Disability Need Not Disable Characters

Writing about disabled people can be tricky for some.  I partly blame Tiny Tim for this as he made all disabled people out to be angelic martyrs.  We're not.  The other type I see most often is the angry disabled person who has a chip on his/her shoulder so large, he/she should pop out all wheelchair tires and sink through the ground.  We're not all angry, either.

Some people want to tackle the issues surrounding disability in their fiction.  I see this as a great thing.  I don't feel you should BE disabled to write about disabled people.  But I think people's perceptions are often guided by what they see and, even with research, it can creep up on otherwise objective writing.

There are SOME disabled people who hate God, the world, family members, and their cat because they lack the ability to walk, see, hear, etc.  There are SOME disabled people who could give Mother Teresa lessons in humility and service to mankind.  But the vast majority of those in existence are normal people with unique challenges.

Disabled people have every emotion "normal" people do.  They want families and jobs and lives.  They strive to realize dreams and minimize shortcomings.  They get caught up in dramas, scandals, and everything else.  Acknowledging the limitations of your protagonist and what makes his/her life harder than his/her non-disabled best friend will make your prose richer and truer to life but focusing ONLY on the hardships will turn your character into a plot device and not a person. Would you want to be the plot device, or the star?

Oh, and just letting you know, disabled people have sex.  It may come as a shock but it's the truth.

*Photo: Tom Magliery


  1. I think, whether disabled or not, we write the character as a person. Period. If they have a chip on their shoulder, if they hate God, if they are too loving - as long as we don't stereotype our characters, we're ok.

  2. Ha. 'Disabled people have sex'. :)

    I think this is so well said my dear. Write them as a PERSON with a disability. Just like you write a PERSON with any other hardship, trait, whatever.

  3. Very nice post! I have a friend who is diabled. It's nice to to see a reminder that disabled people are no different than the rest of us.