Curse My Wheels! I’ll Just Go On A Journey To Fix Myself
I was suffering from the curse of a blinking cursor while trying to write a story for a contest designed to celebrate people with disabilities who write fantasy. I was even excited to see that the characters did not necessarily have to have a disability themselves, just the author of the piece. I shot down every inkling of an idea I had and blamed it on the fact that I’ve watched Arrow on Netflix as if I had just gotten hired by the CW network, and my first episode is due next week. Sadly, I just thought the story was interesting, and Stephen Amell was attractive. I decided instead of being upset that my characters didn’t want to talk to me that I should read a book to see if I could spark some original ideas. The book I was reading happened to have a character who had a traumatic injury, now the character has to use a wheelchair, and he hates it.
I know such a life change would be an adjustment for anyone, and I empathize with that character. My issue was that the character is traveling with their love interest to gain allies for an ongoing war and to look for healers to fix his legs so that he may be able to walk again. I get it. He used to being more physical. They used to fight, protect others from harm, and now they sit in a chair that squeaks because the wheels are worn down.
I was annoyed, but I’m going to keep reading because it’s the second to last book in the series, and I love the series so far. I went through a period of time with my own disability where I was depressed because I wasn’t able to be as independent as I used to be in the past. I stopped reading and writing outside of the bare minimum I needed to do in order to graduate. Then a friend needed someone to talk about a series that no one else they knew had read, and I agreed to read it for them. The book reminded me of what I loved about reading, provided me with an escape from my own problems, and made me want to write again so I could do that for someone else one day. The series will always be special to me for that reason, and I will finish it. My annoyance with the character in question made me think about other instances of representation of people with disabilities in my life, and I realized it typically goes two ways. The first way is a character becomes disabled, they developed a special ability or tool that compensated for their disability. The second is they are disabled for a bit, and then the writer forgets to write it in again, and everyone just forgets that the character was disabled in the first place.
My first thought when I was reading was if the author would have an apology at the end of the novel. This happened to me a few years ago when I read a series where the love interest became blind so he could no longer fight as well as his magic had blessed him to fight. Then as he recovered he developed a sort of sixth sense to read people’s emotions, and thoughts. It never occurred to me that would be considered offensive as I was reading the series. I took it as an example of his magic expanding the way your senses get stronger to accommodate the loss of another. Then I read the note apology for the treatment of the character’s disability, and I was confused at how anyone would be annoyed about it. The number of characters in fantasy who are disabled for the rest of their story is very few and far between so I was happy the character’s disability didn’t get fixed magically. They just learned to do deal with it.
I feel like before I continue I should explain something about myself, and my relationship with my disability. I have had cerebral palsy since birth. I used to use a reverse walker until I had surgery back to back and didn’t get back to where I physically was before. I always knew I was lucky. I always could feed myself, let people know what I needed, and take normal classes in school. I always had at least one friend, and I’m white. I never struggled to look for characters in books who looked like me. My disability has always just been a part of my life it never has defined who I am as a person. This being said my favorite example of representation currently is Hiccup and Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon series. They are two friends with disabilities who just go on adventures and love each other. Hiccup has a partially prosthetic leg, and Toothless has a damaged tail which Hiccup built a partial tip so Toothless can stay balanced while he flies. Toothless cannot fly if the tip of his tail is damaged, and Hiccup’s leg can come off. They still protect their people, go on adventures, and have relationships with those around them that have nothing to do with their disability. I think it important to show people that having a disability doesn’t mean you won’t have adventures, or you can’t help the ones you love because you aren’t physically able to do everything on your own unless you are fixed. It’s the courage and creativity to find your own way to make those things happen using the resources you have at your disposal with your disability in mind, but don’t make it the villain in your story.