Commentary Five Signs Your Story Is Ableist April 7th, 2017 by Chris Winkle Tiny Tim embodies the stereotype of the pitiable disabled person. If you write ableist stories, you are contributing to the systemic oppression of people with disabilities or diseases. Of course, you probably don’t mean to make their lives worse, but good intentions won’t erase the damage your story does. It’s up to all of us to review our work and make positive changes. You can start purging ableism from your work by looking for these widespread and damaging tropes. 1. Characters’ Bodies Are Used for Jokes In the 2017 show A Series of Unfortunate Events, a henchman is introduced who has hooks for hands. He’s an amusing character who lightens otherwise threatening scenes with humor. Unfortunately, part of the henchmen’s comedic routine is his disability. Viewers are intended to laugh at his awkward attempts to grab doorknobs, make phone calls, and handle a deck of cards. Similarly, popular stories still think it’s acceptable to mock people for being heavy. In the Netflix series Trollhunters, the main character is a slim high schooler. His best friend Toby is heavy, and the writers constantly use Toby for fat shaming intended as humor. For instance, after the hero and Toby hop on their bikes to ride away from danger, they naturally find an alley so narrow that Toby gets stuck trying to escape. Must I explain that mocking people because of their bodies is demeaning and disrespectful? This kind of mockery not only has a direct psychological effect on the people with those conditions but also encourages real-life harassment. Even without direct shaming, using characters with similar bodies for comic relief over and over again spreads the message that they exist to entertain able-bodied people. We’ve created a cultural climate where people with short stature or obesity feel pressured to be funny. Never forget that physical activity isn’t possible for some people with disabilities, and high body fat can be caused by numerous diseases. Fat shaming supports ableism. And even if that weren’t true, fat shaming still wouldn’t be okay. How to Fix It Look for any place where you’re using slapstick humor and make sure that slapstick isn’t generated through a character’s disabilities or impairments. Then, make some of your protagonists heavy, and don’t make them funny. Give them emotional depth and an important character arc. That doesn’t mean characters with disabilities can’t make jokes or others can’t make jokes about them, but those jokes shouldn’t be both at their expense and because of their disability. 2. Disability Is a Great Tragedy In the 2009 movie Avatar, Jake Sully is driven by his desire to cure his disability. He’s a paraplegic and dreams of having freedom of movement. Because Mr. Evil Military Man promises that he’ll “get his legs back,” Jake is persuaded to be a double agent against the people he cares about. Everything turns out okay though, because Team Good can also remove his disability. Jake’s new avatar form is big, strong, and able-bodied, and it’s continually contrasted with his small and weak paraplegic body. And Jake isn’t the only hero driven to get rid of a disability. In the 2016 Dr. Strange, the titular doctor is injured, resulting in shaky hands. He goes to the far side of the Earth in order to learn magic in hopes of putting his hands back the way they were. Heroes like Jake and Strange never actually adjust to their disability or accept it. For them, it is a sign of their inadequacy. The few characters with disabilities that are unquestionably permanent are usually designed to be objects of pity. Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol is a classic example. He doesn’t have his own personality. He exists to be an innocent and tragic figure, more like a lost kitten than a human being. Just imagine for a second that you were a bit short, or slightly tall, or had some other uncommon physical trait – which you almost certainly have. You go to the movies, and the threat of becoming like you is motivating the heroes to take terrible risks. The one character who is already like you is constantly bemoaning their state, relying on the charity of others, and being pitied by everyone. Some protagonists – such as the main character of the 2016 Me Before You – even choose to die rather than live as you live.* That is the reality for many people with disabilities. They’re just people living normal lives, and they’re doing fine. They aren’t brave fighters, or sources of inspiration about the human spirit, or woobies to be pitied. Turning their lives into a tragedy is an attack on their value as people. Don’t do it. How to Fix It There is a place for stories about people’s struggles with disabilities, but they are best left to those with direct experience. Otherwise, characters who have disabilities should have similar struggles to able-bodied characters; they shouldn’t be defined by their disability. Instead of using the threat or continuance of a disability as a stake in your story, look for another way to motivate your protagonist. Maybe they lose their career not because they gain a disability but because their reputation is ruined. Maybe instead of a cure, they want the money to buy their way out of an unhealthy situation. Whatever you were using to make their disability meaningful can still be used, just without the disability. 