megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
I'm having sort of a genre related thought about ablism.

Right now I'm considering sci-fi, particularly SF set in the far future when humanity is far more technologically developed and there's sort of a theme that follows in this subset of the genre that bothers me a lot when I come across it, and that's the idea that nobody in the future will ever be disabled. Disease have been erased! Genetic abnormalities sorted out! There's a pill or treatment or medi-pod for anything that ails you!

It seems as though when science fiction envisions a better, or at least more advanced, version of humanity it is one without disability, and thus one without disabled people. When you imagine a future without disability, it is a future in which you imagine that there are no disabled people.

I'm sure someone will rush to say, "No! No! They'll exist, they just won't be disabled, that's all! They'll be cured in the future, isn't that great?"

Not so great, actually.

First, because we are not in the future, thus when you say such statements, you're impacting actual people in here and now. You're saying, "Wow, won't it be great when you're not like that anymore. When you're different?" Which is saying, "The way you are now is not okay."

Second, because your idea of "great" is finding ways to make disabled people "normal". I put scare quotes around normal because, well, normal is about the most oppressive, offensive, evil word in my vocabulary.

More people have suffered more evil and oppression on this Earth because they didn't fit somebody else's idea of "normal" than any other single thing I can think of. "Oh, look, people of a different culture and race! They're not normal! Let's shoot them with these nifty guns we have and take over their lands and then tell complete lies about them!" or "Oh, look, those other people there are having sexual relations with the wrong people. They're not normal. Let make nasty laws and beat them up!"

A gross oversimplification, of course, because oppression is ever so much more complex, layered, and insidious than all that. But I hope that it makes the point. People in general value "normal" without stopping in many instances to wonder if it's worth valuing - both here and in the future and the literature of the fantastic and the future.

This future we imagine, this disability-free ideal place is not one in which we've decided to stop narrowing the definition of normal and able, in which we've decided to stop shoehorning based on ability and disability decided to expand what we consider to be just another part of the wide spectrum of collective human ability. This future is one in which we (for the value of "we" which is society/humanity) pick the limitations of ability, of normal, and finally manage squeeze everyone into it ability-wise. And often, it seems, these same stories tell of a future in which we've finally squeezed everyone into the same culture and same gender definitions and sexuality. At long last, homogeneity!

This future is not one in which we have better definitions, just better medicine. In those worlds, our science evolves, our compassion and tolerance and understanding do not.

I do not like this future. It scares me and it erases so, so many people.

Why do so many writers assume that disability wouldn't follow us to the stars? What disabilities that don't even exist today would exist tomorrow? What would be reclassified as a disability or not a disability?

It seems to me that there is some confusion due to ignorance and stereotypes about disability between "normal" and "functioning".

Function is, in my own Meg-specific definition, being able to do what you want/need to do in a way that works for you. If that means using an assistive device or taking a bit longer or using different methods, that all fits under "functioning". You can have levels of functioning - because some stuff works better than others - but function is relative. It all depends on what works for you, what gets the job done for you.

Then there's normal. Normal is being able to do what others want you to do in a way that other people expect you to do it, and it often is the opposite of functional. Normal is an ever moving goal post of other people's expectations. It's the cry of "but you can walk, why are you using a wheelchair?" to a person with a pain disorder or spinal injury or some other invisible disability. It's the cry of "why can't you just get over it?" to someone who has depression or "that's not that bad, at least you didn't go to war!" to someone with PTSD. It's insisting that meatspace/offline activities count for more than, say, online ones even though online activities (academic classes, activism work, creative endeavors) are often more accessible (thus granting more function).

Alas, society values normal over functional and so does sci-fi many times.

Lose a limb? We'll regrow it! Get paralyzed in a space accident? We'll fix that, hop in a medical pod/chamber/box o' insta-healing! Blind? Here, have some nanobots. Deaf? Oh, there's a pill for that. You, too, can be made Normal.

Never you mind that you don't see a lot of mental disabilities/disorders. I can't remember the last time I read about main characters who have, say, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder or Down syndrome or an eating disorder. Because apparently these people won't be with us in the future, and they certainly won't be allowed aboard Spaceship Normal.

