Depictions of Disability That Make Us Happy

Anna’s “Four Ways to Do It Right” post on Bitch recently discussed some positive depictions of disability, and invited people to submit some examples of their own. I thought it might be kind of nice to do the same here, because I suspect that a lot of our readers can come up with at least a handful of examples of good depictions of disability in books, film, television, advertising, what have you.

And I think it might be interesting to have a larger discussion about what makes a depiction of disability “good” by our standards, though I assume that people may have some differing views on this subject. Personally, I think of a well-rounded depiction of a character who happens to be disabled, with a characterization which is not necessarily centered around disability. Where the disability is integrated well into the identity of the character, and acknowledged, but the character is not the embodiment of the disability. I think of characters who avoid common disability tropes, such as the Angry Bitter Cripple or the Telegenic Sick Kid. I think of characters who are rich and complex and who are allowed to have emotions (which can even vary from day to day!). I think, also, of plots which manage to avoid disability-as-tragedy, miracle cures, Empowering Experience for Able People, and other dehumanizing tropes.

Something I’ve noted more and more about depictions of disability is that I so rarely encounter a good depiction that I’m almost pathetically excited when I encounter one. It leaves me with a smile on my face all day. Simple inclusion makes me giddy. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

I recently encountered what I thought was a pretty terrific example of this. I was poking around on the NASA for Kids website (it’s a long story), and I encountered an article about…well, I forget now, but it was something sciency (this is NASA, after all). And the article was illustrated with little cartoon drawings of scientists engaging in various activities related to the article’s topic.

One of the scientists was a Black woman in a wheelchair. She was just hanging out, doing her science thing. It wasn’t framed in a “oh, look at us being all diverse” kind of way. It was just, you know, hey, this is an article about scientists doing science stuff, so here’s a drawing of a scientist to illustrate it. I wish I could remember what it was on so that I could link it, rather than just describing it, but alas, I failed to bookmark it when I spotted it. (Somewhere there’s a Graveyard of Things meloukhia Forgot to Bookmark and there’s all kinds of neat stuff in there.)

I thought about that article all day. I even told other FWD contributors about it that night, I was so excited. And it’s stuck with me for weeks. It was so remarkable to me that disability was presented in a very casual, neutral way, “here’s a scientist who just happens to use a wheelchair,” that I marveled. Something like that should be unremarkable, but instead it’s a total novelty.

So, readers, whatcha got? What kind of characters/plots do you think of when people ask about positive depictions of disability? What kind of examples do you have (books, film, television, radio, comics, any media) of characters/stories you think do disability well?

32 Comments

  1. I mentioned this on one of the Chatterday threads a while back, but my favourite disabled character remains Martin Crane from Frasier, played by John Mahoney. He was part of the lead ensemble of the show, so he was a well rounded character who was smart, funny, cantankerous, romantic … you name it. His disability was an integral part of his character, but it wasn’t the focus of his story beyond the first few episodes (yes, it was the reason he initially moved in with Frasier and that issue recurred from time to time, but that was only natural over the course of 9 years or so). The disability issue came up about as often as the fact that he was a widower – not ignored, but not showcased either.

    And the episodes that DID deal with his disability did it realistically – he chafed against being depended on his sons, he worried about what a woman he wanted to date would think of his cane, he tried to get out of doing his physiotherapy … and very ocasionally he used his disability to get what he wanted. To my recollection they never did a ‘poor cripple’ story with him (they did about a disabled guest character, but we won’t mention that), or a ‘heroic cripple’ story for that matter.

    And that’s what I want from a disabled character – the breadth of human experience. People just getting on with their daily lives – doing their jobs, falling in love, arguing with family members. All good stuff.

  2. I personally LOVE IT when a book has a protagonist with some issues (any sort, honestly), who still goes about the actions in the book without it being A Big Deal(tm).

    These books are rare, and I can’t think of any offhand (they must also be in the Graveyard of Things I Forgot to Bookmark too…along with Meloukhia’s). Most books with a character with a disability issue make it all about the disability. Certainly most for kids involve something like “My sister is Special” (gag).

    I’d love to see more books that have main characters showcasing the spectrum of humanity, vs. TAB folks.