3. Disabilities Miraculously Disappear When John Locke wakes up in the first episode of the TV series Lost, he finds that, somehow, he doesn’t need his wheelchair anymore. In the Netflix Original The OA,* the series starts with a woman returning after a long disappearance. She was blind before, but now she can see. Time and time again, speculative fiction writers just can’t help converting characters with disabilities into able-bodied people. For your next trick, are you going to convert important characters of color into white people? In numerous shows from Star Trek to Supernatural, characters are given disabilities for an episode just to cure them before the finish. We see them grieving over how horrible it is to be disabled, but we rarely see them accept their disability and adapt to their new lifestyle. Of course, despite almost every disease being magically cured in Lost, the character with a heroin addiction is still an addict. If we admitted that addiction was a disease and not a personal failing, we wouldn’t be able to just throw addicts in jail anymore. Like other under-privileged groups, people who have disabilities get very little representation in our stories. So you might imagine how infuriating it is to watch the few characters with disabilities magically transform into able-bodied people. And in most cases, these characters have problems accepting their disability that are never addressed. What should be their character arc is completely abandoned in favor of just “fixing” them. How to Fix It Give some of your characters permanent disabilities. Start the story with them already well adapted to their disability. It can give them occasional trouble, but it shouldn’t be the focus of their character. If one of your characters acquires a disability during the story, they should keep it. Show them adapting to their new lifestyle, and then move on. Don’t make getting rid of their disability a plot point of any kind. 4. Mental Illness Is Threatening The TV series Gotham stars an impressive lineup of villains that rotate between being out on the streets and inside the infamous Arkham Asylum. This happens even though none of the villains appear to have an actual mental illness. In the city of Gotham, villainy and mental illness are considered interchangeable. And the DC universe is far from alone in using mental illness to explain away villainy or increase the threat factor its villains have. From American Psycho to The Ring to M. Night Shyamalan’s new atrocity Split, popular stories are teaching everyone that the mentally ill are violent and dangerous. Movie after movie, such as Twelve Monkeys, Gothika, and Shutter Island, feature protagonists who are packaged as neurotypical and then get stuck inside asylums. Once they’re inside, their fellow patients are just another part of the fear factor. Storytellers create a host of mentally ill characters just to put them on display in a fictional freak show. Then, despite showing how these asylums are full of rampant abuse, heroes who escape never wonder if they should free all of the genuinely ill patients who definitely aren’t getting better in there. The truth is that people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be physically abused by others – including the police – than they are to harm anyone else. Stereotypes associating mental illness with violence increase the chances that those with mental illnesses will become targets. Oh, and those asylums? Abuse still happens there. Unless you know what it’s like to live under the threat of being dragged away, locked up, and given shock therapy, think again before including scary asylums in your story. How to Fix It Break the stereotypes that link villainy with disability. Your villains can be weird or eccentric, but never frame them as “insane.” Watch out for body language or behaviors that would make them resemble people with a real condition. Then, provide some positive representation for people with mental illnesses. Give a protagonist a mental illnesses, but don’t use it to drive the plot. Just let it hinder them a little on the odd occasion. Characters with a mental illness should have a specific medical condition that you have researched and are depicting accurately. 5. Characters Fake Having a Disability In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Professor Quirrell is a shy, polite man who has a stutter. Only at the end of the book do readers learn that Quirrell’s disability was just an act he put on to make himself look innocent. And Professor Quirrell is far from alone. The famous surprise villain of The Usual Suspects pretends to have a limp. In Smallville, Lionel Luther pretends to be blind. