I’ve had a rough morning and I’m riled up so here’s my two cents. Repeat: my two cents. I do not claim to speak for or represent the beliefs of everyone with a disability.
INCLUDE CHARACTERS WITH DISABILITIES
[Can’t believe I’m still saying this but here we are]
No, not “disabled characters”, put your character before their disability but include it nonetheless. People with disabilities exist in real life, out in the world, living and breathing and going about their days in the same spaces as able-bodied people. No their disability does not have to further the plot because that’s not how life works. If you want realism, include characters with disabilities. We’re all around you. I guarantee you know several people with disabilities even if you don’t think of them that way.
“But a disabled person can’t be a soldier/mercenary/other badass fighty character which is apparently all I include in my story!”
A) Yes they can. If you’re only aware of physical disabilities that completely limit a person’s mobility, you’re not aware of the diversity of disabilities or the mobility aid options and it’s time to do some research. Peg leg, bionic eyes, arm made of gears and pneumatics-based imitation tendons for each individual finger, magic potions or holistic treatments for chronic pain management, mental disabilities, someone who has a disability but is in remission. Get. Creative. These people exist and function in the same spaces as your perfectly able-bodied soldiers/mercenaries/various badasses.
B) Let’s say they can’t. Let’s say, for whatever reason, your badasses must only be completely physically and mentally abled. Do you not have medics? Blacksmiths? Ammunition and weapons experts/providers? Pilots? Family members back home that your badasses fight for and return to once a month? What about the bar/tavern/club/restaurant/dining tent your badasses regularly visit – are there no servers or cooks or bartenders that they talk to? Hell, a prostitute with a missing arm or severe ADHD. Are you really telling me you don’t think it’d be fun, and beyond handy, to have a magic healer who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down in your crew who’s constantly cracking jokes and shutting down shitty behaviour? Sure they may not fight because your fighters are only perfectly abled, but damn are they good at the fix-up after.
“But I don’t want to write a sob story”
Yikes. Well, good news, you don’t have to. People with disabilities can be ridiculous and funny and fun in general and it doesn’t always revolve around their condition. However, they will make jokes about their condition and, given the right people, can be joked with about it. “The right people” varies person to person, but I find for the most part it’s close friends and family members who act as strong supports and will also joke about things outside of the person’s disability. For this, you may want to talk to real life people with disabilities. Seriously, we’re everywhere. If you built rapport, many of us would be happy to tell you if a joke/situation is offensive even within the context of goofing around with a friend. Hell, some of us (ex. me) would be willing to answer questions from a total stranger if it’s in the name of providing education and support on writing a character with a disability.
[in which my best friend is a gift and figured out reassuring me I wasn’t a burden wasn’t working so she settled on calling me her favourite burden]
“But I don’t always want to be talking about their disability”
You. Don’t Have. To. It’s almost like, with all character traits/quirks/identifiers, it happens occasionally and within context.
She bowed her head low and bent her elbows at funny angles, tying her hair up quickly so she didn’t have to hold her arms up for long.
“Bad shoulder day?”
“Yeah, kept me up all night.” She dropped her hands, straightened up, and stretched her neck, rolling her head side to side. “Alright. Let’s do this.”
Washing bitter pills down with even more bitter coffee, he went over his tasks for the day. Dry cleaning, groceries, bank, assassination. Easy enough.
“They can’t take the stairs. We’re leaving them behind.”
“Or, you inconsiderate rat bastard, we could find an alternate route. You’re not getting through security without them. They’re coming.”
TL;DR, it’s not hard to throw in the realities of living with a disability every few chapters, or whenever relevant.
Lastly, the topic of using the word(s) “disabled/disability” and naming a diagnosis.
This, for me, isn’t really a big thing. I can understand how it is for some people, and I’m a fan of it but I don’t consider it a necessity. Some people want to see the word ‘disability’ used in order to take away its stigma. Some people want to see diagnoses named for the sake of completely being able to purely relate to a character. I understand that. I’m not bashing that. This is just my opinion. Personally, I don’t see the need, especially in fantasy settings or scifi or general other-world where conditions may not have the same names or treatments as they do in real life. If you make it clear that your character has a disability, show the symptoms and the ways in which they cope/manage/adjust to carry on with their lives, show their ups and downs and condition management, that’s enough for me.
This might be the area that you upset and offend some people. Someone might get mad that you used the word ‘disabled’, some might get mad that you didn’t. Some might get upset that you ‘made up’ your own condition, some might get upset that you named a diagnosis and didn’t portray it in a way they felt was accurate. Unfortunately, that’s the reality and your choice to make which group you want to potentially upset. Do your research, do your best to be sensitive, make an informed decision. Ultimately, I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’d rather see characters with unnamed disabilities portrayed in a positive way than not portrayed at all.
Please, include characters with disabilities. It can actually contribute to the realism of your stories and you might be surprised how fun it can be to write.