  3. I have yet to see a good autistic character (though if anyone knows of one, please comment!), though there is a character called Niizuma Eiji in the manga Bakuman that really reads as autistic to me, even though he’s not explicitly said to be so (I have no idea if he’s meant to be or just meant to be generically quirky). The manga itself is a misogynistic mess and gives me the eye-twitch on that front with every new chapter, but I love Eiji so much. I wish he were the main character.

    He loves drawing manga and it’s both his job and his hobby. He doesn’t like being in crowds (takes a cab to avoid the crowded, noisy subway). He has specific working conditions that he has to stick to when he’s drawing. He’s a little clueless when it comes to social interaction, doesn’t really know how to make friends or act around people, but is very enthusiastic and loyal to people he likes. Basically, he really resonates with me. If I were to write a character based on myself, he would be very similar.

  4. It’s been a while since I watched an episode, but I seem to remember that Joe Dawson on Highlander was a pretty fantastic character and that his disability was handled well. If I recall correctly, Jim Byrnes, who is a double-amputee, was hired for the part and they later adjusted the character’s backstory to encompass Byrnes’ disability, which is such a refreshing change from the way these castings usually go.

  5. Has anyone watched Friday Night Lights? I’m not really sure how I feel about its treatment of PWD, sometimes it seems kind of problematic, other times not so much. But there are quite a few characters with disabilities, most notably a main character who is a quadraplegic (and another supporting character who is also), a supporting character who is an older woman with “dementia,” and a supporting character (who kind of disappeared) with bipolar disorder.

    The quadrapelegic character is most probably an actor in “crip drag”, and often times he views his own disability as a tragedy. But a big part of his story is kind of moving past being limited by it, getting over an obsession with a dubious “miracle cure,” fathering a child and having a relationship with a woman whom he met after the accident which caused his disability. I guess I tend to view it as an overall positive portrayal because he is a full character beyond his disability, he is given the full range of human experience–I especially appreciate that he is shown as a sexual character–and he is not there just as a learning experience for an abled character. The negative aspects are the fact that the actor who plays him is abled (I think) and I do sometimes feel like the show kind of wades into a “disability as tragedy” trope once in a while. Also, his accident is an extremely important plot point and his resulting disability plays a big part in his characterization, so I don’t think you can really say that he is a character who just happens to be disabled.

    A caveat here is that I really like this show so I might be giving it the benefit of the doubt where I shouldn’t, so if any of this stuff is incredibly problematic and I just haven’t seen it, please don’t hesitate to point that out to me!

  6. I was going to mention Joe Dawson, too. I’ve been rewatching some old episodes of Highlander (and then, there was a demon? REALLY?) and I really like how Joe is treated in the show.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Despite all my raging sarcasm / I am still just a rat in a cage =-.

  7. Although the show is awfully sexist, and the writers deny that the character is on the spectrum, and there are some problematic depictions, I really really am drawn to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Oh and Jeb Bartlett on West Wing…a person “just getting on with their daily lives – doing their jobs [running an entire nation], falling in love, arguing with family members.”

  8. And the one I forgot about … Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation and movies 7-10, who was blind but used an assistive device called a VISOR (Visual Interface something-or-other) to ‘see’ most of the EM spectrum. (I suppose in a sense the VISOR did stray into ‘miracle cure’ territory, but since he’d always had it I didn’t see it that way.) I admit there was a part of me that wanted them to make a little mose of his disability – the VISOR meant they could basically write him as a sighted character most of the time. They occasionally made use of his extraordinary sight – since he could ‘see’ things other people couldn’t and interface visually with certain other devices, but since this was a show with androids and aliens in the regular cast, all of whom had special abilities it didn’t seem out of place. I can only recall one episode out of 7 seasons where Geordi was actually blind (he was stranded on a planet where his VISOR didn’t work), but even then the episode wasn’t making a point about disability, it was about him having to co-operate with an enemy – who was also temporarily disabled – to get off the planet and back to their respective ships.

  9. An anti-rec for Supernatural. They brought in a cool, sexy, older woman named Pamela Barnes who became blind on her first appearance due to mystical forces. She was briefly a recurring character, and exactly the same as before she was blinded – flirtatious, cool and funnt. Then they killed her. Now they have a character in a wheelchair doing Woe Is Me My Life Is Ruined (even though most of his previous appearances involved getting information from books.)

