girl". Jackson meets a wheelchair-bound girl who smiles at him when he arrives, and he is inspired by this — she has, 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 doesn'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."
  • In The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, John Singer is the magical deaf-mute. The other characters pour out their problems to him, and it's stated more than once that they make him into a sort of god.
  • 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, has kids 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 body cast, 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. It doesn't help that the reason he's in his chair is because of the same 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).
  • In the young adult novel A My Name is Alice, the protagonist is developmentally disabled, and her father particularly disparages her abilities. Alice learns that she enjoys working in elder care, where she is much appreciated for her friendliness and the many things she is capable of doing, and a friend of the family mentors her and tells her that her mother, whom she does not remember, was much like her in abilities and personality (and, by contrast, that she has many capabilities and qualities that her father lacks).
  • In the children's book The Balancing Girl, the elementary-aged girl of the title, who uses a wheelchair, has a totally unrelated talent for setting up dominoes to cascade when the first one is touched. Her peers think this is awesome, and work with her to make a giant domino cascade the centerpiece of a school fundraiser.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 cerebral 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 at 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).
  • One episode of Saved by the Bell has 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. Subverted: the girl berates Zack for calling attention to her disability to the crowd after the game. 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.
  • 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 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 & 11), several people with missing limbs (Sarah - Season 10, Amy - Season 21, Bethany - Season 25, & Redmond - Season 29), a deaf man (Luke - Seasons 14 & 18), and a man on the Autism spectrum (Zev - Seasons 15 & 18). The only winner who could be considered this was Nat in Season 17 who is type 1 diabetic. It was very rarely brought up but making time to track her blood sugar and eat regularly was the hardest part of the race for her and her partner Kat.
  • 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."
  • 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 Jeremy "Soulpatch" Simmons who is rather aggressive about using his handicap status to win debate arguments.
    • Deconstructed with Abed himself. Though he is referred to as "a magical, elf-like man that makes us all more magical by being near him", his neurodivergence tends to cause just as many problems as solutions.
  • 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.
  • 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 barstool 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."
  • 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:
    • 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 remarkably, this was in a specialty like Emergency Medicine which requires considerable mobility. Her having an abrasive personality, rather than being 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 Jerkass 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 a firefly with one wing in the fifth episode. 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.
  • In an episode of Power Rangers Zeo, Rocky takes an interest in a girl who practices karate, and whose Establishing Character Moment is to defeat three male opponents in a row, and that's before we learn that she's actually blind. She actually helps the Rangers when she mentions that she recognized the voice of the Monster of the Week, thanks to her enhanced hearing.
  • The Office (US): In "The Injury," Michael tries to invoke this with the wheelchair-bound building superintendent Billy Merchant (in order to gain sympathy after he burned his foot). Billy, however, is having none of it, especially since Michael parked in the handicapped space.
    Michael: "Did you ever see Born on the Fourth of July? I was expecting him to be more like that guy."
  • Averted in an episode Adventures in Wonderland which centers on the Queen of Hearts banning all talking in Wonderland because her subjects interrupted one of her speeches. The March Hare decides to have his cousin April (played by the actually-Deaf Marlee Matlin, who is mentioned under The West Wing above) come visit to teach them all sign language so they can communicate non-verbally. The group treats her just like anyone else, and are genuinely curious, but not condescending, regarding sign language and Deaf culture. Later, the Queen even inadvertently kicks April out of Wonderland because she didn't respond to the White Rabbit's conversation (she was turned away from him at the time, so she didn't even know he was talking to her). After the March Hare clears up the situation, the Queen apologizes and asks to learn sign language, too.
    • Another episode deconstructs the trope by addressing it directly. The Mad Hatter's cousin Hedda is coming to visit to show the Queen of Hearts some hats she's designed. Hedda uses a wheelchair, and the Hatter tells everyone ahead of time that the only thing she doesn't like are stairs; unfortunately, an error in communication makes the group think he said stares, so everyone refuses to even look at Hedda, which only serves to make her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Ultimately it's the Queen, in one of her Reasonable Authority Figure moments, who fixes the situation by treating Hedda like an equal and saying that she's more concerned about what she can do—namely, making hats—than her mobility. Like the April Hare episode, it also helps that the actress who plays Hedda, Christopher Templeton, actually used a wheelchair due to a childhood bout with polio that damaged her legs, so it's not an able-bodied person simply pretending.
  • Parodied on SCTV, where station manager Guy Cabellero uses a wheelchair simply to gain sympathy from the viewers (and possibly money to fund the titular station), though he is fully ambulatory.
  • Parodied in the second episode of Ramy, when Ramy and Steve's techbro ex-boss tells Steve (who has muscular dystrophy and requires a special wheelchair to get around) that when he looks at Steve, he is reminded that life could be so much worse.
  • Averted on The Incredible Dr. Pol. Real-life veterinarian Jan Pol is colorblind (apparently one of the more severe versions of red-green), and mentions this occasionally, usually when he needs help from a vet tech to interpret colors that have diagnostic implications (for example, test indicators that change colors). When his son Charles gets him a pair of (rather expensive) glasses that allow him to see a greater range of colors, he tries them out but quickly decides that using them he sees "too many" colors and that he is better off without them.

