I was reading a MG fantasy novel last weekend which I quite enjoyed. It had nice solid worldbuilding, a dynamic and resourceful MC, an interesting cast of supporting characters, and the stakes and dangers were high enough to keep the tension going. I was quite impressed with it overall, and became even more so when a new character appeared on the scene who had a disability and used a wheelchair.

Huzzah, I thought to myself. Well done, author! This lady is attractive, likable, vibrant, talented, holds a position of authority and respect, and even turns out to be the love interest of my favorite supporting character in the book! I look forward to getting to know her and seeing more of the two of them together, and watching this romance continue to develop.


And this is where things started to go downhill... )

Please, let's stop writing characters with disabilities as though they're all doomed to suffer nobly and die tragically, unable to marry or have families. That's what Madeline L'Engle did with the character of Matthew Maddox in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and though I greatly respect L'Engle as an author, it angered and frustrated me that she would treat my favorite character in the whole book that way.

Let's also stop using disability as a metaphor for ugliness and deformity of spirit -- I could write a whole rant about the handling of Dean Priest in L.M. Montgomery's Emily books, but of course there are even more obvious ones like Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

Let's stop "rewarding" protagonists who have disabilities by having them magically cured once their quest is achieved* -- thus sending the message that those who have not experienced such a magical cure are inferior and unworthy, or have not yet experienced some needed epiphany in life. Kitkryan's post Dear Author, Please Don't Heal Me shows the response of one reader with a disability to a recent and popular YA novel in which a magical healing takes place, and it makes this point far better than I could.

And let's also try to steer our way between the Scylla of the angry, bitter person with a disability who has to be helped out of it by someone who is not disabled** and the Charybdis of the saintly, sunny person with a disability who acts as an Inspiration To Us All.

There are of course some wonderful exceptions out there -- characters with disabilities who learn to work with and around them to accomplish meaningful things; who experience natural disappointment, grief and even depression over their disability at times but manage to get past it without turning into marble saints; who love and are loved (romantically and sexually, even!); who play sports and drive vehicles and fight for accessibility and do all the things that real people with disabilities do every day. But there need to be more such characters.

And there need to be a lot fewer characters like the one I encountered in the book I read this weekend, who seem to exist only as props to be used to arouse the reader's and their fellow characters' pity before being tossed away.


I welcome your comments on this subject, especially from readers with experience of disability. I'd be particularly interested to hear what books you've read that contained good, well-rounded, interesting, dynamic portrayals of characters with disabilities. Tell me a little about the characters involved, and let me know why they are great!

* I have made this careless mistake myself, in a fanfic where I allowed my heroine to be (magically) cured of her (magically induced) blindness. I regret it, and would write those stories differently now.

** I've done this too to some extent in Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, though I hope that it does not come across quite as one-sided and obnoxious as that. And I hope that future developments with that character also helped to mitigate it. But I am willing to be called out and corrected on this point by those with personal experience of disability, and to learn to do better in future.


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