Writing Differently Able Characters

What do you mean by that? Disabled people?

Most communities of individuals labeled “disabled” would rather be considered differently able.

When my daughter was in a wheelchair the para/quad community informed me it was not an electric chair. Ted Bundy got the electric chair. My kid (and they) had power chairs.

What about those deaf and dumb people? They’re hearing impaired, right? If you’re writing about a person with hearing loss there are appropriate terms to be used:

Deaf for someone born Deaf to Deaf parents who is raised in a sign language communication modality and is part of the Deaf Community that communicates in American Sign Language.

deaf (no upper case) or oral deaf. Someone either born deaf or early deafened to parents who are not part of the Deaf Community and who is raised to speak rather than sign. They are taught to read lips and “voice” (speak).

Hard of Hearing (HoH) including children and adults with hearing loss, in various ranges. This includes late deafened adults. These folks are oral and rarely use sign language.

What about that hearing impaired thing? The term is considered a slur by the Deaf Community so don’t use it. In fact, you can have a HoH person use the term and get corrected by a member of the Deaf Community in your story. The Deaf do not feel impaired. They feel normal.

Oh, and the deaf and dumb thing? Unless someone has vocal chord damage everyone can make noises. People with hearing loss are not dumb (mute). They may choose not to speak because hearing people ridicule them for the atonality of their voices. Plus, let’s face it, if you can’t hear speech it is difficult to replicate it.

There are individuals who are mute due to physiological or psychological issues who hear just fine. That’s another type of individual to consider. In fact, one of JD Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood characters (John Matthew) is mute, hears just fine, and can kick ass and take names.

Our stories are given more depth by inclusion of people who are not “white bread” characters. Our fictional worlds are enhanced by having characters who have hearing loss, vision loss, loss of mobility, weight problems (anorexia, obesity, etc.) are missing body parts due to accident or health issues, and so forth. Look at the dynamism of Professor Xavier in the X-Men (comics and movies).

It is important we learn about our characters as human beings first. My husband was blind. However, he was not a blind man. He was a man who happened to be blind and fullsizeoutput_ba2that blindness was a part of his identity, but did not define him.

Not all blind individuals use a service dog. Most use a cane, instead. Perry (see photo) is the service dog of a writing friend. Not all blind people have total vision loss, in fact, few experience total blindness.

I’m HoH, but it does not define me. I am a woman who has done many things in her life and being HoH has impacted me, but does not define me as a human being.

I have an acquaintance who is deaf, very close to being legally blind, and has a form of muscular dystrophy so severe she requires a ventilator. She is also a former missionary, an attorney who runs an disability rights agency, and a parent of four adopted, special needs children. Vision, hearing, and physical limitations do not define her.

So, if you are going to include characters who are not stereotypical normies, take time to research (through meeting members of various communities or at least reading about them) and get to know the human beings beyond the stereotype.

Happy writing!


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