Having a Handicapped/Disabled Hero

Daredevil

First, I’m going to focus on physical disabilities for this week’s topic.  I’ve touched on a few mental disabilities, but never really dug hard into physical.  This can include blindness, deafness, missing a limb, or anything that can make functioning as a hero an extra challenge.  It’s not like this is a unique route to take.

Let’s take a look at the ‘classic’ character of the ‘Blind Swordsman’.  This has been done a lot in movies and fiction.  You have a warrior who cannot see, but is incredibly talented and a force to be reckoned with.  Authors tend to go with the ‘other senses are keener’ and have them work off hearing.  I plan on doing that whenever I write a story with a blind spear fighter.  If it’s not hearing then its sensing something or having a special ability that counters their blindness.  Daredevil up there is based around this concept, but with a superpower twist.

So, what have we seen here?  The disabled character comes with an extra skill or ability that makes up for their loss.  With the Blind Swordsman, it’s keener senses that allow them to see the world.  Characters who are deaf are shown with hearing aids, sign language, or lip-reading.  I could keep going, but the point is that their disability typically comes with a counter.  If not right away then they learn one at some point during their adventure.  Sometimes it’s not even a direct one, but something that allows them to be a factor in events.  For example, Professor X typically is in a wheelchair.  He has great psychic abilities, which is why he can influence events.  It’s an example of frail body and strong mind characters too.

I think some authors take the disabled hero too lightly.  They do it, but then give such a massive counter that it doesn’t matter.  Even worse, they don’t show that the character has any trouble with daily life.  There are no adjustments being made because they either have the perfect counter or the author doesn’t do enough research.  This happens a lot with deaf characters.  They’ll read lips from far distances or when they aren’t facing the person speaking.  An author simply drops in the counter to explain how they can communicate and then leave the deafness behind.  It’s still there, but it’s no longer a factor, which makes one wonder why it there in the first place.  Well, that would be for ‘flavor’ and nothing more than that.

More so than in the past, it really is important to get disabilities right when using them in fiction.  We’re in an age of representation, which comes with critical eyes towards depictions of most groups.  So, having a character with a physical disability requires that you do research and make it count.  They need to show that they can be a hero or help the hero regardless of their disability.  Even if they’re comic relief, they need to show a level of strength and success.  Though, you really want to be careful with that route and try to avoid slapstick/accident humor here.  At least, it seems to me that people get angry over that kind of stuff.  Anyway, you need these characters to properly demonstrate the disability and how one can navigate a world that wasn’t really designed with their needs in mind.  It makes these characters sources of inspiration.

So, what do you think about disabled heroes?  Have you ever tried to write one or know of a great example?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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12 Responses to Having a Handicapped/Disabled Hero

  1. If you’re going to write it, you have to get it correct, or what’s the point? From personal experience, I’ve written characters who are amputees. I’d say if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, make sure you speak with people who have. Such first-hand feedback is invaluable. I’d love to see more heroes with physical issues, especially if done well. Good food for thought, Charles 💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks. Research is definitely a big aspect of tackling this type of hero. Even if you can’t find a person who has that disability, you should be able to find articles and videos talking about the experience. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. L. Marie says:

    Great post, Charles. You mentioned some great examples and brought up great points (like the fact that in some works the character isn’t shown having trouble outside of being a superhero). I remember as a kid marveling over Daredevil, back when I read his comic books. And I recall a movie, which isn’t about a superhero, but involves a blind woman played by Audrey Hepburn (Wait Until Dark https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062467/ who was menaced by some thugs). Ages ago, I wrote a novel with a blind hero, but he wasn’t a superhero. After sending it to some agents who didn’t take it, I never wrote another book with a character with a physical disability. Oddly enough, I am partially deaf in one ear. I never once considered writing a book with a hearing-impaired character, because I was afraid I wouldn’t do the character justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s daunting to try it even if you have a disability. I’ve noticed there’s a mentality that stops a person by thinking that they might offend people who have it worse in terms of the disability. The entire endeavor seems to come with a lot of stress and fear.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        Yes, the possibility of getting it wrong makes me fearful to try again. But I agree that stories featuring characters with physical disabilities are needed. My paternal grandmother was a double amputee due to diabetes. I’ve included characters in stories with her personality but not her disability.

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      • Missing limbs seems to be one of the more common disabilities. I think people find it easier to wrap their heads around those limitations.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have not tried to use a disabled character, but I must say your advice is excellent. An author needs to do the homework necessary to get it right. Thanks, Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I suppose Daredevil is the easiest to remember. There was the old master from Kung Fu. I wrote a pirate who lost a leg and included a few of his struggles, but he wasn’t the main character. I have one made up of multiple other people and one who lost his head, but they probably don’t fit the mold.

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  5. I was about to say that I haven’t written a disabled character, but one of my unpublished novels does have a character with an intellectual disability, who is still a talented mage and good friend. He doesn’t use magic to “fix himself,” though. I think a lot of people might expect that.

    Representation is important, so I think it’s worth considering disabled characters. You do need to do your research, and if it’s a historical work, spend sometime looking into what accommodations were available in a particular era.

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