Written by Caisi Calandra
At the very last minute, I was able to take Dr. Bosch’s May Term — one that focused on studying the history and social issues of people with disabilities. Not only was it enlightening, but we had to participate in having a certain disability for forty-eight hours.
And, lo and behold, my assigned disability was “blindness.”
I was forced to wear a blindfold and have an aide for forty-eight hours, and this included being blind for readings, homework assignments, and everything else in between.
What really shocked me about this whole experience was recognizing that there was a severe lack of representation in the YA genre. I’m a big nerd when it comes to reading literature and writing things, whether it be for my own pleasure or for an assignment, and I was forced to come to the realization that I’d never written a physically disabled character.
Literature has such a big impact on the way a child sees the world, especially because it puts the reader in the shoes of the main character(s). In high school, my senior year project included examining the effects literature has on children, and it was commonly cited that those who simply read more (doesn’t matter at what level) have a higher emotional intelligence — that they’re more aware of others around them and their feelings.
Even though reading has such an impact on young minds, there’s a common push-back from parents who don’t want their children reading “unfavorable” things, such as queer characters, queer relationships, violence, etc. Beloved by Toni Morrison, one of my all-time favorite books, is banned from certain schools because it had racial themes and sexual content.
And, well, that was the whole point of the book to begin with. It’s supposed to make readers uncomfortable.
When I sat down to write this article, I wracked my brain for characters’ disabilities I may have forgotten. The only one that came to mind was Percy Jackon — he has dyslexia. But really? Was that it? Nowadays, literature is starting to flourish with queer characters, as there’s the need to record and share experiences, whether it be in the form of a memoir or essays or creative nonfiction. Even though this burst of queer literature is amazing, there really ought to be more disabled characters, whether it be visible or invisible.
The whole point of including these narratives is to provide children and teenagers with stories of themselves. No, the story isn’t actually about them, but they’re able to picture themselves in the shoes of the character more clearly. They’re allowed to read about queer characters — allowed to see characters with disabilities in action. When children see themselves, or simply learn about the lives of others in literature, they are being told that these sorts of people are deserving of stories. That they’re allowed to be heard.