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.