14.47: Writing Characters With Physical Disabilities

Your Hosts: Piper, Dan, and Tempest, with special guest Nicola Griffith

In this episode we discuss how to faithfully represent people with physical disabilities through the characters we create. Our guest, Nicola Griffith, walks us through the process of rigorously imagining how the world might look to someone with a particular disability.

Credits: This episode was mastered by Alex Jackson




Put yourself into the point of view of a character with a strong defining characteristic. Visit a restaurant, and explore how it might look through their eyes rather than your own.

So Lucky, by Nicola Griffith

9 thoughts on “14.47: Writing Characters With Physical Disabilities”

  1. That was painful to listen to. I don’t mean any disrespect to the host, but she clearly has little knowledge of what it’s like being physically disabled. There is a whole realm of social and emotional trauma that happens, trauma almost akin to being through war or a shooting. I am physically disabled (blind), and my sister went through a shooting (Sandy Hook), and it was shockingly familiar the trauma she went through.

    It sounds like that Nicola has recently become disabled. I’ve been disabled since I was five, but only recently started thinking about the advice I would give. A year ago I would have given the same advice, just imagine, but now I realize just how nuanced and complex the thing is, and how much people just can’t come up with if they haven’t been through.

  2. Three disjointed thoughts:

    Hot diggity! This is interesting stuff. I’m finding my own experiences with age-related degradation of function and possibly some unpleasant chronic illnesses to be potential story fodder.

    I think “access” is a potent force in a story. And I think my NaNo might get a bit of a messing-with.

    There are so many varieties of ability, disability, and a character’s capacities that it floors me that we’re (myself included) just leaving a lot of interesting and powerful stuff on the table. It’s not so much representation as having good & real characters.

  3. The triumphant triplet, Piper, Dan, and Tempest, welcomed Nicola Griffith to the podcast to talk about Writing the Other, specifically, writing characters with physical disabilities. When you have a wheelchair, crutches, or even little kids, even walking into an Italian restaurant can be a challenge! use your imagination, pay attention to the physical environment and embodied sensations, and include rounded characters in your stories. Read their discussion in the transcript, now available in the archives.

  4. My world view changed after I broke my leg 3 weeks before a vacation to Key West, FL. Rented a wheel chair and did what I could. That town is not ADA friendly. The house my sister-in-law rented was not ADA accessible, at all.
    There is a difference between ADA compliant and ADA friendly. My work building is only compliant.

    It did not give me the point of view of someone with a permanent disability. However, it opened my eyes to many aspects I had never seen before.
    I would encourage writers to not only talk to people with physical limitations, but to also live a few days as if you have one too. Rent a wheel chair, go visit some museums or even your favorite shops. How does the world react to you?
    People could see my cast. They knew why I was in a chair. The invisible disabilities are a whole other level of social interactions and judgemental looks throw your way. (Source: hanging with friends that have invisible disabilities.)

    Thank you for this episode.

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