I’m thinking about…

I'm thinking about identity issues and fiction again, and specifically about disability issues, because Haddayr's recent radio piece was so moving, and also reminded me of the power of visibility.

My YA novel has both men and women. It has queer folk. No transgender ones yet -- hmm. It might have poly at some point in the series, though at least right now, not yet in the first book. It might not. It has a lot of brown people, mostly S. Asian-ish, one Hispanic. Umm...I don't think it has any white people -- huh, I hadn't even realized that. Funny.

It has people of various ages, from a ten-year-old to old folks (70-ish?). It has one severely disabled character -- but he's so disabled that I'm not sure how much he even counts as a character; he's very old, and almost-unconscious most of the time. Very rarely lucid. So far, he hasn't said or done anything, other than lie there.

I have one young person who gets injured, but she'll recover from that, and relatively quickly. I have one older woman who uses a cane to get around. She's slow, but otherwise, not particularly disabled.

I think that's it. I think I'm a little scared to take on disabilities in my characters. I admire the way Bujold handles those issues so much; I wish I could do it with as much ease. But I feel ignorant. I have a few friends with mobility issues, and I know a few people whose kids have...umm...I'm not even sure what the right term is. Cognitive issues? They're not neurotypical.

I went on a few dates with a guy back in Philly who used a wheelchair, but mostly I remember how snarky he was (in a good way), not much in the way of facts or details about how he handled his disability. I sat on his lap to kiss him. And I was a little squicked (but also fascinated) when he showed me the bag he urinated in; it was attached to a tube that went up his pants leg. We didn't get far enough into dating for me to learn a lot more about the physical side of things. I don't even remember his name, which is a shame. I'd like to remember the names of the people I kiss.

I'm sliding off-topic here. The point is, while I really appreciate disabled characters in fiction (love Auggie, the smart, snarky blind CIA agent on the new show Covert Affairs, for example, and Alison's autistic child in Eureka), I think I'm nervous about writing a character who's blind, or deaf, or otherwise disabled. Physically or mentally. Is it just me? Writers reading this -- do you write any disabled characters? Do you think you should?

I think I should get over my issues and just write some.

6 thoughts on “I’m thinking about…”

  1. People with disabilities are people, first and foremost. I am not defined by being deaf. My aunt Margaret, who was mentally retarded (or whatever the new term is for that) was an amazing woman, who loved to paint, to eat, to live. She knew how to get places, literally, if you asked her how to get to a certain place she would give you directions, give you the shortcuts….it was amazing. My only advice is to make them whole people, not define them by their disability.

  2. Book II protagonist is disabled. It’s part of the story. I hadn’t really thought of her that way until just now, though. That’s how much it was part of the story.

  3. Lori, that’s interesting! It’s funny when that kind of thing sneaks up on you. 🙂

    Catherine, I actually forgot that you had hearing issues; now that I’m reminded, I remember you wore a hearing aid in high school, yes? Is your hearing status the same now? I wouldn’t have thought of you as deaf then…but perhaps the term is used more widely than I think?

  4. Last night and this morning I was thinking about disability in Paksenarrion; then I saw Haddayr’s piece about disability; then your entry here; then tonight I happened across an episode of Without a Trace featuring a blind teen; then I decided to take a look at Covert Affairs (because of your recommendation), and was surprised that the tech guy was blind.

    Which leads me to the point of my comment here: happened across an interesting post on disabledfeminists.com about Auggie on Covert Affairs, and thought you might find it interesting too. (There’s further discussion in comments on that page, including some rather unfortunate disability bingo comments.)

    (Side note: I’m really liking Auggie as a character, and this actor’s portrayal of him, but I couldn’t help noticing that in both of the series I saw episodes of tonight, they had a sighted actor playing the blind characters. There was a second (minor) blind character on the Without a Trace episode, though, and I forgot to check whether he was sighted or not.)

  5. I have partial deafness, I’m not completely deaf. The term is actually more flexible than people realise. Most people don’t realise it until/unless they focus on the hearingaids, but that is because I’ve been mainstreamed my entire life. Learning to sing is actually an interesting thing because its helped my speech as well. But the funny thing is that initially I kept trying to ‘lip-read’ the piano keys.

    And yes, I will always have hearing issues. I was born without eardrums or ear canals, they tried doing surgery in one ear, but there was too much scar tissue for it to be successful.

    There’s a whole rant I could go into about the current state of hearing tech, but I’ll spare you 🙂

    In terms of disability and actors and current shows, what about Glee? The kid in the wheelchair is actually portrayed by a mobile actor, but there is also the young lady, and Sue’s sister…

  6. If there is an important issue about physically/mentally challenged characters in a series, it is the emphasis on what they CAN do. “Army Wives” has dealt with issues relating to returning soldiers with PTSD and physical disabilities.
    The Today show last week featured a young man fitted with a new neuro/servo mechanism forearm with hand that allowed him to grasp and lift a glass to his lips for a drink. A wonderful scientific advance.

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