  10. (agh, posted without a name, lost all the words! trying again)

    Thirding Joe Dawson. Jim Byrnes is awesome. Everything he’s in manages a little bit more disability win.

    Bob Melnikov on ReGenesis. Autistic spectrum. I’ve only watched one season, and not recently, but I remember an episode where his boss was all ‘people like him can’t’ and yet that person did anyway cause he wanted to 🙂 And then he changed his mind and came back, but that was because he wanted to also, and not because of his disability. He mentions his disability a few times, but mostly he’s just there to help save the day like everyone else.

    ‘The Speed of Dark’ by Elizabeth Moon, about and from the point of view of an autistic spectrum character. I *like* him. I can fit in his head. He makes sense. When I first read the book I read it in one sitting, all around the clock, I liked it that much.
    The book is about autism and a ‘cure’, but it doesn’t automatically assume that a cure is needed, wanted, or a good thing. It follows through on the idea, but doesn’t hand the reader a tidy happy ending. It’s an exploration, not a suggestion. I can live with that.
    … I’d still have rather it ended a bit earlier. Do not want ‘cured’, thanks.

    Miles Vorkosigan, from the Vorkosigan saga series of books by Lois McMaster Bujold. Multiple disabilities, changing as he gets older and fixes some things and gets consequences from others. He’s strongly motivated to prove himself more than his disabilities in a world so ablist babies with minor disabilities are killed, even by the time Miles is grown up. He’s acutely aware he’s a demonstration, a poster child for not killing people like him, and if he fails it will have consequences. But against that backdrop mostly the books are about him running around doing interstellar politics, military adventure, and unravelling intelligence problems. Also he’s not the only character with a disability in the series, and I don’t reckon any of them are fail. A lot of the plots are about the impact of biological sciences on society, the options and pressures they bring. I think they’re brilliant.

    Oracle, from DC comics, mostly Birds of Prey. Different writers and different artists over a lot of years of story, so sometimes done better than others. But she’s a superhero and a wheelchair user, and she doesn’t let anyone push her around. (literally, there’s a page where she points out there’s no handles on her chair for a *reason*. Of course other artists forget and put handles on. *sigh*) She does martial arts and some acrobatic flying, beats bad guys physically when she has to, but mostly does computer hacking and team leadership through technology. When it’s good it’s very, very good.
    … the TV series went horribly wrong. They made her storyline be all about getting her out of the wheelchair. Missing the point rather a lot.
    Most superhero+disability = compensatory superpowers, which I do not like. Oracle just = hard work and relearning how to do what she wants.

  11. I know I keep going on about how wonderful Candas Jane Dorsey’s work is but it really really is. Delany in A Paradigm of Earth is a wheelchair user and she’s as fully human as everyone else. (Including the alien.) There are nice asides like installing a wheel-washer in the mud room of the house they live in. She and the person from whose point of view we see things fall in love and it’s sweet and awkward and sexy and I love this book so damn much. (Ms. Dorsey does a fine job with depression brain injury post-traumatic stress learning dysfunctions in both A Paradigm of Earth and Black Wine.)

    Delany is of course named for Samuel R. Delany who is no slouch himself when it comes to disabled — neuroatypical — characters. Kid from Dhalgren and Rat Korga from Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand come immediately to mind.

    In depictions of disability that make me unhappy: White Wolf role-playing games. Especially the Merit/Flaw system — when building your character you can get points to buy Stuff by making your character disabled and this includes mobility impairments sensory impairments communication impairments mental illnesses…. It feels exploitive. Especially when players are using these traits to min/max and don’t play them. Like the person in my Exalted game who made a character who is blind and used Intelligence for a dump stat (it’s the trait you sacrifice to boost other things) and then played an exceedingly clever assassin/social ninja type. (Our GM was generous and let the player go into experience point debt to buy Intelligence commensurate with the character as they were played.)

    I may be running a story for this group some time soon and if this person tries this shit in my game I will put my dainty boot-clad foot down. I am not nice.

  12. @tomatl, I once came across a forum for people with Asperger’s when I was searching for a specific Big Bang Theory quote, and they had a whole thread about how they appreciated Sheldon, too. I’d only heard negative things before (he’s the focus of a lot of jokes), but the people on the forum appreciated that his friends just understood who he was and didn’t try to change him, and that he was living a fully functional life and had a job and interests and was happy.

