How many books can YOU think of with a disabled character? I’d love for you to drop me a message or a comment listing the characters and books you know of. I think it would be an interesting exercise for us all.
You see, if it’s true that art mirrors reality, then for every eight characters in the books we read, we should find one with a disability. Because that’s what the statistics from the World Health Organisation website tell us– 15% of the global population lives with a disability – https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/#content
I understand some of the reason’s writers may not include us.
- They don’t see us out there in the world
- They don’t want to offend us
- They don’t want to misrepresent us.
Sure, I recognise that it doesn’t appear that every eighth person we pass in the street has a disability so writers may not be aware of how many of us there truly are. Also, many disabilities are invisible – psycho-social, cognitive, reading, some hearing impairments, to list but a few – so perhaps it appears we are a smaller group than we are. Then, because unemployment figures for persons with disabilities are so high, people don’t see us in the workplace. And sadly, sometimes when people do see us, they see the disability first and ignore the person as an individual. Finally, if you don’t have contact with a person with a specific disability, it may be hard to know what we can do.
I also understand the other concerns I listed. People have often told me they are nervous about approaching someone with a disability in case they cause offense by saying or doing the wrong thing. That’s due largely to a general lack of awareness of how we accomplish the tasks we do, the technology that enables us to live mostly “normal” lives, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. And yes, we are often scathing in our responses when we see a fictional character with a disability who is poorly represented. Or when disability is represented as being an unendurable catastrophe that cannot be overcome.
I want to challenge my fellow authors to be more inclusive when creating characters. Here are a few guidelines:
- Your lead protagonist doesn’t have to be the one with a disability; it could be a supporting character – but let us be included in the world you’re creating.
- Do your research – There is so much information out there about the way we live our lives as persons
with disabilities, so research this as you would other aspects of your book. Or reach out to someone with the specific disability you’re trying to represent.
- Don’t be scared to ask for input – just as you have beta readers to give you feedback on your book, ask someone with a disability to do the same, preferably someone with the disability your character has; most of us are willing to help, I promise.
Books are by no means the only medium where we are under-represented. Movies and TV are much the same. I’m excited to notice an increase in the number of characters with disabilities over the past few years. But we’ve still a long way to go.
We’re by no means the only minority that face this situation – Recently I’ve seen articles from other minority groups and, in some cases, majority groups, who are not well represented in the publishing world and other media. It’s starting to shift, but I believe we need far greater diversity of voices amongst those writing books. Having said that, a note for other authors with a disability – don’t feel obliged to write only about disability issues – you should feel free to create whatever you want.
So, there it is: my challenge to authors writing fiction – help us feel more included and less invisible in the world you’re creating. Help us see the world we inhabit in the books we read. And help us feel that we’re part of society as we experience it in all ways.
Now, who’s going to start the list of books with characters with disabilities? I’d love to see how many I’ve already read and how many I still have to discover…
It was an extraordinary experience for me to be part of an international panel discussing empowering others through sharing your personal story for the Women in Publishing Online Summit taking place from 4 – 8 March. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to share with the other women authors I met on the panel and whose stories blew me away!
The Summit includes more than 70 women from all areas of the publishing industry – authors, editors, designers, publishers and marketers – sharing some of their best thoughts and ideas on creating and publishing a book. Whether you’re an aspiring author wanting to publish your first book or an experienced author wanting to learn more tricks of the trade, the WIP Summit is a great resource.
Here’s a link to get a free ticket to the event, which allows you to access the interviews for a few days from the start of the Summit: https://loisstrachan–writepublishsell.thrivecart.com/free–registration/
I registered for the WIP Summit last year and chose to upgrade to the All Access Pass (AAP) because I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch all the interviews and gain maximum value from what was being shared in the time the free ticket gave me access. It took me almost 9 months to work through them all. But that’s entirely up to you.
PS Yes, the link is an affiliate link – but I only get commission if you decide to upgrade to the AAP. Still I’d appreciate your using the link above if you want to attend so the organisers know I’m sharing the news of this great event.
Apart from shark diving and parachuting, I’m generally open to new experiences. So, when the Cape Town Chapter of the Professional Speakers Association asked me to participate in a panel discussion on the merits of traditional publishing versus self-publishing, I leapt at the chance. What made it even more exciting was that two of us would be in Cape Town and the third would join us via Skype from Johannesburg.
I admit it was a little disconcerting sitting there with a super-sized version of speaker/author Douglas Kruger dominating the massive screen beside author/trainer Jill Ritchie and myself but it certainly didn’t impede the discussion in any way.
I’ve always believed that my decision to self-publish was the right one for me, but was fascinated to hear what Jill and Douglas had to say about their own experiences in both worlds. I found the open and honest discussion informative and thought-provoking as did the audience, based on the diverse questions they asked. I certainly learned a lot from the input given by Jill and Douglas, and hope that others did too.
Not only did I get a new experience but I also gained valuable information that’ll help me in the future. And once again I was reminded why I gain so much value from being a member of the Professional Speakers Association!
So, while I came away with my belief that self-publishing was the right decision for my current books, perhaps next time I’ll think differently! Who knows?