What's worse? Sci-fi can be the kind of genre that could really inspire others to imagine a different course of events, a different society.

I can see the value in imagining a future with better ways to help people have greater function. I can see the value in imagining sidewalks that automatically adjust themselves to better suit use of assistive devices or the value of imagining classrooms where there are computer/laptop screens made for those students who may be dyslexic or dyscalculic to help them better read and do math.

Because that? Doesn't value normal over function, it doesn't seek to reform people so that nobody ever needs an assistive device or that nobody ever is dyslexic or dyscalculic. It doesn't value the way one group of people accomplishes certain tasks over the way others accomplish them. In fact, it values a society that broadens its ranges, that instead of telling these people to adapt to it decides to adapt to them by concerning itself with accessibility, with function over inflexible, rigid ideas of how something ought to be done, or what people ought to look like, or how they ought to live.

I'd like to find more SF (or even fantasy) that talks about different worlds, that talks differently about people with disabilities.

What things in SF/F bother you from an ablism standpoint, readers? What things do you encounter over and over and wish would stop? What things do you want to encounter (or encounter more of)?

If anyone has any book/story recommendations, that would be absolutely wonderful and I'd love to hear them! Which authors and works get it right in your opinion and why?

Date: 2010-06-03 09:09 pm (UTC)
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlectomy
The "Flesh-Colored Bandages" panel at WisCon this past weekend was a really fascinating conversation that touched on exactly this topic -- I'll try to get my panel notes typed up within the next few days and give you the link, but this is in my notes (not verbatim, I missed a lot) from Sandy Olson, who is a person with a disability:

"How does the cyborg feel about his own body? There's a dream of transcending your body. I don't buy that. I have chronic pain, and -- you should enjoy your body. I can't replace my body with a new one. Okay, I'll talk about Avatar... giving up my old body to get a new perfect one, I don't buy that, I don't want that dream."

Date: 2010-06-04 03:48 pm (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
This is great! Can I link it in [community profile] access_fandom?

Date: 2010-06-05 10:55 am (UTC)
lefaym: Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lefaym
Here via [personal profile] such_heights.

You're raising some really good points here, and you're definitely making me think.

I think that one thing that is probably way under-explored in terms of portraying disability in Sci-Fi, is, if you want to portray a Utopian society, why not incorporate a social model of disability, in which disability is not erased, but in which technology and social innovations increase access, etc, so that PWD are more able to make the choice to be visible and active members of a society that is not defined, by default, as abled.

Date: 2010-06-08 12:13 am (UTC)
shanaqui: Juubei from GetBackers. ((Juubei) Sexy)
From: [personal profile] shanaqui
I am relatively abled at this point in time, though I do have hearing difficulties, but my father is physically disabled (back problems, multiple motorcycle crash injuries, etc) and deaf, and my mother is losing her sight (it's likely my sister and I will too). I'm starting to feel like a laundry list here, so I'll stop: suffice it to say there's plenty of disability that directly affects me.

I write about disability (or rather, include disabled people) in my fiction (some fanfiction, some original) because I think it's important and I think it likely always will be a part of life. It certainly surrounds my life, more than I usually acknowledge. There's a strong temptation for me to write disability out of it, though: to create a world where I wouldn't have to fear losing my sight, or losing more of my hearing, where I wouldn't have to sit on the end of a phone line and hear my mother tell me she can no longer read books and not be able to do a damn thing. When writing, we control the world entirely: I could write out the things I fear, and keep it safe. If my mother wrote fiction, I couldn't condemn her for making a world in which she wouldn't have to go through this.

Personally, obviously, I don't write about a safe world. I don't believe in it. If I'm not going to fear blindness or deafness or cancer or not being able to walk, there'll be something else to fear. There always is. Still, I wonder how much of the lack of representation of disability is not because writers are dismissing people who are "not normal" -- though that's the effect -- but because people write out what scares them.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] shanaqui - Date: 2010-06-13 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-06-11 09:01 am (UTC)
kaz: "Kaz" written in cursive with a white quill that is dissolving into (badly drawn in Photoshop) butterflies. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaz
So much this.

