Don’t you just love it when you wake up at 5 AM with an idea for a blog post and can’t sleep because you’re too busy planning it out? Me too. So disability rep! The late great disappointment of modern media. Most of the time it makes me want to defenestrate things. We’re underrepresented and misrepresented and the victims of lazy writing most of the time. “We?” you ask. “Why we?” Good question. I’m autistic.
But we’re not here to talk about me! These is a condensed list (we don’t want to be here all day) of what I want to say to anyone writing a disabled character. Important thingy #1: most of my experience is with developmental, not physical, disabilities. I don’t know how much this affects my view on this, but let’s be honest it probably does. I’m also not an expert of anything but my own autism. Important thingy #2: please don’t picture me as angry as you’re reading this. I’m passionate, not angry. Ok I might be a little angry but not at you, if that makes sense.
- Do your research. C’mon, guys, we’re authors, we google all sorts of questionable things. Looking up “symptoms of ADHD” is not hard. Or really questionable, when compared to the other things authors google. (e.i. most deadly flowers, how to weaponize flower poison, why is the FBI here…) And yes, you should still research even if someone you know has that disability. Especially if someone you know has that disability, I might add. Don’t be a smarty-pants about it. And if your friend is willing to talk about their disability in regards to your book, you are so blessed, my friend. You’ve got someone on the inside!
- If the character’s sole personality trait is their disability, that’s No BuenoTM. There’s a difference between “I have dyslexia” and “I am the living embodiment of dyslexia and nothing else really defines me.” Yes, peoples’ identities are often deeply intertwined with their disabilities, and not necessarily in a bad way. But it isn’t all we are. Your character can’t be a cardboard cutout labeled “dyslexia.” They’ve got to have interests and a personality, just like any other character.
- If you could take away the disability and nothing about the story would change, that’s also No BuenoTM. For example, I’ve been watching the new season of Doctor Who. That’s its own rant in and of itself, but, in the first episode it is mentioned one of the characters has dyspraxia. I was practically dancing in my seat. “Yes! Disability rep in a pretty popular tv show! Maybe there is a chance after all!” Hahahaha look at my naïve past self. She’s adorable. Yes, they said he has dyspraxia, but it never stopped him from doing anything (except riding a bike in the first episode), came up in situations where it should have, or affected him in any way. They did lip service to the disabled community and then left it at that. That’s lazy writing, and insulting to the people who struggle with a disability the author brushes off.
- Never make the disabled person the burden. Alright, I’m praying here that I can say this in love, because this a tricky topic, and one I feel really strongly about. Okay. Deep breath. Please don’t take anything I say as minimizing the work caretakers do for their loved ones. I respect them. But…
They are not the one with the disability. And the person who is should not be demonized or shamed for who they are because they are an “inconvenience” or a “burden.” We are humans. And, trust me, the meaner parts of our brains have already told us we’re a burden. We don’t need a book reinforcing those lies.
Don’t turn the disabled character into the villain. Unless of course you have a villain with a disability, which has its pros and cons but WE’RE GETTING SIDETRACKED. And don’t forget, they’re the one most effected by their own disability. This should be obvious. They are not an excuse for the people around them to mope and throw spontaneous pity parties for themselves.
- Accessibility problems and ableism. They’re out there, by gummy! The world (especially academic environments unfortunately) is not always friendly or willing to make necessary accommodations. And guess what, people are always ready to judge. Casual ableism is awful, because people get all mad when you don’t go along with it. “Oh c’mon m8 it’s just a joke!” But! It’s not all sadness and lukewarm tea. The people out there willing to listen and help are amazingable. If your character has real friends, they’ll have their back. Your character gets to deal with both the good and the bad.
- Lastly, about fantasy worlds. Disabilities, especially learning/developmental disabilities, are soooo underrepresented in the fantasy genre it’s sad. I’ve noticed a few amputee warriors, which is GREAT, but where are my fae with Tourette’s? My dyslexic fauns? My druids with Down’s syndrome? Growing up, I would have been absolutely ecstatic to see people like me in the genre I read. So if you want to have an inclusive fantasy world, go ahead, please do. And have fun with it! The world building around the magical disabled community has the potential to be so cool.
(Bonus rant) If you make a disability the butt of a joke I will find you and I will hit you with a soup ladle. That is all.
9 thoughts on “Disability representation: it needs fixin’”
This is a beautiful post. I love it.
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GUYS LOOK ME MUM COMMENTED ON ME POST. YaaaaaaY. Thanks Mom!
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Yay! Congratulations!! 🎊🎉 😂
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That’s wonderful! Congratulations! *throws you bunches of feathers* 😸
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I have a sibling with a disability so I really appreciate this post. Some people just don’t understand and it makes me so sad.
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Great post! Really helped me, because I’m thinking about writing something with a character with a disability some time in the future.
That’s awesome! Hit me up if you want any resources. 🙂
Wow. This is SUCH a cool post. I actually have ADHD, and it’s represented so badly. Like, if I told someone about it, they’d hug me and say “I’M SO SORRY”. And I was just… So confused.