World Building With Disabled Characters
This is a great topic to start off the new year. Partially because it’s something that’s been on my mind for months and partially because I’ve actually been asked by some readers about how I write disabled characters.
Number one is research. I’ve done a lot, even for my own disability, because there isn’t one right way to be visually impaired or even blind. Does light perception count as blind or partly sighted? Does seeing shapes moving through blurry space count? Does every blind or visually impaired person use braille, a white cane, or a guide dog?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, when I created a visually impaired half werewolf, I had to decide where his disability affected him and where he could ignore it completely. He can see better in the dark than most visually impaired people but that’s because of his half wolf nature. He can sense the shape of a traffic jam but still needs his white cane to help him get up and down the stairs in an unfamiliar place. And of course, like some of us legally blind people, he carries the cane to identify his disability.
So, research it. Discuss it with forums on FB or do research other places online or in the library.
Number two is balance. No one is only one aspect of themselves. I’m not my disability. But it is certainly part of who I am.
For example, I’m not single because I’m blind; do not ever make that assumption. I’m single for many reasons, and, yes, some people have rejected me out of hand because of my impairment. However, these are the exception to the rule. Assuming my blindness is the cause of my singlehood assumes all other people are assholes who can’t see past the surface. That doesn’t do justice to the great diversity out there.
Number three is please, oh please, don’t cure your disabled character at the end of the story unless you have a damn good reason. And their wanting to be “normal” or whatever you want to call it is not a good enough reason. I’ll never forget the author who healed the blind hero’s eyesight miraculously at the end of a Regency novel. I have never picked up another book of theirs, nor will I do so.
And, number four is, quite simply, don’t treat your disabled characters as either “inspirations” for the ease of that trope or as “victims” for a similar reason. Not all blind people are nice, kind, responsible, brilliant, or beautiful. And certainly not all of us are brave beyond measure. We CAN be those things, and I’ll never deny that side of the coin either. I’m moved by the bravery of Helen Keller, but I remember also that she had unpopular political views and that she was, supposedly, a brat as a child.
If you want to learn more about disabled characters, seek out books where they are the hero or heroine. Here are some of mine:
Wanderer’s Rest/Wanderer’s Haven: A duet about a hawk shifter who has prosthetic legs and has to use a wheelchair when one of his legs is crushed by a car. Wanderer’s Rest
Hunter’s Claim, A Very (Psychic) Christmas, My Two Front Fangs: These three novels star my first-ever disabled werewolf, Charlie McLaughlin. He’s visually impaired and is a great role model for anyone going through hard times. Not because he’s disabled…but not ignoring his impairment either.
A Very (Psychic) Vampire Christmas
My Two Front Fangs
Heartwood 1-3: Coming out in 2020, the gay contemporary romance about a sheltered nineteen year old and the world-wise, and slightly jaded, nineteen-year-old blind guy who loves him. Aidan grew up away from home, at a school for the blind. When he’s forced to come home and finish his schooling there, he learns all sorts of secrets about the hometown in which he was born and never lived.