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike pretends to need a wheelchair after he’s recovered. Then, twist! The person with the disability doesn’t actually have a disability; they are an able-bodied antagonist. Sometimes heroes even get in on the fakery, as with Daredevil in the Netflix TV series and Mei in the 2004 House of Flying Daggers. Yeah, I get it, characters pretending to be disabled provides the story with a shocking reveal. But first, keep in mind that this trick only works because of harmful stereotypes about people with disabilities. Audiences dismiss characters with disabilities as innocent and incapable of mischief, both of which are demeaning. This trope reinforces that pity stereotype by making the character able-bodied the moment they are revealed to be capable and possibly threatening. And when villains do have genuine disabilities, it’s usually done for some gruesome shock factor that is equally damaging. Able-bodied people continually dismiss real disabilities. They assume the people with disabilities they meet are just lazy or aren’t exerting enough willpower. It’s bad enough for people with clearly visible disabilities, much less the large number of people with disabilities that are invisible. You can’t tell by looking at a person whether they will need a wheelchair. Continually parading around characters that lie about having a disability makes audiences suspicious of real people with real medical conditions. How to Fix It Don’t let any of your characters lie about having a disability. They can lie about everything else, but the disability should be genuine. This goes beyond the technicalities – you could argue that Daredevil is actually blind, but he is clearly pretending to be more impaired than he is. It’s also important to remember that a character who lies about a disability is completely different from a character who sometimes needs assistance and sometimes doesn’t. In the Star Wars prequels, Yoda puts aside his cane, has a terrible CGI battle, and picks it back up again. It’s easy to conclude that he was using the force to assist his body and that he can’t do that all the time. Many real people can walk for short distances but not long ones or have symptoms that vary in intensity. By including characters who have intermittent symptoms and never sowing doubt about their truthfulness, you’ll help build a positive outlook in real life. Most of our popular stories have been created by able-bodied people with little regard to the messages they send about everyone else. Unfortunately, their bad habits are easily picked up by the rest of us. Defeating those harmful messages in your own work requires research, thought, and the willingness to re-examine the tropes you once admired. Need an editor? We’re at your service. Read more about Social Justice Comments Donistry April 7, 2017 at 5:52 am You seem to call out Dr. Strange for being ableist, but I would argue that Dr. Strange is a positive representation of disability by the criteria you set out. Yes, Dr. strange seeks out magic as a way to heal his broken hands when he first is injured, but I imagine many people who become disabled later in life are initially distressed by the situation, and wish to “fix” the problem. However, Dr. Strange accepts his disability over the course of the film. The Ancient One tells him he could use his magic to fix his hands, but would have to give up his spellcasting, and he decides to leave his hands injured so he can continue protecting the world against evil magic. Likewise, there is a character who is missing a hand that is shown as not being significantly impeded by that condition, despite magic being a seemingly hand-based art. I would argue the film strongly depicts anger or rejection of a disability as a negative trait, while acceptance of a disability is presented positively. Reply to Donistry Val Quainton April 7, 2017 at 3:01 pm Yes, that’s how I read the movie too. I was pleased it had, what I thought was, a disability-positive message. Having worked with a number of colleagues who acquired disabilities through accident or illness, this anger, denial, acceptance route appears to match with the descriptions I’ve heard. One thing that did surprise me was that some of them talked about a ‘lightswitch’ moment. Almost immediately after the accident or whatever caused the disability, they ‘knew’ something was immediately and permanently wrong (one person said ‘when I came to, my thoughts were really clear – I’ve broken my back. I’m not going to walk again. I’m disabled now.’) However, this acceptance of the *disability* itself is not the same as accepting the pain, physical limitations, social limitations, societal discrimination, medical treatment, job limitations and all the other things you have to work through and deal with because of your disability as you get on with your life. So yes, I agree with Chris – a good reason to include people with disabilities in your story is to show normal, everyday reality for a usually misrepresented section of our community. But I’d shy away from the emerging trope that’s overtaking some of the others – ie ‘well-adapted’ people live their lives as