    @lilacsigil, I never thought about Supernatural in the disability context, but the body count of recurring women they’ve introduced on the show is about the same as the number of recurring women they’ve had on the show, especially if we’re counting the bodies that the female demons were in even though the demons themselves jump to other bodies. Aside from Anna, I can’t even come up with someone else who’s still alive. Regarding Bobby, the one thing that redeems him for me is the speech Dean gave him about how he doesn’t stop being a soldier just because he’s sidelined now. Dean basically told him that he wasn’t going to accept his woe-is-me BS anymore and that he’s still just as needed as a family member and an ally, wheelchair or not. There’s also a future potential for redemption of Bobby’s storyline if they never use the out of having a magical fix for his legs (or a medical fix, but this IS a show called “Supernatural”).

    More in general, about depictions of disability, I’m more forgiving of storylines where a new disability is a big shock to someone who was used to being adbled, partly because I realize I have a certain amount of privilege in ALWAYS having been hearing impaired. It’s been there my entire life, I grew up as a person for whom this was built in. It’s just me. I never experienced a sense of loss, I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be able to hear properly. So for me, storylines where a disabled person seeks a cure and gets it is way nefarious, whereas a storyline where someone is newly disabled, has some difficulty dealing with it at first, but ends up coming to the conclusion that they just have to move forward now and accept that they have to relearn how to live their life fully with their support system accepting them unconditionally is more realistic and helpful to society’s understanding of disability.

    And of course, being hearing impaired myself, Marlee Matlin as Joey Lucas on West Wing is my hero. She’s exceptional at her job, is a romantic interest, and she’s also deaf and has an interpreter with her. Her disability is just one facet of who she is.

  13. Positive depiction of disability: there’s a young adult novel called “Stoner and Spaz.” I know the title would make some people cringe (as highlighted by the Ableist Word Profile recently, “spaz” is rather derogatory), but I would recommend looking beyond the title because it’s a really good book.

    It’s about a high-school aged boy who has Cerebral Palsy and his efforts to create meaningful social and sexual lives for himself. What I liked about the novel is how the story was told from the boy’s viewpoint; how he develops a close friendship with a girl from his school; and how it is shown that yes, young disabled people can have sex, too, and they’re not immediately rejected for their desires. Also, I liked how the boy didn’t seem like a stereotype — he didn’t seem to be pitied by other characters (they pretty much treated him like any other person), and he wasn’t a “supercrip” or a “bitter, depressed cripple,” [insert other offensive disabled stereotype here] etc. The author did give the boy a hobby — the boy made amateur short films and documentaries and he entered a contest, but his film-making wasn’t treated like a “super-special skill” to compensate for his disability; it was just a hobby, something he was interested in, which I think makes the story more realistic. In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciated most about “Stoner and Spaz” — its realism. This story is, I think, the closest we have come yet in published YA fiction to a depiction of the average, non-melodramatic, day-to-day life of a person with a disability, which I believe is an achievement. I really hope more of these “day-to-day,” (relatively) realistic type stories about people with disabilities get published, if only to counteract all the stereotypical crap (about disabilities) that’s already been published. It’s interesting to mention that as far as I know, the author is nondisabled, but I’m both surprised and glad that he’s come out with such an accurate portrayal (at least for me) of living with a physical disability.

    Another strong, positive point of “Stoner and Spaz” is its use of humor. When I read the book, I found myself laughing at a lot of the passages. A good part of the humor is concentrated on the main character’s perception of his being disabled, but I didn’t mind that; actually, I found myself relating to a lot of little (and big) things that come with living as someone with a physical disability.

  14. Este – I am going to look up that book – I like funny books.

    I do not have OCD, so I can’t vouch for accuracy, but I really like Monk. Oh, the premise mentions his disability, I assume, (I’ve only watched the last 3-4 seasons) “a detective who cleans up the evidence!”

    But he felt realistic – he wasn’t just his disease. He was a great detective before Trudy died and the disease took over. Since he was the star, he had to be more, and I think he was well-rounded character.