  • Several Christmas songs feature characters who are ridiculed or otherwise shunned because they're awkward, clumsy or have no apparent talents compared to others. However, they use their hidden or unique talents to save Christmas from a bleak fate (often foggy weather that prevents Santa and his reindeer team from making their journey):
    • "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", perhaps the most famous example. All of the other reindeer had made fun of Rudolph because of his red nose and leave him out of their activities, until the fateful foggy Christmas Eve wherein Santa Claus asks a downtrodden Rudolph to lead his team, because his shiny nose is useful as a foglight and can see through the fog.
    • "Ding-a-Ling the Christmas Bell", a Jerry Foster-Bill Rice composition, saw an anthropomorphic Christmas bell being shunned because he is off-key (thanks to an accident). Full of despair, Ding-a-Ling rings loudly when he discovers the sound of his bell can guide Santa and his team safely through a blinding Christmas Eve blizzard and to deliver all the toys. This became a huge holiday hit in 1971 by Lynn Anderson.
    • "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle", a Burt Bachrack-Hal David song, cries because he is unable to jingle loud and proud on Christmas Eve. Santa calls on Jack Frost to give him a new clapper, which allows the Bell That Couldn't Jingle to jingle all the way. Most famously recorded by Bobby Vinton (1964) and Herb Alpert (1970, one of his rare times he sang).
  • 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.
  • 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 killed the lover (in other versions the lover killed him, becoming Tommy's stepfather). 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. When people do look to him for inspiration, he tells them that unless they are willing to blind, deafen, and mute themselves, they will not be able to be like him, and they turn on him.
    • 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.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) 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.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Savagely parodied by the disabled stand-up Lee Ridley/Lost Voice Guy, who called his 2017 show Inspiration Porn.

    Video Games 
  • 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, Cazarosta, as a Deathborn, is unable to sense or manipulate the Bane. The social stigma attached to his 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.
  • The mythology of Six Ages Ride Like The Wind describes how Hippogriff/Gamari Horse-Mother eventually made peace with the brutal amputation of her wings. If she had never lost them, the history goes, she would never have realized that she was strong enough to succeed even without them.
  • Downplayed in Caves of Qud. Master gunsmith Sparafucile is mute, and he communicates with you primarily through gestures and charades. One of your dialogue options is to remark how inspiring it is that someone like him managed to become such a legendary tinker. Sparafucile is not flattered.

    Visual Novels 
  • Deconstructed in Astra's Garden. Vinegar needs to take medicine to keep her body from rotting to pieces, but the side effects are so awful that she feels too sick to do anything she likes. She is very open about how much pain she is in, and she hates it when people tell her to not give up on her life, because all it does is put needless pressure on her. Astra's brother Cassava had the same illness, and he was also told to stay strong and not give up. Cassava put on a happy face and started hiding how much pain he was in just to keep his family happy. When the pain got so bad that Cassava secretly stopped taking his medicine and allowed himself to die, his family felt betrayed.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Friendship is Witchcraft: The ninth episode, "Seed No Evil", features a Show Within a Show named Snowblind that parodies the Snowdrop (2013) animation. Snowdrop is not only not content with her lot in life as a blind filly constantly bullied by her classmates, but she also calls everyone out for seeing her as a "Christmas-special martyr" whose only purpose is to make them feel better about themselves just because she's blind. In other words, the aesop presented here is that even special treatment (which Snowdrop received in the original source) can be as disrespectful to the disabled as treating them cruelly.
    Snowblind: I don't want to accept the bad life I've been handed. From now on if I want something, I'm going to take it! I don't want to go to clown school, or end up as some lonely, middle-aged elementary school teacher; unfulfilled and wondering how I let my life get this way. I'm not some Christmas-special martyr, here to make you feel better about yourselves!
  • Homestar Runner: This is parodied 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.
  • Manga Soprano: Sae from the episode Because I was visually impaired,My mother said "You're a child I don't want." [sic] fits this trope to a T, as she can somehow make beautiful paintings despite being completely blind. The The original Japanese version has her refer to herself in the third person to emphasize her innocence, even to the point of adding the suffix -chan to it.
  • Snowdrop (2013): The titular character, Snowdrop, is an innocent, downtrodden, blind pegasus filly who sculpts snowflakes while trying to imagine what stars look like. On top of that, her conversation with her mother all but explicitly sends the message that being Inspirationally Disadvantaged is better than not having the disability in question.