if their disability hardly affects them at all (or interrupts the plot). Seriously, if it takes a character three hours to get up and out the door every morning because this is as fast as it happens with every aid and gadget available to them – this will effect their time-keeping. If it takes them 10 minutes to get in or out of their large, adapted vehicle *every* time – this will have an impact on your plot. If they are in near-constant pain and have to rotate medications that have different side effects – this will impact on their moods and physical abilities. It’s not enough to throw in a token character with a disability only to have them behave like an able-bodied person. This just sets up more unrealistic expectations for people with disabilities to battle against. Like Chris said, don’t include a character unless you’re basing it on a real person’s lived experience – and there are plenty of people out there very willing to be heard and share their stories. Reply to Val Quainton Sam Beringer April 7, 2017 at 7:49 am Relating to #5, it also makes it harder for people who are “not disabled enough.” By which I mean people with disabilities who use aides, but many would consider that they’re not really disabled because it’s not to a certain degree. For example, there was a picture circulating twitter a few years back featuring a woman in a wheelchair getting up to grab a bottle of alcohol off a store shelf. Many people mocked her (including George Takei, which reduced his awesomeness in my book) and implied that she wasn’t really disabled because look! She can stand up on her own! Clearly she’s only using a wheelchair because she’s too lazy or is gaming the system! Except that it’s possible that, while she can walk, it’s incredibly difficult for her. Disabilities like muscular dystrophy or brittle bone disease can make walking hard or even painful to the point that using a wheelchair is faster and less taxing on the body. I’ve even heard from some people that they prefer wheelchairs to walkers because they’re easier to move around in. Adding to #1, I think if a character is joking about their own disability it’s fine. Like when Joker comments that it wouldn’t be a good idea for him to dance unless Shephard likes the sound of cracking bones or when Maysoon Zayid says she’s like Shakira meets Mohammad Ali in regards to her Cerebral Palsy. Also, I’d like to add to this list “Disabled Characters Who Inspire by Overcoming their Disability.” Which… you could include a lot of films featuring disabled or deformed characters. The late Stella Young made an excellent speech about why this is bad, but to sum up it paints disability as inherently miserable rather than limitations set up by society and implies that those with disabilities just need to be more positive (“No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever turned it into a ramp,” Stella notes). Reply to Sam Beringer Monstah April 7, 2017 at 7:53 am Hi, I’ve been following this blog only since recently; in the vein of the comment above (with which I fully agree), I also have some considerations: – You’ve conceded that Daredevil is actually blind, but that he’s still lying about being more disabled. I’d argue that revealing his ability, given his physically blind status, would reveal him to be super-human, which has in-universe consequences beyond social justice. There is justification for that character to keep a secret, since it’s an integral part of a superhero’s secret identity (and safety of his loved ones). – I’d argue against 12 Monkeys being on the list, too. For one thing, the depiction in the movie clearly points out that the patients are being mistreated, rather than glorifying the Asylum. Secondly, there’s nothing the protagonist can do to help them; both because it’s in the unchangeable past, and because he’s physically incapable of helping them in any way. Finally, the one character who is demonstrably insane turns out not to be the villain, who is in fact a well-educated man. I also don’t think speculative fiction fixing disabilities is inherently bad in general, tho it can be a misused trope. The comparison with changing a character’s colour lacks the implication that disabilities disable people; if your world’s technology can fix disabilities, wouldn’t it? Reply to Monstah Monstah April 7, 2017 at 7:54 am (“the comment above” actually refers to the first one, not the ninja above me) Reply to Monstah Nathaniel April 7, 2017 at 10:38 am “Don’t let any of your characters lie about having a disability.” I would push back on this one a little, as there are some narrative applications that don’t automatically make a negative statement about disability. For instance, an antihero lying about a disability for some kind of personal gain, only to discover that keeping up the act is a much different experience than expected, learning some valuable life lessons in the process (perhaps via other characters who actually have that particular disability). I agree that lying about having a disability should be AVOIDED, as there’s absolutely the potential to send