    One thing I loved about the show was seeing the therapy sessions, for some odd reason. And meeting other characters with disabilities as well – Harold (grr) and Ambrose come to mind.

  15. I don’t know if anybody here has seen this show, but I really like Samson from Carnivale. Both the actor and the character have dwarfism and walk using a cane (he’s played by Michael J. Anderson who was also on Twin Peaks), but the show never makes a big deal about that – what’s more important is that Samson is in charge of the carnival and holds everyone together, and knows all sorts of secrets about the Big Important Metaplot of the show that he has to decide what to do about, and is always coming up with entertaining ways to scam people out of their money so that the carnival can keep traveling, and is generally being awesome at all times. There is also a subplot involving his ex-wife, who is a woman with ectrodactyly (played by Bree Walker), and the relationship is depicted no differently from any other romantic relationship on the show (which is to say, complicated and kind of painful). It’s cool because it’s a depiction of how PWD do have romantic lives with the usual array of problems and difficulties and heartbreaks to go along with that.

    I actually realized the other day that there are basically as many PWD on Carnivale as there are able-bodied characters, too – though most are played by able-bodied people. It’s not a perfect show by any means, and indulges in some pretty overdone and unpleasant tropes at times, but I find it interesting that PWD are so extensively represented.

    The other character that comes to mind right away is Dr. Al Robbins who is the chief medical examiner on CSI Las Vegas, and a double amputee (as is the actor), but more than that just a really interesting and sarcastic dude.

  16. @gamerchick, I LOVE Carnivale and Samson is great. There are some scenes with Ben healing physically disabled people as inspiring music swells, but it’s still really awesome that Michael J. Anderson got an actual good role instead of being treated as a novelty. And there are just so many disabled characters, when I really thought about it–there’s Jonesy, Apollonia, Belyakov (who is played by a disabled actor), Lodz, and Gabriel (whose presence is especially touching to me, because that was one of the only decent environments an intellectually disabled person could be in back then, and I like to think Ruthie was aware of that and made an effort to help Gabe find a place for himself). The creator of the show had a father who was physically disabled and he’s said that inspired him when he was writing the show.

  17. Gamerchick – here’s how lowkey this one character’s disability was – I didn’t even think of him until you said “Las Vegas.”

    I used to watch the show Las Vegas. One of the subordinate (paid less by NBC) people in the security room who got a name was a guy who used a traditional wheelchair. He was cute! I think his name was Mitch.

    No one made an issue of his disability, except maybe that one time when he was looking at an expensive car, but that was also when everyone thought everyone else stole money. He didn’t get a lot of air time, but he acted like anyone else fiddling with the computers and such. Now that I think of it, his wheelchair is probably a more controlled version of the wheely chair found in computer labs and offices that you’re not supposed to play on. So he really fit in – a TAB character would have just pushed his chair across the room, and Danny would still be leaning down to talk to him.

  18. Anyone remember Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle?

  19. Stevie love! He was such a funny character, and his incisive wit seems very in keeping with the people I’ve known with speech impairments. (When each word requires a lot of effort, every word carries a lot of meaning.) I really enjoyed how the creators and actors felt comfortable including Stevie and his wheelchair in the ridiculous physical hijinks–they didn’t treat him as fragile. In particular, the episode where Malcolm trashes Stevie’s chair and wheels him around in a shopping cart. Horrible, but an equal-opportunity, over-the-top horrible.

    Also the title character in the 2003 movie The Station Agent, well played by Peter Dinklage. Yes, he was gloomy and needed someone else to pull him out of his shell, but it was clearly because of his character, not his limited stature.

  20. I forgot about Stevie! He was awesome and so was the show.

    Maybe the fact that I forgot about Stevie has to do with a) not watching Malcolm in a long time (a few weeks) and b) he wasn’t just his wheelchair. I think of him sighing and putting up with Malcolm before the wheelchair.

    I wish the rest of the seasons would come out on DVD. Though the episode where his chair gets stolen and he’s having fun (Malcolm’s not) being pushed in shopping cart is part of the first season, out on DVD. And whoops, the cops!

    And who can forget Spangler?