An anecdote: I stutter. A while back I watched some clips from a Doctor Who episode that had a character who stuttered. His presentation pissed me off (various types of disability fail) so I went Googling to see if anyone else out there had had the same issues with that ep.

What did I find? People talking about how unrealistic it was to have a character who stuttered because that ep was set in the future and surely they'd have cured that by then!

I really cannot express just how fucking horrible<\em> that made me feel.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] kaz - Date: 2010-06-13 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-06-11 02:48 pm (UTC)
sqbr: (up)
From: [personal profile] sqbr
I was waiting until I had coherent thinky thoughts but it seems I do not. Anyway, I agree!

Date: 2010-06-12 05:07 am (UTC)
yukinojou: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yukinojou
From a writer's point of view, do I read correctly that you don't find SF technological assistive devices a problem, but the biological ones are offensive since they assume removing the disability?

(Just wanting clarity. Personally I could see motor disabilities being compensated for medically, since it's what medicine concentrates on, but there's definitely far too little mental disabilities in speculative fiction!)

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yukinojou - Date: 2010-06-12 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yukinojou - Date: 2010-06-13 08:41 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] duskpeterson - Date: 2010-06-14 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yukinojou - Date: 2010-06-14 04:58 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] duskpeterson - Date: 2010-06-14 05:45 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yukinojou - Date: 2010-06-14 06:47 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] duskpeterson - Date: 2010-07-05 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yukinojou - Date: 2010-07-06 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] duskpeterson - Date: 2010-07-11 01:58 am (UTC) - Expand

here via metafandom

Date: 2010-06-12 05:18 am (UTC)
janice_lester: Keep calm and trust hyposprays (Keep calm and trust hyposprays)
From: [personal profile] janice_lester
Thank you.

I got into fandom in the first place because I was trying to explain the absence of people like me in Harry Potter and all the possible answers disturbed me. Now i'm looking for myself in Star Trek among disturbing images of Captain Pike. :-|

Re: here via metafandom

From: [personal profile] janice_lester - Date: 2010-06-14 12:47 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-06-12 06:40 am (UTC)
katta: Photo of Diane from Jake 2.0 with Jake's face showing on the computer monitor behind her, and the text Talk geeky to me. (Default)
From: [personal profile] katta
Why do so many writers assume that disability wouldn't follow us to the stars? What disabilities that don't even exist today would exist tomorrow? What would be reclassified as a disability or not a disability?

I had just reached the point in your post where I started wondering that when you brought it up! Because, yeah, it would make sense that in the future some disabilities would be absent or lessened (the way myopia is no longer a disability because it can be compensated for), but just like dyslexia and electricity allergy are more disabling now than earlier in history, there probably would be disabilities in the future related to things we don't have now. Using Star Trek as an example (and not touching the current presentation of disability in ST), there could be allergies to replicated material, or molecular structure unsuited to teleporters, or inability to see projected holographs as intended, or space-induced pain issues...

I think largely it's a question of the SF writers trying to create better futures, and ending up assuming futures where people are more like them, in the belief that "what's good for me is good for everybody."

Anyway, what I wanted to say was, thank you so much for this post, which really made me think!

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] katta - Date: 2010-06-13 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] katta - Date: 2010-06-13 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] katta - Date: 2010-06-13 09:00 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] duskpeterson - Date: 2010-06-14 02:03 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-06-12 02:44 pm (UTC)
fred_mouse: cross stitched image reading "do not feed the data scientists" (Default)
From: [personal profile] fred_mouse
Not so much recommendations, but novels that I can drag out of the back of my brain that have mention of disability of any type. I think that there are probably others in my collection (especially in the YA section), but these are the ones that come to mind and aren't overtly 'disability is bad'.

Lois McMaster Bujold's 'Vorkosigan' series has a disabled main character. I won't comment on how well or poorly she presents the disability, because it wasn't something I was thinking about last time I read any of the books, but I have seen them mentioned in other discussions.

She also has a stand-alone called 'Falling Free' which is about a genetically engineered group of people who are adapted for free-fall, and have arms instead of legs as their lower limbs. These people are better able to manage their native enviroment, but cope very badly in gravity - this presumably fits the exploring new disabilities question.