a bad message, but I think a good and careful storyteller can incorporate historically problematic story elements in a way that doesn’t come off as harmful or thoughtless. Reply to Nathaniel Chris Winkle April 7, 2017 at 10:48 am Well most rules have exceptions, and I’m not going to say for certain that this rule doesn’t have any. However, I think even in the example you gave about an anti-hero, at best you could say that the story has positive messages that offset what are still harmful messages. Regardless of what the anti-hero learns after they decide to fake a disability, their choice to do so still inadvertently sends the message that faking disabilities is a thing that people commonly choose to do. It still makes people suspicious that those with disabilities could be faking it. If you have a character you want to teach these lessons to, why not just give them an actual disability? That way you are giving people with disabilities representation as well. Reply to Chris Winkle Oren Ashkenazi April 7, 2017 at 11:11 am At the very least, this is one of those things that should probably be avoided by able bodied storytellers. If there’s value to be find in it, it’s something writer with a disability should discover. Reply to Oren Ashkenazi SunlessNick April 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm Lost has an interesting case when it comes to mental health with Hurley, because at first glance he looks like one of those people who thinks they’re crazy because they have psychic abilities – seeing dead people in his case. However, part of the reason Hurley is so quick to put his visions down to mental illness is that he also has preexisting mental health issues that have nothing to do with that – depression and an eating disorder – which bug him to varying degrees through the course of the series. Meanwhile, the hospital where he spent time was competently run (very so indeed by the standards of TV), and it’s clear that Hurley benefited from being there. Reply to SunlessNick Bronze Dog April 8, 2017 at 7:06 am Thanks for this. I haven’t personally experienced it, but one thing my psychologist has been giving as a scenario multiple times is, “Aspergers, isn’t that what that kid who shot up that school had?” or the like. Doesn’t help that “autistic” is commonly used as synonymous with “stupid” online. So I’m glad there are people who address the myth that mental conditions imply violence. Reply to Bronze Dog Allie April 8, 2017 at 7:39 am I think Netflix’s 3% does a pretty good job avoiding these tropes–it kind of seems like they had them in mind while writing. There is a character who is paralyzed from the waist down due to an injury, but he is past the initial shock and has accepted his situation. He is very impatient and frustrated with people who pity him and assume he must be desperate to be ‘fixed’ with advanced medicine, as well as people who underestimate him. Reply to Allie Oren Ashkenazi April 8, 2017 at 11:53 am Editor’s Note: I removed a comment because it denied the existence of people who do not want a medical solution. We are happy for people to disagree with us, but we will not put people in a position where they need to defend their own existence. Reply to Oren Ashkenazi Bronze Dog April 8, 2017 at 12:29 pm Don’t know if this person had a specific category of disability in mind, but for a bit of my personal perspective: I’m fine with being autistic. It has its downsides, but it also has its perks. I’ve seen way too many anti-neurodiversity trolls who talk about people like me as soulless shells covering up the “real person” underneath. Reply to Bronze Dog Tony April 8, 2017 at 6:04 pm A few more examples that I thought of: For number one, my mind immediately went to Shrek. This is a movie about looking past physical appearances to see true beauty on the inside, so why all the short jokes about Lord Farquaad? And he went beyond just being on the short side — he appeared to have clinical dwarfism, which falls into the uncomfortable “Depraved Dwarf” trope (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DepravedDwarf). Yeah, I know it’s a cartoon, but in the musical, he’s literally played by a guy on his knees. For number three…Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka. Screen Junkies calls him a con artist, and considering that the promise of chocolate is enough to get him on his feet after twenty years of supposedly being bedridden, you kind of have to wonder. