The first month of WriteDis has come to an end and before I write about what I’ve learned from it, I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported WriteDis. The biggest thank you goes to all the disabled people who used some of their spoons to take part and to everyone who promoted WriteDis.
It’s been an educational month for me and I’ve learned a lot from all the disabled people who took part. The message that’s come out loudest is that the book industry is not accessible. It’s not accessible to disabled writers and it’s not accessible to disabled readers. Ableist writing advice is all too prevalent in the writing community, with people being told that they must write every day to be successful writers, an expectation that is just not realistic for many disabled people. Some participants said that their impairments often prevented them from writing or caused difficulties with writing. Furthermore, the expectations placed on many published writers may not be possible for disabled people who may not be able to write as quickly as other writers or fulfil other ableist expectations.
In terms of making books more accessible to disabled readers, one thing that was pointed out what that accessibility needs of different people may be incompatible so multiple formats are necessary. While large print might be welcomed by some disabled readers, others would struggle with the book being heavier. Audio books and Braille are also important and trigger warnings can make books more accessible to some mentally ill people. Thought also needs to be given to the colour of the paper that books are printed on and the fonts that are used.
Almost every disabled writer who took part said that we need more representation of disabled people and that representation needed to be better. People highlighted the need to avoid cliches and stereotypes and that writers need to avoid further stigmatising disabled people and be aware of their own prejudices when writing disabled characters. Research was thought to be key, although some people thought that only disabled people should write disabled characters. An important acknowledgement was that experiences of the same disability can be diverse and that books should reflect this, with no disabled person’s experience of disability being wrong.
The key things that I took away from March’s WriteDis were:
- We need more disabled characters in fiction and the representation that we do have needs to be better.
- Harmful tropes like miracle cures and supercrips, should be avoided.
- Abled people need to listen to disabled people when it come to disability.
- If publishers and agents want more disabled people to publish books, they need to adjust their ableist expectations of what writers can achieve and in what timescales.
- Organisers of writing events need to do more to make their events more accessible.
- Beta readers and sensitivity readers are incredibly valuable and should be utilised.
Please check out #WriteDis on Twitter to see what people had to say about writing and disability. And follow @WriteDis to see what discussions we have coming up in March!