  • Always Human: Austen's "Egan's Syndrome" makes her ineligible for the setting's ubiquitous Bio-Augmentation "mods", which are used for everything from healthcare to study to cosmetics. She hates this trope, explaining that it's a chronic condition that requires a lot of extra effort to manage and that she'd happily use mods if she could. Her relationship with Sunati has occasional hurdles when Sunati makes the mistake of exoticizing her.
  • 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. 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.

    Web Original 
  • The Onion has spoofed this.
  • The short story "The Power Chair Pole Vaulter from Paluga County" also subverts this trope pretty hard.
  • Seanbaby:
    • One of his older articles features a video by MUSIGN, a hearing-impaired dance troupe. According to him, the choreography is downright awful - whatever they were doing to stay in step with the music they couldn't hear, it wasn't working very well. At the end, he remarks that this trope is the only reason they had enjoyed any meaningful success, with their "inspirational" status letting them be held to much lower standards than dancers with normal hearing.
      Honestly, if six handicapped people got together, wheeled around lip-synching old Diff'rent Strokes episodes setting bags of shit on fire someone would praise it as brilliant.
    • Temptation Beach vs. a Book About Retarded People features the book Common Sense Not Needed by Corrie ten Boom, which discusses the author's experiences preaching Christianity to developmentally disabled people in Nazi-occupied Europe. The result is a mix of "Patronizing" and "Magical", with the "subnormal" people (as she calls them) being portrayed as beacons of Incorruptible Pure Pureness for parroting the Christian doctrine she had been preaching to them.
  • Snopes' Glurge Gallery includes a couple of stories starring Inspirationally Disadvantaged individuals. In each case, the article discusses why the story in question represents a seriously unhealthy attitude towards people with disabilities:
    • One of them features the 100-yard dash event at the Special Olympics, where one of the runners stumbles and falls, then the others stopped to help and all of them linked arms and walked to the finish line together. Unlike most of the Glurge Gallery, this one is partially true: there was a case in 1976 where one of the runners fell down, but only one or two of the others stopped to help as opposed to all of them.
    • Another one is about a boy with a learning disability who joins a baseball game and scores a winning home run... because the players on the opposing team went out of their way to let him get it.
  • Criticized in a Springhole article on offensive tropes (which calls it condescending) and another on sketchy spiritualities.
    It’s often been noted that the alleged signs of being an indigo child or starseed are very much in line with those of autism and ADHD. And as someone who has both, I find the idea that my sole purpose in life is to help the rest of the world get its act together so it can spiritually ascend to be highly offensive. I’m a human being. I have physical and mental disabilities. I have physical, psychological, and emotional needs that this society is not set up to meet. It shouldn’t be my job to make the rest of the world get its act together. I am not your sparkly space messiah.

    Web Videos 
  • The YouTube comedy show My Gimpy Life 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.