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d put Tiny Tim on this list. The tragic part wasn’t that he walked with crutches. The tragic part was that he was literally going to die if he didn’t get medicine. Reply to Tony Adam Thaxton April 8, 2017 at 7:09 pm For the longest time, I’ve been wanting to write a post-apocalyptic novella about a survivor crew of all people with disabilities and/or abnormalities, both physical and mental. Something about the nature of their conditions driving them to help one another – not that their conditions make them heroic, but that they’re the only ones who really GET that cooperation is the best survival tactic, and who really get each other. Not sure how I’d set up a conflict, though. Reply to Adam Thaxton Michael April 8, 2017 at 8:26 pm It certainly is over portrayed, but many people do want their conditions gone. Some even want to die. I have a mental illness, and I’d love if that went away. So it seems to be more the issue of being too ubiquitous. I definitely agree mental illness is stigmatized too much. However, it is important to note shock therapy is a legitimate treatment that can be beneficial. Reply to Michael PensiveFabulist April 9, 2017 at 6:34 am What do you think about characters like Long John Silver as representation for people with disabilities? On the one hand, he’s well adjusted to living without his leg, he’s a well-rounded character with his own drives and ambitions independent of his disability, and he’s charming and weirdly virtuous in his way. On the other hand, though, he’s a villain and the only character with a disability in the narrative. Plus he’s often considered one of the origins of the “Evil Cripple” trope. Would he be more acceptable if there were other characters with disabilities, or is giving your villains a disability something to avoid altogether? Does it make a difference if they’re an Anti-Villain or a Noble Demon or something like that? Reply to PensiveFabulist Chris Winkle April 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm Unfortunately I’m not familiar enough with Long John Silver to analyze him specifically. In general, you never want to make your villain a member of an underprivileged group unless 1) you also have a protagonist that represents that group and 2) the villain is not emphasizing a stereotype of that group. So if Long John Silver is following the “Evil Cripple” stereotype (or is the instigator of it), I wouldn’t do it even if one of the protagonists has a disability. But that doesn’t mean your villains should never have disabilities. For Anti-villains or what else, it’s the same deal, just to a slightly lesser degree. Reply to Chris Winkle Tony April 11, 2017 at 8:14 am Going off what you said, I feel like Darth Vader is a good example. He uses a mobile life support system and prosthetic limbs, but those are common in Star Wars. Luke himself gets fitted with a prosthetic hand, and Vader isn’t portrayed as a stereotypical “Evil Cripple,” since his cybernetic enhancements make him a physically formidable foe. Reply to Tony Katie April 22, 2017 at 1:25 am As I recall, Long John Silver wasn’t evil due to the loss of his leg. He was a hugely complex character who made certain characteristics iconic for pirates in literature (like the talking parrot and the “peg” leg, though he didn’t wear one). It’s sad that he was used as an excuse to vilify people with disabilities, because he was really not too different from Barbossa (Pirates of the Caribbean). He was a villain because he used Jim Hawkins as a means to get Flint’s treasure, not caring who he had to betray to achieve his goals. He also had redemptive qualities in that he became Jim Hawkin’s mentor and surrogate father figure, and the two actually parted on sort-of neutral terms (Jim forgave him and wished for him to have a peaceful retirement). His wife was of African descent (presumably one of the early interracial couples in literature?) and he was loyal to her, wanting to get Flint’s treasure so the two of them could retire in comfort rather than be parted while he worked dangerous jobs at sea. As a character he was actually a great example of someone who was well adapted to being alternately abled. He was described as “hopping around like a bird” (or something to that effect) with his crutch which he maneuvered very dexterously with, and throughout the story he was someone whose ability as a seaman was not to be questioned (missing leg or not). He was very nonchalant about explaining how he lost the leg, but because he’s so duplicitous you have to wonder if that’s how it really happened. Not once do I remember him being sorry for himself or whinging about his lost leg (though I think he played up the “crippled” bit if needed to put people off their guard). Personally, I love his character design because he was allowed to be a complex and capable person who just happened to have one leg. Reply to Katie Sam Victors April 12, 2017 at 9:16 pm In one of my story projects, there is a villain with a disability, but it has nothing to do with her villainy. The villain is from a fallen aristocratic family who have resorted to cannibalism, robbery, inbreeding, alcoholism and brutality. Their last living member is regionally known as the ‘Ogress’. Having no parental admiration of her own, she smothered her own children in order to receive great love and affection from them. But she is jealous of their growing individuation and plots to cannibalize them as a way of ‘returning’ them to her womb (she’s more or less a Jungian/Freudian Villain). Her kids runaway from her and go their separate ways, but one by one she hunts them down, but one daughter of hers finds herself an uncanny