This question may actually be more for Fay Onyx, but let me know what you think.

I’m working on a humorous not-at-all-realistic story where the main characters are pirates. If I have pirates with peg-legs, hooks, and eye-patches, then I support a stereotype about certain disabilities. But if I don’t, then I fail to have disabled characters in the ONE genre where we expect them to be an active part of the story.

So what do you suggest?

Thank you.

-Dave L

Dave L,

Thanks for the question!

You have a third option: do a bit of research and create non-stereotypical disabled characters.

I suggest starting by looking into four main areas:

  • Disability in historical piracy
  • Historical adaptive equipment
  • Common stereotypes about disability
  • The specific disabilities you are thinking about representing

To get you started, here are some common stereotypes to avoid:

  • Making the disabilities or adaptive equipment into jokes
  • Using disability or adaptive equipment to make a character more threatening
  • Making disability the reason why a character does bad things
  • Having your character be bitter about their disability
  • Making the character pathetic or helpless

When it comes time to create characters, the main thing you will need to do is figure out what the character’s disability is and how they deal with it. This includes figuring out which adaptive equipment and accommodations the character uses. When in doubt, I suggest erring on the side of empowering the character.

Because it is easy to make false assumptions about what certain disabilities are like to live with, be sure to do some research that includes the first-hand experiences of people living with that disability. There is an active disabled community on YouTube that can be a great resource for this. You can also check out the Mythcreants podcast episode on research.

Keep in mind that the more central the character’s disability is to the plot, the more research you will need to do to create a respectful representation. If you aren’t up for doing lots of research, then don’t make the character’s disability a plot point. It can just be part of their everyday life. In fact, there are a lot of stories about disabled characters that fixate on their disabilities to the exclusion of everything else. This gets dehumanizing, and it can be a good thing to have some stories with non-stereotypical disabled characters that don’t focus on the characters’ disabilities.

Best wishes,

Fay from Writing Alchemy

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.