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?