lookalike (the protagonist of the story) and so tricks her Mother believing the lookalike is her actual daughter. The Ogress crime is not her madness, but her refusal to let her kids grow up. She’s the Jungian archetype of the Terrible Mother. Also, there is another Mother (the protagonist’s mother to be precise) who also suffers from the same smothering behavior, and is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (the Ogress is her Shadow Self), but she grows as a character, accepts her daughter’s autonomy/individuation and rescues her daughter from the Ogress. Reply to Sam Victors C. R. Rowenson April 13, 2017 at 9:02 pm I’ve been following the blog for a little while now and I have to say, I love how you guys always include a “How to Fix It” section, especially with tough topics like this. I know finding a Sensetivity Reader is another way to go, if you can manage it. Are any of you familiar with Sand dan Glokta from The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie? How do you think he holds up as a disabled character? Reply to C. R. Rowenson Bryony April 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm Sensitivity readers are helpful, but screaning your own work first is going to be better all round. I’m autistic and I would be up for doing that for someone right up until the point where they had an obvious trope like the ones listed above and wouldn’t feel up to reading through it cause it would be too upsetting. Evidence of basic research into harmful portrayals and an effort to avoid them would be essential for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other people felt the same way. Reply to Bryony Suitable Quill April 21, 2017 at 12:44 am I actually very much identified with Dr. Stranger’s desperate search for a “fix”. I suffer from ADD, general anxiety and depression. I have come to accept these conditions, and their effects, because I must. That said, and acceptance aside, I would rather I were different and would not hesitate to be fixed if such were possible. Indeed, if I thought that an actual cure were possible, I would desperately pursue it myself. Reply to Suitable Quill Cay Reet April 21, 2017 at 3:44 am I think if you’re writing a character who just got a disability, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for them to try everything in order to get rid of it again and make everything the way it was before. If the story arc includes them eventually realizing that they will have to live with the disability in the future and adjust to it, it should still be a good story. Reply to Cay Reet William Andy Hainline April 30, 2017 at 1:55 pm While I agree with your points about villainy — I suffer from a mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type — I have a villain in one of my stories who is only half a villain; he suffers from multiple personality disorder and while one of his personalities is the story’s villain, the other personality is actually a decent person, albeit very eccentric. (His villainy doesn’t truly stem from his disorder itself; rather, it stems from the grief stemming from the traumatic event that preceded his breakdown earlier in life.) I also have a hero who is, like me, bipolar, and who is searching for a technological “cure” for his affliction (but who does not find one, and who eventually learns to accept himself for who he is, the way he is). I think this balances out. It’s been my experience, going through mental illness myself, that there are days when I would give anything just to be “normal” like everyone else, and it’s also been my experience, having a brother who suffers from full-blown schizophrenia, that we mentally ill folks can, when circumstances arise, be quiet villainous at times, even to those we love . . . even though we can do little to help it, and it’s not really our fault, in the end. That’s why I wrote the book I did, to show this struggle, and to hopefully get across that message. So I hope that eventually comes through. Maybe I succeed, maybe I don’t. But I do think these sorts of messages need to be taken into account as well when you’re talking about what messages a text sends. Reply to William Andy Hainline jkrm April 30, 2017 at 7:50 pm This is such a joke? Of course somebody would want to cure their disability? Especially if it is one they weren’t born with. I have tendonitis that I have to have surgery to fix, surgery that I don’t have the money for and thus can’t fix. I would give anything to get rid of it. I can’t imagine what it is like for people with an actual legit disability Somebody who was capable of moving around and doing things on their own is suddenly reduced to using a wheelchair or a walking stick etc Of course they wouldn’t feel like a whole person–they’ve lost something they thought was integral to themselves. When someone’s self-concept is changed they will do anything in their power to set that right. If you really want to nitpick about examples there was the grandpa in spy kids 3, come on guys that was low hanging fruit! Reply to jkrm SunlessNick April 30, 2017 at 10:41 pm Thing is