Los Angeles, California, May 30 – On the season premiere of America’s Got Talent, a 22-year-old blind autistic man sang for the judges and earned the golden buzzer, advancing straight to the live shows. Kodi Lee’s voice and piano skills were exceptional, and it is wonderful to see people with disabilities succeed and be represented on reality television. But unfortunately, the way America’s Got Talent portrayed Lee could have been better.
It is clear that Lee deserves the golden buzzer due to his singing and piano-playing abilities. However, all too often people with disabilities are made to be inspirational characters simply for having a disability, falling into the trap of “inspiration porn,” which assumes that disability itself is so terrible that the mere act of living a normal life with a disability is inspirational. Like anything that turns another human being into a simplified foil or object of pity, the ultimate result is to deny the complex humanity of the person with a disability.
The original title that America’s Got Talent used for the was “Kodi Lee Defeats Autism And Blindness With Music.” This title was problematic, to say the least. It implied that autism and blindness are burdens that need to be overcome. Disability is not a burden, rather, the societal obstacles that people with disabilities face are burdensome. Thankfully, the title was changed on YouTube to “Kodi Lee Wows You With A Historical Music Moment!” This puts the focus back on his talent. [continue reading…]