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Disability and the Novel: A Journey to Read Novels with Disabled Characters

June 23, 2011

There is a definitive lack of representation of characters with disabilities in mainstream literature. Often novels do not treat disabilities fairly or even accurately, they are used as mainly decoration; an example of the authors’ supposed liberal mind. Or, like the “Magic Negro” trope, they are used as a catalyst for the non-disabled protagonist to conquer their conflicts.

Now, I have been thinking about setting up something like the Year of Feminist Classics blog where, hopefully, every month people will read a book with a protagonist who has a disability. I think some preliminary ground rules would be in order:

  • the protagonist can have either a physical or a mental disability – someone who is wheelchair bound or perhaps someone with cerebral palsy/ mental disability would be something like Autism or depression, anxiety/OCD etc.
  • the protagonist has to be an actual believable character where their disability is accurate & represented in a fair way
  • yet they shouldn’t be wholly defined by their disability – they have the same dramas that non-disabled people go through

I think this would be really interesting to do and I think book bloggers have shown that they are willing to broaden their horizons when it comes to reading.

Would anyone be interested in doing this with me? Does anyone have any suggestions of what books to read (fiction & non-fiction & even comics)? What other things do you think should be included in what would make a great character with a disability?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2011 8:42 pm

    I am drawn towards books about characters with a mental disability – particularly dementia. I also read a lot of books centring on autism. I don’t think there is a lack of them, maybe just people don’t read them? If you are looking for books then I think Flowers for Algernon is a must read. I also loved When I Was Five I Killed Myself. The Wilderness and The Story of Forgetting are also very good. Born on a Blue Day is also fantastic – I could recommend books like this all day, so I’ll stop now, but I would be interested in joining you in this project. I hope lots of other people want to too – I’d love more recommendations. 🙂

    • June 24, 2011 10:21 am

      “I don’t think there is a lack of them, maybe just people don’t read them?”

      perhaps you’re right but I do think that compared to stories involving non-disabled people it’s lacking. I’m not advocating having every novel to feature a disabled person but to have some kind of balance. People argue (and quite rightly too) that there should be more people of colour and more homosexual characters so why can’t there be more disabled characters.

      I’ve read Flowers for Algernon; excellent book

      It’s good to have you on board – hopefully there will be more people who want to join! Fingers crossed!

  2. June 29, 2011 12:02 pm

    no one else interested?

  3. September 16, 2011 2:29 pm

    I am a retired special education teacher so I do have an interest in books with disabled characters and have found some good ones. After I retired in 2006, I published four novels, three of which have disabled characters. Unto the Least of These is a mystery in which the only eye-witness to a murder is a boy with cerebral palsy who can neither speak nor walk. As Eagles tells the story of an abandoned child, a frightened old woman and a handicapped man who must stand together against evil when it comes knocking at the door. The Den of Lions tells the story of a timid asthmatic librarian who uses his life’s savings to rescue a handicapped man being exhibited in a carnival. A tender Odd Couple story. These are all available on amazon. Of course, there is always Jewel by Brett Lott and Icy Sparks by Gwyn Rubio. Happy reading!

  4. Anonymous permalink
    October 20, 2011 5:49 pm

    I’d be interested in participating, but there are a few clarifiers I’d like to invoke first:
    1. There is not a lack of representation regarding disability or disabled characters in literature or any other discourse (see mitchell and snyder’s work and many others). It’s there, and it’s there A LOT. it’s just not necessarily a representation that pwd’s consider positive or accurate.
    2. We must all be very careful about our own language when “we” write about pwds. using terminology like “wheelchair bound” and/or handicapped is not really acceptable in the community and if people are going to pursue this project then they need to do due diligence in being aware of disability activism and what the disability community is saying.


  5. Terry Tracy permalink
    November 7, 2011 1:45 pm

    I’ve just published a novel about a woman with a disability. The title is: A GREAT PLACE for a SEIZURE. The main character is a sarcastic epileptic and while epilepsy is a major element of the novel the fundamental theme is identity. It’s just that disability and epilepsy provide the framework for portraying the issue.

    The reviews on and could give you a sense of what the novel is like and whether it’s worth your time. If you decide to read it, even if you hate it, please leave a review. It let’s people know what they’re in for if they decide to spend the money.


    Terry Tracy

  6. Cyndi Maher permalink
    November 12, 2014 6:36 pm

    I am very interested

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