Writing about Disabled People


Photoshopped Venus De Milo –

A character in my WIP is disabled. As a young child, she lost her arms in an accident. I’m choosing to include her because of a fairy tale called the Handless Maiden. In this case, her accident is not caused by her father’s greed and fear, as it is in the fairy tale, where the Devil chops off the girl’s hands to make a bargain, though a sort of devil’s bargain is the cause—betrayal, misunderstanding, and resentment being the fuel of most stories.

I’m concerned about writing about this character. I don’t want to offend people who have lost or who don’t have use of some of their parts. I do know a few people who are “differently abled,” a man who had polio, a woman who has little use of most of her body, students who are blind or deaf. They don’t seem think about their disabilities: they live their lives as best they can, like anyone else. I don’t know what they wish for.

I want to show how this character copes in her daily life, but how she is not to be considered either a heroine for playing the “hand” dealt to her, nor an object of pity, but just as a character in a difficult situation, making the best of it. She’s also a motherless teen, with the more dysfunctional than usual family.

It’s difficult to imagine living this life, and I constantly have to rewrite sentences to take out references to hands, stroking, holding, picking up things. I’m one of those people who talks with her hands, and I am a kinesthetic learner, wanting to touch and manipulate things to learn.  This is a thinking challenge for me.

The girl is not a forlorn Cinderella dreaming of going to the ball, though she wants to be loved, and knows that she  is unlikely to be a marriage partner, despite her skills with her feet—cooking, spinning, gardening, etc. I watched some video on YouTube about women who manage their lives, their babies, their chores and jobs without arms. In this case, two males do love her, but whether either of them is a suitable mate remains to be seen as their characters develop. The boys might even end up in their own bromance, or all three young people might go off as a threesome on a quest for adventure.

My main character, Maven, Fairy Godmother, wants to grant a wish for this girl, but she has to communicate that a wish can be granted, if the girl will express a wish. Maven would be tempted to make her grow new arms, which is what happens in the fairy tale. In fact, the husband of the handless maiden does not believe it is she when he meets her after their seven-years separation, because she now has hands. She has to show him the silver hands he had made for her when they were married.

But I’m not sure that’s what the girl would wish for, given only one wish. What do you think?

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5 Responses to Writing about Disabled People

  1. Vitality2day says:

    I think, like with everyone else, the wish would be different depending on who she is as a person. I did however love the Shrek-idea. Maybe she could be offered the hands, but not accepting. Your question is really interesting, but really, how can we guess what anyone ever wants and thinks unless we’ve been in the situation. Try turn the table. If the norm was no hands, how would someone with hands feel? Would she want to chop her hands off to become like the others? Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

    • Vitality2day, what a great question. I think she has felt different for so long that she really can’t wrap her mind around being “like everyone else.” She is proud of her accomplishments–yet, some of them are not socially acceptable. If you are spinning with your feet, then you don’t have them planted demurely on the ground. I know that some folks who do without arms find prosthetics get in their way. So, it does matter what she wants.

      • Vitality2day says:

        I agree. I’m thinking though, that being different (which I’ve felt most of my life) is also the only normal thing. It becomes like an important part of you. A part of you almost wonder if you become “normal” would you still exist? This identity is, of course, not very productive but something real that I’ve had to relate to and work with 🙂

  2. Victoria says:

    Beautifully written Charlotte! And I have to comment that I love your blog!