Disability Pride Month – Discussing Tropes and Rep! ♿


Heyhey, BookNerds! This month is Disability Pride Month so I thought I’d do a little post for it today. At the start of the month I asked my lovely followers on twitter what disabled/chronically ill rep they would like to see more of in the books they read and today I thought I would put them into this post! There is a distinct lack of disabled rep in books across all genres, and when we do get representation it is often poor, brief or used in a specific way – so I’m also going to chat about what tropes/rep I dislike seeing in books and why.


What We Want To See!

As a disabled reader there is a lot of disabled/chronically ill rep I would like to see in the books I read! The list below includes what I would like, and what my lovely twitter followers would like to see as well!

More Disabled Fantasy MC’s. I personally would love to see more disabled fantasy characters in general, but definitely more MC’s! In worlds with magic of all kinds there is no excuse for not being able to have powerhouse MC’s with disabilities.

More characters using Wheelchairs. When we do get physical disability rep it’s always very similar, we very rarely get characters who use wheelchairs, especially as central characters. I’d love to see more mc’s, or side characters with different physical disabilities, including using wheelchairs.

More invisible Disabilities. A significant proportion of people have some type of invisible disability so of course we would love to see more rep for it! Invisible disabilities are often ignored, so including more rep for it would be particularly powerful and useful.

Better Rep for Mental Health. Overall MH rep of all types is poor. We need more rep for all kinds ranging from Depression/anxiety to ones such as agoraphobia, bipolar and schizophrenia. Rep surrounding these are poor or weaponised, we need better and more accurate rep with these conditions as a part of life.

More stories with disabled characters not about being disabled. While stories about being disabled are important, and the stories need to be told, we also need more books with characters who just happen to be disabled but the story isn’t about them being disabled. Disabled characters should be able to exist and contribute to the plot without their conditions becoming their only storyline.

More diverse rep (e.g Epilepsy/chronic pain/chronic fatigue). We need more diverse rep overall, disabled characters are often painted with the same brush, the same tropes, symptoms etc… We need more diverse rep of and within disabilities. For example, different types of epilepsy etc… Disabled is not a one size fits all label – it is an umbrella term that encompasses an wide range of different illnesses.

What We Don’t Want To See!

Disabled Villains. …. Please please please stop with this trope. It’s old, ableist and boring. Villains should not have to be disabled to be villains – it creates negative connotations that add to the foundation of ableism.

Inspiration porn. I do not like this trope. Disabled people do not exist to become a source of inspiration for other people. We should not have to lay bare our fight with our illnesses to be seen as more than our symptoms.

Saviour characters. Similar to the above point, disabled characters should not be used as a tool to show how great and empathetic your able characters are.

Magical Cures. … magical cures is a bad trope, a lot of disabilities/illnesses are long term/life long conditions, and we want to see that represented. But the obsession with ‘fixing’ disabled characters leaves a bad after taste and destroys the representation that was built up.

Wheelchairs for dramatic effect. This trope really gets on my nerves. This happens a lot in tv shows where a character gets into an accident of some sort, ends up in a wheelchair and everyone is devastated, and then *poof* a few episodes later another character whips up a device/cure all that means *yay* no more wheelchair needed. Using a wheelchair as some sort of shock tactic is cruel and ableist and this type of trope reinforces the idea that physically disabled characters are some sort of burden – this trope is a quickfire way to get me to drop the book/show.

Disabled characters as a tool for sympathy. Introducing disabled characters solely for sympathy is a cheap trope that reinforces ableist stereotypes of disabilities. Disabled characters should be as well rounded as your able ones and shouldn’t be used simply as a one-dimensional tool.

Advice From Experience:

General tips of things not to do or say to someone who is disabled:

  • “You are too young/pretty to be disabled.” – this isn’t a compliment, all it does is illustrate that there is a preconceived notion/stereotype of what it means to be disabled.
  • “You don’t look disabled.” – as above, this again reinforces the ableist paradigm of what it means to be disabled.
  • “If you’re disabled then why can/can’t you do X” – all disabilities differ, as do the abilities and symptoms of our disabilities – this doesn’t make our disabilities any less valid.
  • Do not talk to whoever is with us, talk to us (this happens a lot to me because I use a wheelchair!) – a lot of us can talk for ourselves.
  • Don’t bend down to talk to us like you would a child, also don’t modify your tone when you talk to us either – it comes across as patronising.
  • Do not move our wheelchair (whether It’s in use or not) without our permission – our wheelchair is a part of us, moving it is the equivalent of grabbing someone’s shoulders and moving them out of the way.
  • Do not assume that we can always behave in the same way. – some days are worse than others, and I guarantee you that in doing so we have expended our energy. The symptoms are always there.

^ Most of what I have advised above is from my own experiences – and not all advice is applicable to all disabled people. However, most of it comes down to common decency – if you wouldn’t behave in a similar way towards an able bodied person then don’t behave that way towards someone with a disability.

These are things to keep in mind for rep in books too – disabled characters should be representative of disabled people – meaning their illnesses should be realistic. For example, chronic pain doesn’t just disappear, but the person with it may learn to keep it from showing too blatantly, and everyone has a different regime to try and manage it. People who use wheelchairs have differing abilities, some can walk short distance, but it can be exhausting or painful, some cannot walk at all. Chronic fatigue is persistent, people who have it are constantly exhausted and committing to plans can me being on bed rest for the next day/week/or more. etc…

Disabled rep shouldn’t be a tool for sympathy, or some shock factor – disability/illnesses should be a part of the character and it should be shown as such. And while the rep should be realistic, it should not be all there is – disabled people are still people with personalities, passions, skills, talents and ambitions – so when you have disabled characters you should remember they are people too and should be as well rounded as your able characters.


I don’t discuss disability much on my blog, but for Disability Pride Month I thought I would at least share this post because Disabled rep is so important and we definitely need more of it across all forms of media.

Tell me BookNerds, what disabled rep would you like to see more of?

Happy Reading, BookNerds!💜♿📚


15 comments

  1. This was a great post and I agree, I would love to read more fantasy stories with disabled characters in general, and especially main characters. I mostly read fantasy and don’t read much contemporary so it’s not a perspective I’ve read much from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you 💜🥰. It would be fantastic to have more disabled characters/mc’s in fantasy for sure. I’m the same, I mostly read fantasy too so I don’t get to read much disabled rep which is a shame. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is a shame. I feel like YA fantasy is slightly more likely to have diverse representation including characters with disabilities but I mostly read adult fantasy which has even less diversity.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love to see more characters with that experience in books – and NOT being magically cured! I find in writing about my real life experience as a disabled person that non-disabled people will “like” and support what I say but not contribute to the conversation themselves – and these are people who usually come forward with LOTS of opinions. More disabled writers are probably key – building enough support for them /us to make a difference is just as big a challenge. I’m in Australia. Not sure how it compares to UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, the magically cured trope is one of my most hated. It is unfortunate that ableism and disabled issues are rarely addressed and discussed by abled people, and yet some do tend to hold a lot of opinions which are not usually correct nor beneficial. More disabled writers are definitely a crucial step in improving this, but, as you say, building support for them/us is difficult. The UK is not the best when it comes to addressing ableism or disabled issues, and it is quite difficult to build support here as well.

      Like

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