There’s a problem with disabled characters in fiction.
The problem is that we rarely see them and when we do the portrayal is often harmful and stereotypical. I think that representation of disabled people is important. I think it’s important for us to be able to read characters who are like us and I think it’s important for non-disabled people to see disabled people in all forms of media. I want disabled people to be represented in all books, television shows, and films. I don’t want disabled characters to be something only written by disabled people. However, sometimes harmful representation can be worse than no representation at all. If we believed what we read in fiction, all mentally ill people would be violent criminals, autistic people would all be geniuses, disabled people would all be asexual and all want cures for their impairments.
The problem isn’t that these characters exist, the problem is that they seem to be the only representation of disabled people.
Some disabled people want cures, some autistic people are extremely intelligent, and some disabled people are asexual. They should be represented in fiction. The problem is that they seem to dominate all stories about disabled people and it gives people the idea that this is how all disabled people are.
On 1 March 2017 WriteDis begins.
It’s a month long writing event that aims to bring together disabled and non-disabled writers who write or are interested in writing disabled characters. It will take place on Twitter and will involve a question being asked every day. Participants can then tweet their answer with the hashtag so that others can find it. I want
WriteDis to be an opportunity for us to discuss the portrayal of disabled people in fiction, to explore ways that we can support disabled writers, and help us all to become better writers.
Disabled people should be in everything. We’re 15% of the world’s population (higher in some countries, including both the UK and US). Disabled people exist in every community and every culture, we live in every country. We are every ethnicity, gender (or no gender), sexual orientation, and age. Whatever you are writing, there’s no reason not to have disabled characters.
If you aren’t disabled (or don’t have the same impairments as your characters), writing disability can present challenges. It’s easy to forget that your character has a walking stick that she needs at all times or to send your character to a famous landmark, only to realise that it’s not accessible (yes, these are mistakes I’ve made). Sometimes we use harmful language that’s in common use without realising that it’s offensive, this is true of writers who don’t write disabled characters too. Sometimes we write harmful stereotypes without realising it. I hope that WriteDis will provide a forum for us to discuss how to write good, realistic representations of disabled people and that we will all be able to learn from each other to help us become better writers.
WriteDis isn’t just about writing disabled characters, it’s also about supporting disabled writers. Disabled writers can face all kinds of barriers in the industry and the writing community. I hope that WriteDis will give us the opportunity to talk about ableism within the writing community and the industry in a constructive and supportive way. Some disabled people face more barriers than others, either because of their specific impairment or because they also have other marginalised identities, and I think it’s important for us to support all disabled writers. WriteDis is an intersectional, inclusive event.
If you are a writer I hope that you will join us on 1 March (or drop by at any time during the month). This is an event for all people who believe that good representation of disabled people is important.
For more details please follow @WriteDis on Twitter or go to www.brookewinters.com.
I hope to see you on 1 March!