Brian Aldiss' 'Barefoot in the Head' may qualify - the main character was hit by the effects of a bomb that dropped an LSD type drug, and is somewhat divorced from what I consider to be reality. I found it a fascinating read, but was very hard going.

Bob Shaw's 'Dagger of the Mind' has a main character who thinks that he is developing a mental illness, but as it turns out to be something else entirely, it probably counts as getting it wrong (I am unsure on this, as it is probably 20 years since I read it, but some of the story has stuck with me)

Date: 2010-06-12 10:51 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I do think that there probably won't be a lot of genetic disability in the future, because we will know how to prevent them from happening, and that in many cases, this will be a good thing, because some of the genetic problems I am thinking of cause people to die young and often painfully. There are no assistive devices that can grant you a functional life with Tay-Sachs disease. I do think research into the genetic causes of various disabilities will go on, and that not all the disabilities which exist today will still exist.

If I were writing about the far, far future, I would probably not include characters with Down's syndrome or cystic fibrosis, because I do not believe society as a whole is going to choose to preserve those things in the name of genetic diversity. Down's syndrome severely limits learning ability in enough people that very few people will actively choose that for their children and cystic fibrosis is painful. I am blanking on the name of what Stephen Hawking has, but I think that they will want to prevent that one, too, because even with the best assistive devices, functionality is severely limited, and the condition is progressive--it gets worse and eventually kills most people. People are not going to want things for their children that will shorten their lives or involve a lot of pain, even if there are ways to improve function. Real assistive technology for a lot of these diseases amounts to curing them.

A lot of things that cause disabilities are the result of prenatal insults to the fetus--chemical exposures, unnecessary stresses, things we don't know about yet. I believe people in the future will not choose to continue allowing those things to happen, because not all of the suffering these problems cause can be alleviated by assistive technology.

I don't personally believe this is a judgement on anyone currently living's fitness to live or moral worth. We don't think that people who were born with the shortened limbs characteristic of prenatal thalidomide exposure are morally unworthy of life, but we have stopped prescribing pregnant women thalidomide.

On the other hand, we may find that autism spectrum neurology and mood disorders are linked genetically with certain kinds of intelligence, and in a world where we do understand brain chemistry and anatomy better and can provide the right kind of teaching and assistance, these are things we might very well choose to preserve, because individual parents will want to have children who are very creative or highly technically skilled, and be more able and willing to accept the non-neurotypical nature of some kinds of giftedness. There is some evidence that attention deficit disorder was an evolutionary advantage in the distant past, and there is a case for autism spectrum disorders and mood disorders as being an evolutionary advantage in the future, particularly when one considers their increasing prevalence in technologically sophisticated societies--people often decry that as evidence that technological societies are bad, but maybe this is just how our brains are evolving.

FWIW, I have a mood disorder and a chronic pain disorder. The chronic pain disorder I would like to be cured of and would never wish on anyone. And it isn't even that bad. I also feel that way about my arthritis, which sometimes limits my mobility. I would not choose to use assistive technology if I could get rid of it. But if my choice was getting rid of the mood disorder AND my creativity and some of my intelligence, or keeping it, I'd keep it thanks.

There probably are also going to be new disabilities, particularly as we find new ways to injure ourselves. Most people would probably prefer to have their leg or arm regrown than get a prosthesis or do without, but some people will choose prosthetics that give them greater or different kinds of functionality (because some people will; they would today, if they could; some currently able-bodied people would like to be cyborgs) and some people may, due to radiation or other exposures, not be able to have their limbs regrown--what grows back is cancerous, or simply nonfunctional.

This is the kind of stuff I have considered in my own writing; I have had several characters in fantasy worlds who had been disabled by use or abuse of various sorts of magic, for that matter.

tl;dr -- I think we will not choose to preserve genetic disabilities that cause pain, eventual death, or seriously limit overall learning ability in a sizable number of people who get them. I think differences that are accompanied by different talents, even when those talents are accompanied by deficits in other areas, such as social skills or stability of mood, will probably be preserved. I also agree that new ways of becoming disabled will exist in the future.
Edited (wow i suck at editing sometimes.) Date: 2010-06-12 10:57 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] tiferet - Date: 2010-06-14 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: Other thing I thought of

From: [personal profile] tiferet - Date: 2010-06-14 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-06-13 10:40 am (UTC)
yolanee: (Alphonse Mucha)
From: [personal profile] yolanee
You do raise valid points, but I have to disagree. The following text is just my opinion, I don't claim it to be opinion of anyone else but me.