  21. I’m reading the comments on the surrogacy thread and “who’s a fit parent” and reminded of a major major MAJOR mental illness FAIL – Law and Order SVU, spoilers, not the victims or killers with diseases, but when they make it part of the story with Stabler’s daughter and how bad his mom was – both are bipolar, and the ER doc diagnosed the daughter right away because she… took drugs and partied and “slept around.” (Because only the mentally ill do that in college, right?)

    “Ripped from the headlines” how about some effing research?

    Munch forever!

  22. I loved Stevie. That show in general did some very interesting, funny, and rare things with race, class, disability, and gender…but I was always impressed at how they didn’t take the “disability what disability?!” route (in which disability has no effect on a person’s life or social dynamics) and nor did they take the “character what character?!” route (in which a disabled person is that, and that only). He screwed up and triumphed and developed like all the other characters.

  23. I caught a couple of eps of Malcolm in the Middle just this week and was reminded on just how well they did with Stevie’s character – awesome. I also really like Sheldon and how he is allowed to just be him and doesn’t need to be changed. I thought couple of years ago there was talk of the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” being made into a movie but don’t think it ever came to fruition – it would be interesting to see how they manage it (unless i missed it).

  24. A good example from Bollywood (Hindi cinema) from the SEVENTIES.

    Pran’s character walks with a limp and uses a cane. This is because Pran had recently injured himself or something. So they wrote it into the plot that the cops shoot him in the leg as he tries to save his dying wife, oh the huge manatee! (Of course, his character also worked in the circus and there’s this hilarious scene with his 2 kids balanced on his shoulders as he takes them from Vijay who is really Don on a TIGHTROPE, and Vijay’s been raising the kids.) (’70s Masala is so awesome)

    So. Don was remade in 2006 with Shahrukh Khan *cue drooling* as Don/Vijay. Much slicker, less goofy, and MAJOR TWIST. Ahem. They kept Pran’s character, only this time played by Arjun Rampal (double drool). Arjun was not injured, but they kept the leg injury and cane in the story anyway. And he used the cane in a fight. (no tightrope, sorry)

    To sum up – they cast Pran, Pran got injured, and then they wrote his injury into the story! 30 years later, they kept it. And that’s why I love Bollywood.

  25. The bearded coroner from Crime Scene Investigation uses mobility aids and is portrayed by an actor who actually uses them in real life.

    There is a secondary and occasional character on Mad Men who walks with a limp; she makes one passing comment about her twin looks just like her but has a “good set” of legs, and then never mentions it again. I liked how her disability serves no “purpose” in moving the plot forward.

  26. I really enjoy this thread, especially since some of the better depictions have the disabilities as part of the characters with little fanfare, so I’d kind of forgotten that Frasier had a disabled character, etc.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – I really love the book from a literary sense, and I think that the portrayal of disability is pretty good, but I’d like to hear other opinions.

  27. Has anyone else read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole? It’s never confirmed, but I definitely see Ignatius J. Reilly as an autistic. (Granted, I’m autistic myself so I saw quite a few of my traits in him—being disputatious, stuck in one’s ways and often retreating into one’s own little spaces) He’s not exactly the most sympathetic character in the world, considering he’s a massive Luddite and very cantankerous, but as he’s the main character his perspective gets precedence, and the labyrinthine workings of his mind are frighteningly similar to how I think and how other autistic friends have told me they think, so I think he nailed the mindset and presented it in a fairly non-judgmental character, as those who do criticize it, as the title indicates, are made to look like buffoons. (By the way, what do you think in general of armchair-diagnosing fictional characters? Is it fair if the creator never gave any explicit statement about it?)

  28. I think George R R Martin sometimes does disability well in his Song of Ice and Fire series. In particular, Martin’s depiction of a dwarf (that’s how he self-IDs) named Tyrion, is fantastic. Tyrion has privilege in that he was born into a ruling class family; most other dwarfs in his society would have been murdered or sold to grotesqueries. He gets a lot of scorn for his height, and his reaction to that was to reappropriate their derisive names. It’s an indispensable part of his identity, and society’s reaction to it _does_ limit him, but he still fights battles and has sex and gets married and rules cities and so on. He is a full person.

    There’s also a prince with gouty legs/chronic pain who is shaping up to be another good depiction for similar reasons. Among the less elite classes, people with disabilities are pretty much everywhere. One thing I liked seeing was how normal it is to see them still going about their lives, usually working.

