Statistics and Responsibilities

Hollywood (and its TV equivalents) are often condemned for failing to provide opportunities for members of minority groups. These days, racial and gender minorities are starting to make headway, but the disabled community is still far behind. Sebastian’s and my current crime-drama-of-choice is Lie To Me. In the third season, Shoshannah Stern – an actress who was born deaf – plays a deaf character. She’s a minor character, but it’s reminded me that while the industry isn’t innocent, some of the fault lies with the writers.

How many disabled characters do you find written into the great novels of our time? How many deaf or blind or wheelchair-bound heroes and heroines can you name? For me the answer is not many, and they don’t appear much in my own writing either.

Is this because of some subconscious prejudice? Or because I don’t know many disabled people to bring these characters to the forefront of my mind? Possibly, but I think there is also an element of fear (or, if you prefer, laziness – I’m not good at researching before I write). Last week I mentioned the challenges of writing a character of a different gender, but gender lines are blurry and for the most part the gender of a character has very little effect on their everyday life. A severe disability affects everything. I’m not talking about pity here, I’m talking about practicalities. I have no idea how (as in literally, not emotionally) disabled people do many of the things they not only do, but take for granted. And until I learn that, I don’t think I could write a disabled character with integrity.

But if most writers feel that way, and most writers are able-bodied, we can’t blame Hollywood for not offering decent roles – we’re not offering them to Hollywood either.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Statistics and Responsibilities

  1. Dear Jen,

    A lot of good questions. It kind of makes me glad that my main character in my novel is disabled. It’s in her character to rise above her physical limitations. I suddenly feel very good about my muse’s choice. 😉

    shalom,

    Rochelle

    • As someone who is looked upon (but doesn’t necessarily feel i am myself) as disabled, i can relate to this…i am continually offered seats on the ttc (and do not always want them) and am asked if i need help…i’ve being coping withthis for most of my life (it’s gotten worse as i’ve gotten older), but i’m dealing with being me and i’d like to think i’m doing ok…

      • Rochelle – great work on your Muse’s part, and since you’re fantastic at research, I’m sure your character will have great believability.
        Patricia – That’s an interesting point too, and perhaps one of the reasons I would be wary of writing from the POV of a character with a substantial disability. It’s very easy from the outside to assume what someone’s life is like for whatever reason (class, physical characteristics, sexuality, etc etc) and to be way off piste.

  2. Good thoughts, Jen. We loved “Lie to Me” and wish it hadn’t been taken off the air. I’m trying to think of characters who are disabled and the first two that came to mind were Tiny Tim and Mary Ingalls. “Ironside” was in a wheelchair. But those are all older. Most TV programs and movies now have all the other “correct” groups–woman, minorities, Asians, GLTB, and whoever else might qualify–but not disabled.

    janet

  3. Jen, just out of curiosity, I Googled and found this: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/03/top-10-books-disability-paul-wilson and this: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/15/katharine-quarmby-top-10-disability-stories. Also thought of Helen Keller although, of course, that’s non-fiction.

    janet

    • Interesting links, Janet, and definitely some good takes on these issues and some I’m interested to look for. Learning and other mental disabilities are way ahead of more physical ones in terms of frequency of appearance in fiction – although usually portrayed by so-called normal actors (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, for example, or any of the psychopathic murders we can think of.)

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