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The Internet has been doing a happy dance for Bethany Hamilton, the champion surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack at age 13, but maybe for the wrong reasons.

Ellen Seidman
February 11, 2015

The Internet has been doing a happy dance for Bethany Hamilton, 25, who just announced she's 22 weeks pregnant. She and husband Adam Driks posted a cute YouTube video and Instagram post. The video showed her and Adam surfing, as she's done since she first found out she was pregnant. Commenters congratulated her, noting what an inspiration she is. Which is when I started thinking, Please, world, let's not be inspired because she's a person with disability who's pregnant.

For sure, this is headline news because Hamilton is a champion surfer who's appeared on The Amazing Race; at age 13, she lost her left arm to a shark attack, a story told in the 2011 film Soul Surfer. It's great to share the bliss of a young couple pregnant with their first child. It's also impressive to see how active Hamilton has stayed during her pregnancy, an excuse some of us (and by that I mean, "me") have used for lounging around. (People have also wondered whether it's safe to surf during pregnancy but I'm going to assume her doctor sanctioned it.)

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Still, when we make a big deal about people with disability doing ordinary things like having a baby, or consider it "inspiring," it essentially demeans them because it means we assume a basis of incapability. I've seen this happen with my 12-year-old, Max, who has cerebral palsy. People have been astounded by everything from the fact that he gets knock-knock jokes to his ability to use an iPad. The thing is, Max has CP, but it's just one part of who he is, not all of him.

Disability advocate and comedian Stella Young, who passed away in December, coined the term "inspiration porn" to describe kudos given to those with disabilities, props that assume that people with disability have it so much worse than the rest of us. It's also self-serving, Young noted, in that it makes people feel good about their own worries—as in, if that person who's disabled can keep on smiling, so can I!

Yet people with disabilities tend to consider them a fundamental part of their identities, as I've come to understand from the ones I've met after I had my son. Like them, Max takes the challenges his CP poses in stride, doing his best to work around them and asking for help as necessary. He doesn't pity himself. He doesn't consider himself lacking.

Neither does Bethany Hamilton, who noted in the YouTube video, "I often forget that I have one arm." Yes, she'll have to figure out how to navigate motherhood. "When I think about it, a squirming baby and changing the diaper…could be really challenging," she acknowledged. But people with disabilities possess plenty of abilities, as Hamilton has shown the world, and as my son shows me daily. As she said, "I think how I live life now, I just adjust and adapt to different things…I'll just have to find my own way to take care of the baby."

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