  • Sawtooth Waves: "The REAL Reason Scootaloo Can't Fly" speculates on how pegasus flight works and why it doesn't quite work for Scootaloo. The video then acknowledges Rainbow Dash's prosthetic wing from one of the alternate timelines of "A Cutie Re-Mark", then mentions that there was no evidence Scootaloo ever bothered to look into anything like that (showing the scene from "The Last Problem" with her as a teacher at the School of Friendship). Sawtooth then states that it was "inspiring" to see Scootaloo give up on her dream of flight without investigating potential solutions. They justify that by stating that "fancy workarounds aren't always possible". While that may be true with respect to people with disabilities in Real Life, it doesn't change the fact that:
    • For Scootaloo, some wort of workaround more likely than not WOULD be possible (Other episodes also showed off a hang glider, Tank's Magitek propeller, and two pedal-powered helicopters.)note 
    • Regardless of what remedies may or may not exist for someone's disability, calling them "inspiring" for leading a perfectly ordinary life is often regarded as patronizing (see trope description). Especially considering that Scootaloo's disability has relatively little impact on her day-to-day life — most of the other ponies in her home town can't fly either.
    • By most standards, "If you're faced with a Dream-Crushing Handicap, give up without even trying to find a solution" is not a particularly inspiring message to begin with.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • South Park:
    • Jimmy and Timmy have been used to both lampshade and subvert this trope in multiple episodes. Generally averted with the other kids, who treat both just like they would any other friends or classmates.
    • Parodied and deconstructed in "Conjoined Fetus Lady": 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 persuades the town to put on a week-long event to raise awareness of her condition. This culminates in an awards banquet featuring an "inspirational" movie about Gollum's life (mostly a series of photos clearly taken without her consent) and a parade for people with her condition (of which she is the only one in town) complete with dead fetus headbands for the audience! Nurse Gollum is clearly irritated at being singled out like that. The episode ends with her calling them out on their behavior, expplaining that she just wants to live her life and be treated like any other person, not be put on a pedestal, and she became a minor reoccurring character for a while.
  • Avoided with Garrett of Extreme Ghostbusters, who is 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 Boroughs), 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 in "The Sphinx" (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.
  • Family Guy:
    • Joe 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's infatuation with his classmate with Down Syndrome 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 has the condition herself), 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 intellectually disabled. 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. And when Peter finds himself in court after a failed scheme to get his kids back, this trope is referenced in a Bait-and-Switch Comment:
      Agent Jessup: Peter Griffin, you've inspired me... to distrust all mentally challenged parents!
    • Deconstructed in "Run, Chris, Run". Chris gets elected Homecoming King...but then finds out he was elected only because his classmates felt sorry for his mental problems. Chris is upset at his classmates for only caring about making themselves feel better and storms off.
  • 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.
  • King of the Hill.
    • Invoked in "Ceci N'est Pas Une 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 Hank is even less so, but her spirits get lifted at the end of the episode when a few people express honest love of her "pro-bots".
    • "Dia-Bill-Ic Shock" deals with Bill being told by a jerkass doctor that he will inevitably lose his legs due to diabetes. Misinterpreting the doctor's angry ranting, Bill obtains a wheelchair, starts using it (despite there being nothing wrong with his legs), and joins a handicapped rugby team. When Bill drunkenly stands up and begins to walk to the bathroom, he and his new friends discover that he can walk, and his diabetes had also gotten under control. Being branded as a fraud and no longer praised as an inspiration, he begins to scoop sugar into his mouth to regain his diabetes and restore the new life he had forged for himself. Hank and one of his rugby friends show up to stop him. Bill laments that he misses the attention he had gotten while using his wheelchair. Hank counters that Bill had cured himself of diabetes after his doctor had written him off as a lost cause — that what he had done was legitimately inspiring without having to be Inspirationally Disadvantaged.
  • 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 end of "The Washouts" bears a very close resemblance to the "Patronizing" flavor of Inspirationally Disadvantaged. First, Scootaloo reveals her motivation for joining the titular stunt team — she had accepted her limitations, and found the Washouts to be a satisfying second choice to following Rainbow Dash into the Wonderbolts, something that would make good use of her scooter skills and appeal to her adrenaline-junkie nature, but not require flight. Soon after that, when Lightning Dust nearly gets her killed, we've given the message that this was a BAD thing. The episode ends with Scootaloo getting her own fan club, despite not really having done anything particularly fan-club-worthy (in this episode or any other). This would imply that she shouldn't need the Wonderbolts or the Washouts to be happy - that she shouldn't bother trying to do anything noteworthy with her life, instead she should just be praised for whatever mundane things she's capable of and be satisfied with that.
  • Rocket Power has Reggie take this trope to extremes when she meets a girl her age with a fake leg and a passion for sports. She decides to write an article about her in a magazine and gleefully declares that she'll say that she's the best handicapped snowboarder ever. To which Sam replies "I think she'd rather be the best snowboarder period!". At the end of the episode, the girl takes offense when Reggie deliberately wipes out to let her win the snowboard race.
  • Parodied 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 no 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!".
  • The Wild Thornberrys has Eliza learn how annoying this trope can be. The episode in question has her meet a lively girl with Cerebral Palsy and a penchant for adventurous activities. Eliza is understandably worried that she might end up hurting herself and her efforts to accommodate the girl are marked by what she dubs the "I'm sorry you're disabled look." The episode culminates in the two having an argument about it and Eliza realizing that her efforts only made it seem like she couldn't see anything other than the girl's disability.
  • Futurama has Bender during the episode Bendin' In The Wind. After getting paralyzed from the neck down in a can opener accident, Bender joins Beck's band as a washboard and becomes a voice for broken and malfunctioning robots. His malfunction heals the night before a big charity concert and he accidentally reveals this in front of the entire crowd, causing his fanbase and Beck to turn against him.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Magical Differently Abled Person, Inspirationally Disabled, Inspiration Porn


Sam's Handicappable Song

Sam's song about disabled people basically boils down to this.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / InspirationallyDisadvantaged

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