it is actually true in the real world that not everyone wants their disability cured – or regards their condition as a disability in the first place, and thus “cured” as a meaningful concept. It *is* much more common for some than for others (far more people are ok with being deaf than blind or paraplegic, as far as I know). Reply to SunlessNick Lex W December 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm The only problem here is that Chris simply suggests that the only way to avoid curing a disability being ableist is to not do it. That seems, frankly, extremely weak and unrealistic, and a bit sad next to the more nuanced and thoughtful answers to other questions. I noticed in another article he labeled a story which included a character getting a disability cured as ableist as well, but without any context, it seemed like a rather unsupported claim. Personally I have two disabilities and would happily get rid of them, as one has upsides, but nowhere near the downsides, and the other is purely an unpleasant, declining condition. The idea that a show couldn’t portray disabilities like mine being cured without being ableist seems rather insulting and demeaning to me in some way I find hard to define. Reply to Lex W Chris Winkle December 14, 2017 at 2:39 pm There are some things we recommend against doing not because it’s impossible do to well, but because writers without personal experience rarely manage it while being respectful. If you have disabilities you can write about them however you want. If a TV show wants to feature a plot about overcoming a disability, then we think they need to put people with disabilities at the helm. I have a little more on that in #6 of this post: https://mythcreants.com/blog/six-tips-for-challenging-bigotry-with-your-work/ Reply to Chris Winkle SLA December 16, 2017 at 9:08 pm I have a “legit” disability. I use a wheelchair because of an accident years ago. If I could do anything about it would “fix” it. However…. I feel like a whole person. I’m not incomplete or broken or anything like that. I’m not “reduced” to using a wheelchair, I’m just using a wheelchair. I do move around and do things on my own, I just do it in a wheelchair instead of walking. There’s a lot of things where not walking just isn’t that big of a deal. I think it would be very difficult to write disabled characters well if you do not have a disability or at least do a lot of research instead of writing about how you think you’d feel if you were disabled. Reply to SLA SunlessNick April 30, 2017 at 10:50 pm I did find a good example of a falsely claimed disability in the series Pretty Little Liars. There was a character who was blind (actually blind), who received a transplant operation intended to cure it. She pretended the operation hadn’t worked when it (partially) had – but the reason for the pretence was that she’d seen something she wasn’t supposed to, but because the party she’d seen had thought she was blind, wasn’t concerned – and she was afraid that if it got out that she could see again, it could get her killed. (She was also right – it would have done). In the end, the cure was only temporary anyway. Reply to SunlessNick Vazak May 22, 2017 at 11:23 pm This was a good post, I recall reading a post written by someone with a disability about how to write jokes in regards to disabilities with the writer noting one joke they and apparently everyone they met with a prosthetic hand had made at some point was the “Can you give me a hand” (Passes the person their prosthetic) joke and citing it as an example of positive humor involving a disability. I think, though obviously cannot speak for others, its because of agency. Reply to Vazak Space Queen cherry puff July 26, 2017 at 4:24 pm What do you mean atrocity? Split got goo reviews, did you guys even see it? Reply to Space Queen cherry puff American Charioteer July 26, 2017 at 8:10 pm It was only entertaining if you could overlook the atrocious stereotypes it perpetuated about the mentally ill. Reviewers generally are uninterested in critically examining (or even mentioning) the assumptions underlying a work. The same goes for viewers. But not consciously recognizing a dangerous stereotype doesn’t mean it won’t reinforce your biases. And saying “it’s just a story/it’s just rhetoric” or otherwise pretending that an idea isn’t harmful doesn’t mean people won’t be hurt. [Goodwin’s Law alert!] We can’t use a work’s popularity to excuse its message, popularity may just show that a dangerous idea has reached dangerous levels of acceptance. Hitler’s speeches had raving reviews, and that is exactly what made them so dangerous. Reinforcing the idea that the mentally ill are violent isn’t as destructive as blaming the loss of a war on an ethnic minority. But the difference is a difference of degree, not of type. Reply to American Charioteer Leave a Comment Cancel Reply Name Email (will not be published) Send me an email alert for: Don't subscribe All Replies to my comments Message By submitting a comment, you confirm that you have read and agree to our comments policy.