Thankfully, there is still much work to be done, but the last few years have seen an increased level of media scrutiny for the lack of inclusion and inaccurate portrayal of characters with disabilities in mainstream film and television.
This is probably because audiovisual broadcast content can be instinctive. It’s more in your face, which makes it easier to spot what’s been done badly or, in fact, stands out for not having it.
The appearance of important characters in books and fiction, especially children’s books, seems more obscure.
The latter is very important. Because it is undeniable that the books children read in their growing years, whether they are educational or entertaining, can shape young minds quite unlike anything else.
Books engage in a completely different way than movies and television. The long form his factor and the amount of time the reader is immersed in the story allow for a level of character development that would be almost impossible to replicate on screen.
Regarding the latter, one of the most staunch criticisms of the media regarding its portrayal of disability is the occasional lack of depiction of people with disabilities going about their daily lives.
This means that in movies and TV shows featuring characters with disabilities, their raison d’etre and character tend to revolve around the impact of their disability.
Often this is the helpless victim or villain himself who engenders empathy, lying somewhere on the spectrum where physical or psychological differences contribute to an unpleasant sense of the other.
On screen, characters with disabilities rarely live their lives like everyone else. Picking up the kids from school, shopping for groceries, and going to work.
This is largely due to the ignorant, thoughtless, and nonjudgmental content that’s come out of Hollywood’s writing rooms for decades, but there are also limiting factors inherent in the medium.
Specifically, there’s very limited character development and aspects outside of the core narrative that can be packed into two hours.
Novels do not have this limitation.
The story progresses at a much slower pace, giving readers access to not only the characters’ major interactions with others, but also their personal thoughts and daily lives.
As such, the book is an ideal vessel for the depiction of accidental disability and the most meaningful tool the creative arts have in supporting the widespread normalization of disability throughout society.
Applying the above to children and the books they read, often these effects are even more compelling when characters of the same age group are involved.
Today, we may be living in an age of streaming wars.
Nevertheless, many never forget the age-defining childhood stories that exist at a time when children begin to choose for themselves what to read and find the time to do it.
For some children, the ephemeral, fleeting relationships constructed on the pages of a beautifully written book are just as important, albeit in a very different way, than the real-life relationships they experience in the schoolyard.
Books are a great way to help children understand that people with disabilities have dreams, ambitions, passions and a sense of humor similar to their own.
At the same time, there are also great opportunities for children living with disabilities to see themselves reflected in the world.
There is still much work to be done to increase the number of disabled characters in children’s books.
In a recent article in toronto star On a topic co-authored by novelist, librarian, social justice educator, and disability rights advocate, Christina Minaki, and award-winning author and former editor Gillian O’Reilly Canadian children’s book news Concerned with disability issues – some terrible stats have come to light.
In 2019, Star A survey of children’s books published in the previous year found only 5 books with handicapped characters out of a total of 463 published.
Looking back at what was published in 2019, that number increased from a total of 419 to 11.
A disappointing result, given that an estimated 15-20% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability.
In the same article, the author also writes:
“We need stories about disabled characters living fulfilling lives and having productive and interesting futures. , novels in which persons/characters with disabilities are present to resist the temptation to inspire, teach, correct, or make others cry are essential.”
They further added:
“With all the progress we are making on diversity, we must stop shelving disability because forgotten diversity is portrayed in a fixed way. , we need to prioritize the voices of disabled writers and stories with real-life disabled characters in the world.”
The point about disabled authors is important.
Unless the publishing industry does a better job of opening its doors, and opens its hearts and minds to writers with lived experiences of disability, the authentic, engaging, and accidental portrayal of disability will never be possible. , and always remains a considerable distance from where it should be.
However, as is always the case with disability inclusion, there are so many critical moving parts required to build real momentum that we may need to talk about it for another day.