    It’s not perfect. There is one prominent example of the magic cripple, and a few examples of crazy people who are violent and dangerous. But even then, the characters are still full people.

    I’m trying to think of how to say this properly. A Song of Ice and Fire is, in a lot of ways, a deconstruction of high fantasy and the idealized songs that people sing about heroes and maidens. One character, who represents those who love the idealized songs, is always disappointed when knights turn out to be ugly or war turns out to have consequences. She has unrealistic expectations that everything should be pretty, according to her idea of what’s pretty. I think the ubiquity of disabled people is part of Martin’s answer to that: depicting the world how it is, not some privileged person’s fantasy.

  29. @hsofia For anyone who hasn’t seen Mad Men, mild/major SPOILERS ahoy: The character on Mad Men who walks with a limp is Anna Draper, the wife of the real Don Draper and dear friend/confidant of the fake Don Draper (Jon Hamm). I wouldn’t necessarily say that her portrayal is super-positive, as there is an undercurrent of sadness, loneliness and pity there, but her limp isn’t harped upon. It was mentioned once in passing, possibly as an explanation as to why her husband didn’t return from the war after being discharged, but we eventually found out the real reason for that.

    My favorite recent depiction of disability is from The Wire. There’s a recurring character in seasons 3-5 named Odell Watkins who’s a major player on the Baltimore political scene. He also happens to use a power chair for mobility. The thing I loved so much about his character is that his disability was never addressed – you see him at city council events and in powwows with the mayor or other black leaders, and he’s just *existing*. There’s no harping on his difference, his separateness, or his “origin story”. He’s portrayed as powerful but not wicked; capable, yet not in the “overcoming disability” sense; and smart, yet not in a Super Cripple! kinda way. In essence, he’s just like all the other characters on the show – he started out genuine, but quickly learned to scheme and plot and backstab all in the name of personal advancement and/or doing the “right” thing. Basically, in The Wire-verse, he’s human.

    Although Watkins eventually grows frustrated and disillusioned with the political process, it made me happy to see that he was actually given the opportunity to have that growth in the first place!

  30. Kef: There are so many things to love about The Wire and their depictions of disability are among them. Odell Watkins is awesome. (Though dammit! They lose some awesome: Frederick Strother is a powerful actor but not a wheelchair user outside his rôle as Odell Watkins. *veryverysadface* He does a better portrayal than a certain show choir member *coughfuckyougleecough* though…)

    Butchie is pure fucking win — he’s blind (mostly) and a successful business owner and he’s never shown as pathetic. We’re not supposed to feel all sorry for him that he’s blind and in the end he’s treated like anyone else in The Game. His disability doesn’t shield him and doesn’t make him an easy mark. Even better, Butchie is played by S. Robert Morgan who is an actual blind actor. It shows. It was fair amazing to finally see a blind character played by a blind actor instead of a sighted actor playing a blind character. Who usually do a crap job of it but follow the playing-a-blind-person acting conventions.

    I kept annoying my wife with “Yes they are doing this right! This is so cool.”
    kaninchenzero´s last blog post ..Also

  31. I can’t believe I forgot about the amazingness that is Butchie! Now Omar’s gonna come after me…

  32. I want to add to the Stevie/Malcolm in the Middle love, yet again.

    You’d think Reese wouldn’t be accepting of him, because he’s a major jerk, but he doesn’t seem to care about the disability, just that he’s a geek – though they are friends, as I recall from the houseboat episode, where Reese and Stevie go off to find the girls in some kind of makeshift boat/raft and return with bikini tops while Malcolm fishes with dad.

    But another episode – surrounding a poker game – showed how much fun they had with his disability. Stevie’s dad plays poker with Hal, and two of the other players brought over their cute daughters (middle school – they kissed). The girls baby talked to Stevie and he was getting upset, and then Reese stepped in – and told them that he was terminal and his head would explode soon and he went along with it – “I’ll never go to prom… or kiss a girl.” Putty in his hands.

    And in the fair episode – the “freaks” are invited to poker – and Stevie manipulates his parents by saying he wants to be “normal” as he turns around he’s grinning.

    I like that – it’s normal teenager behavior, just tweaked a bit.

    (My mom does not fall for the “normal” thing because she knows I never wanted to be normal. Sigh.)