This isn’t something I’ve really shared with the internet, but I was born with a mobility disability. This disability has changed over time and it doesn’t really have a name or clarification anymore as it’s been altered by an operation gone wrong. This all happened when I was young—about 7 or 8, and I’ve been dealing with it every day since then.
Like many of you, books are my escape, YA in particular. But disability is something that is rarely discussed, and today I want to talk about why that needs to change.
1. Representation and role models
I know a lot of people look up to Katniss, Hermione, Tris and so many others, which makes sense to me. The thing is, I personally feel a little disconnected from them for one main reason. Have you ever heard of Katniss Everdeen struggling to get up a flight of stairs? Or Tris Prior having to take a day off from the rebellion or whatever because she physically can’t get out of bed? No, you don’t. *
This is kind of sad story, but as a child, do you want to know who my fictional role model was? It was Nemo. Yes, Nemo as in the fish from Finding Nemo. Do you know why? Because he had a bad fin that made swimming hard for him, and that was the closest I got to a character who struggled through the same thing as I did on a daily basis.
It sucks because I think I, and all the other kids I spent months in hospital with, deserved more characters who we could sympathise will. As great as Nemo was, where was our kickass assassin/rebellion leader with the bad leg? Or bad arm? Or whatever illness we had.
* I know people might bring up Hazel Grace here, and while I agree that she represents a more realistic side of illness, I also have some issues there. I could talk for hours about why I think she is not an entirely true description of a cancer patient, but I just want to point out something. People are often more willing to talk about cancer. A lot of people have been affected by it, myself included, so I don’t think it’s not as important or whatever but it has featured in a lot of YA and other fiction lately. That’s great, but where are my diabetic characters?
I’ve dealt with rude and ignorant comments and looks my entire life. They’re not fun, but what gets me the most is that people don’t see that it’s not alright to talk about these sorts of things. Walking can be very difficult for me, especially long distances and I get a limp. I’ve had some really lovely friends who can tell this and we’ll just go and sit down for a bit (shout out to Michelle and Dani who are especially brilliant at this). Then there are those other people who feel it’s necessary to point out this limp to me and then want to know what’s happened. I know people are curious, but sometimes this makes everything worse.
We need a character who can show this. A character who can educate people, both disabled and not on this fact—a person’s disability is their business. They might be comfortable with telling people about it or they might not be. Either way, it’s not your place to ask. I think the best way to make this known is through stories, especially ones that younger people are more likely to read.
I’m not saying that there are no YA books that look at disability, but sometimes when disabilities are included, they aren’t dealt with well. You get your stereotypes, like anything else in the world. There’s generally two ways a disabled character will be written—either they are meant to be an inspirational story or they’re bitter about the world.
Just like anyone else, you get your good and bad days. There are times where I’ve felt like ‘Yeah, you know what? I want to help others who are going through a similar thing’ and then there are times where I’ve hated everyone and everything because of the issues my leg has caused. I’m not one or the other, and I don’t know anyone who is. You just have to get on with it.
Books help with breaking down stereotypes, right? There are books that look at race, religion, gender, sexuality, identity—whatever, that work on showing all those things in a different light. So why haven’t we seen more of disability in YA?
So in my opinion, these are just three reasons why we need more disability in YA fiction. If you have any others or any comments about what I’ve said, please comment them below just remember to be respectful, as I said these are just my opinions.
If you know of any YA that you think represents disability well please let me know, because I’ve yet to find anything.