I’m writing a horror story, and my main character is disabled after a car accident two years prior. How do I add her disability in a way that isn’t disrespectful? (She has a prosthetic leg.) Thank you so much!



Thanks for the question! For many people who want to respectfully depict disabled characters, it can be hard to know where to start. There aren’t many comprehensive resources out there and the best can be hard to find. That is why I have worked so hard to collect and create resources on disability representation – I want to make it easier to do things right. : )

Know Respectful Language

A good place to start is learning what terms for disability are considered respectful and what are considered disrespectful. Knowing this will aid you in assessing the other resources you come across in your research. My favorite language resource is Ableism/Language by Lydia X. Z. Brown.

In addition to learning respectful language for your character’s disability, I also recommend doing your best to avoid casual ableist language, including terms like “crazy” and “stupid.”  Changing language takes work, especially at first, but it is important and frequently results in more specific and interesting descriptions.

Research the Disability

You also want to research your character’s disability in detail. While medical information can be useful, it is essential to find out what daily life with this disability is like. Finding information on lived experience can be tricky. I recommend checking out the many disabled vloggers on YouTube. I have also created a resource on Experiences of Disability that has some general information on common lived experiences, followed by some more specific resources.

Research Myths and Stereotypes

In addition to researching the disability itself, you will want to research common myths and stereotypes about it, so that you can avoid them. I suggest using your favorite search engine with a range of keywords for the disability. Be sure to include both “myths” and “stereotypes” as search terms, as they can each bring up different resources.

Learn Harmful Disability Tropes

It is important to be aware of the most common ways that depictions of disability go wrong. My article, Respectfully Depicting a Character Adapting to a Disability, focuses on characters that have recently become disabled, but it also has a lot of generally useful information on common representation problems and how to do things right. Another useful resource is my series Ableist Tropes in Storytelling, where I cover specific harmful tropes and what to do instead. Looking through these resources will also provide a lot of general guidance on how to respectfully portray a character’s disability.

Hire a Consultant

Of course, no matter how much research anyone does, it will never be the same as lived experience. That is why I recommend hiring a consultant, if at all possible, and working with them from the beginning of the writing process. To help, I’ve written an article on finding and working with a disability consultant.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your story!

–Fay Onyx from Writing Alchemy

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