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This is a photograph of graffiti on a wall. The graffiti is a black and white artwork of two people who appear to be a white cisgender woman and a white cisgender man, both of whom are in wheelchairs with artistic designs on their wheels. They are leaning toward each other and touching while gazing into each other’s eyes in an intense, romantic fashion.

This is a photograph of graffiti on a wall. The graffiti is a black and white artwork of two people who appear to be a white cisgender woman and a white cisgender man, both of whom are in wheelchairs with artistic designs on their wheels. They are leaning toward each other and touching while gazing into each other’s eyes in an intense, romantic fashion.

 

Note: This article was created to be the introduction to the first podcast episode of Unfamiliar Heroes. You can listen to it read aloud in Unfamiliar Heroes Episode Zero.

 

I am going to start by saying that, in general, there is an absence of stories with disabled characters. When disabled characters do show up, they are often confined to specific, narrow roles. Most often disabled characters are used as objects of pity, inspiration, or both, where our everyday struggles are treated as if they are somehow more extraordinary or terrible than the struggles in other people’s lives.

In stories that portray disabled heroes, they are either disabled in name only (usually as a character who has magic, abilities, or technology that makes them effectively an able-bodied person), or they are treated like their mind is the only thing they have to contribute (almost as if the writers wanted to erase or ignore their disabled bodies).

In addition, these portrayals of disabled characters frequently fail to capture the lived experience of being disabled. In these stories, the characters never seem to encounter the barriers that real world disabled people run into every day, and yet the world they live in is not portrayed as more accessible than modern USA society.

The lack of real-feeling, diverse representations of disabled people is a major concern for many disabled writers, artists, and activists, and it is a key reason I have put so much effort into including disabled characters in my own writing.

Well, in addition to being a writer, I am also an avid player of tabletop role playing games, but despite my commitment to writing disabled characters, I have not been playing disabled characters in these games. In fact, until recently I was struggling to imagine what dynamic, awesome disabled characters would be like in the context of these games. This is because many role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, are action focused and revolve around power fantasies of characters that are not only able-bodied, but physically capable far beyond the capacity of a normal able-bodied human. The very structures these games can make it hard to play disabled characters.

As a queer person I know that it is important for me to be able to play queer characters and to have that part of who I am reflected in games. In the same manner, I believe that it is important for me to be able to play disabled characters.

Too often the world around me gives me the message that being disabled is a state of being lesser, broken, or incapable. But the truth is that real world disabled people are capable of many, many things and we need to be reminded of this in the face of all of the messages telling us the opposite. This is why it is so important to be able to imagine and play heroic disabled characters that reflect this truth.

I want to experience diverse, dynamic, complicated, amazing, and capable disabled heroes. That is why I am creating the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast series, because I want to work with other disabled people to combine our experience and creativity to make something that is bigger and more expansive than any of us could do on our own. Together I hope that we can have fun playing tabletop role-playing games while we create real-feeling disabled characters that express the diverse lived experiences of disabled people in games that demonstrate all of the genuinely amazing things that disabled people are capable of.

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2 Comments on "We Need More Room for Disability Representation"

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ronan
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Thanks for posting this!

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