Ortiz: Don’t use Kodi Lee as your inspiration porn

Kenia Ortiz

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

This summer on “America’s Got Talent,” 22-year-old Kodi Lee’s audition went viral. Kodi Lee received the golden buzzer from Gabrielle Union, which sent him to the live shows in Hollywood.

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Kodi Lee is blind and autistic, and both the judges and audience were taken aback when Lee both played the piano and sang “A Song for You” by Donny Hathaway.

I watched Lee’s audition and will say I was moved to tears. However, I have watched videos reacting to his performance where people are focusing on him being blind and autistic rather than on his talent. The words people are using to encompass his performance are “inspirational” and “shocking.” Even the title of his performance on YouTube reads, “Kodi Lee Wows You With A Historical Music Moment!”

In short, Lee’s performance is being used as inspiration porn.

It’s unfair that his talent is being overlooked. His audition went viral, not just because he has an amazing voice, but because he has an amazing voice and plays the piano despite his disabilities.

Inspiration porn is when the portrayal of people with disabilities is used for, or by, non-disabled people as a reminder to be grateful for not having a disability. Inspiration porn also focuses on seeing someone as inspirational simply because they exist despite their disability.

People with disabilities should not be objectified to make able-bodied people feel grateful. Their stories shouldn’t be used to give them a boost of motivation just because they see someone with a disability and think “that could have been me.”

Activist and comedian Stella Young addressed this issue in her TED Talk “Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability.”

“We have been sold the lie that disability is a bad thing and to live with a disability makes you exceptional,” Young said. “I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our names in the morning.”

Lee is not the only person whose performance has gone viral and been categorized as inspirational. Other performances include Mandy Harvey, Drew Lynch, Rion Page and Emmanuel Kelly.

All of these individuals are talented, whether that is as musicians, singers or comedians. Unfortunately, it’s their disabilities that people focus on, while their talent comes in second. 

I am not writing this to dismiss any challenges they have faced in their lives or to overlook their disabilities. What I want to say is that society should be celebrating their talent without focusing on their disabilities.

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I have a seizure disorder, which can be considered a disability, and I have gone through brain surgery. I have met people who say I inspire them. Some of them barely know me, but I’m immediately an inspiration to them. I know that they mean this as a compliment, and I appreciate that they recognize some challenges I’ve faced, but it’s unnecessary to hear how inspirational I am to them when I’m in line for Taco Bell and not doing anything inspirational — I’m just living.

People with disabilities should not be objectified to make able-bodied people feel grateful. Their stories shouldn’t be used to give them a boost of motivation just because they see someone with a disability and think “that could have been me.”

Disabled people are not just their disabilities — that is only a piece of their story. They shouldn’t be objectified to make non-disabled people feel grateful and motivated to go on with their life because someone they deem unluckier than them can too.

With that being said, I cannot wait to see Lee’s next performances, and I hope people appreciate him for more than his disabilities.

If you have any further questions, concerns or want to talk to someone, please feel free to contact the CSU Student Disability Center.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @Kenia_Ortiz_.