A Special College Acceptance


Have you seen this video?



It's had over a million hits and is being touted all over the internet as “heart-warming.”



Now watch this video. Does it evoke the same emotions for you as the first? It hasn’t gotten anywhere near a million views.
What’s the difference between these two videos other than the fact that one has been viewed over a million times?

I worry that what made the first video so popular is the surprise many viewers feel as a young man with Down Syndrome learns he has been accepted to college. I worry that this video is "heartwarming" because it portrays the unexpected.  

I've watched it, a few times, and I do think it’s delightful; but then again, I get choked up any time I see a college acceptance video. And I am not the only one. This was the premise used to create a 2012 Target commercial. And I can admit it; I tear up every time I see it.


But I also care deeply about inclusion. So I worry that the video of Rion’s college acceptance undermines efforts toward the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities and perpetuates the notion that it is the rare individual with Down Syndrome who gets accepted to college. I know this was not his parents’ intent. Like all parents, they took video of a special moment in their son’s life, beaming with pride at all he has accomplished. As well they should have.

And yet I can’t help but feel wary.

My opinions are echoed in a thought-provoking article called Inspiration Is Not Inclusion. And while the particular video I’m discussing here does not pair the image of Rion Holcombe with an inspirational quote or message, I fear that it may have the potential to become, as the author suggests, “inspiration porn”. Do you agree?

Ask yourself the hard questions. Why were you touched by Rion’s video? What do you really believe about individuals with Down Syndrome or other disabilities?

Most importantly, what are you going to do about it?


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A version of this post originally ran on Think Inclusive
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