I'm sure someone will rush to say, "No! No! They'll exist, they just won't be disabled, that's all! They'll be cured in the future, isn't that great?"
Let's actually imagine the universe as you introduced it. An universe without disabilities and without disabled people in it. So an universe like this doesn't have disabled people therefore they are not born. Just a preamble.

First, because we are not in the future, thus when you say such statements, you're impacting actual people in here and now. You're saying, "Wow, won't it be great when you're not like that anymore. When you're different?" Which is saying, "The way you are now is not okay."
I disagree. Some people may mean it this way, but I highly doubt that majority does. They are speaking about future and advancement in medicine and health care not about the situation now. Sure, sci-fi was mostly a mirror of our own age, but some debates and philosophizing is about future, such as the development in science and technologies. They are saying that future world may be able to cure what we are not able to do now. It's a point of view full of hope and joy which you're basically saying is wrong. Why is it? Why should be advancement in technology and science wrong?

Second, because your idea of "great" is finding ways to make disabled people "normal".
I think you're misinterpreting. It is not about making anyone "normal" as you say. It's about curing them, preventing the disabilities to happen. You say normal as if it's something offensive. Normal is something that is the norm. The norm can be wrong, like in our times, where anything that is different is wrong. But the norm in the future or in the sci-fi books can be different. "Different" people may not be mentioned because they may not be considered different. Such as skincolor. In many works I've read it's not mentioned. A lot of times even the skincolor of the main character is not mentioned nor is the race. They could be of any race, it's just not mentioned, thus not considered important. It could be the same deal with disabilities that are not actually impairing the character or influencing the story. The occam's razor is an important thing to use for a writer, you need to cut down to the important to keep the reader alert. In many works I've read the disabilities are also easier to deal with because of the development in science and technologies. Just think about Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. He got his hand chopped off, but because of advanced technology he got a robotic replacement.

This future is not one in which we have better definitions, just better medicine. In those worlds, our science evolves, our compassion and tolerance and understanding do not.
How can you say so? If people had no compassion they would kill disabled people like Spartans did. If people had no compassion they would not strive to find cure for diseases and ways to make the lives of disabled people easier.

I do not like this future. It scares me and it erases so, so many people.
I do not agree with this statement. It does not erase so many people. They would be different. They would not be born blind or they would not have malformed arm, but they would live. Are you saying that you do not agree with trying to find cures for this? That's how it seems to me.

Lose a limb? We'll regrow it! Get paralyzed in a space accident? We'll fix that, hop in a medical pod/chamber/box o' insta-healing! Blind? Here, have some nanobots. Deaf? Oh, there's a pill for that. You, too, can be made Normal.

Again, you're saying this. I feel like you want people to suffer instead of helping them. What's wrong with imagining a world where people who get hurt and suffer can get help? What's wrong with imagining that when I get hurt so badly there will be a way for me to be fully functional again? It is not about being normal. It's about being healthy. It's about having the possibility. It's about decision.

Never you mind that you don't see a lot of mental disabilities/disorders. I can't remember the last time I read about main characters who have, say, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder or Down syndrome or an eating disorder.
Again, I remember seeing and reading some books where characters evidently had some form of a disorder but it never was explicitly stated. Like it isn't in our current world. I don't go around advertising I have bipolar disorder, it's noone's business.

Up to last five paragraphs it seemed like you were arguing against curing, but in those last ones it seems like you're arguing against the possibility of eugenics and that I can agree with. The debate is starting now, I've just yesterday watched a discussion with one expert on genetics (I can't remember his name). What is ethic? How can and should we even tamper with human genome? Should we take it to ourselves to decide what gene is right and what is wrong? What outcome is acceptable and what isn't? I feel that these are the questions you're actually asking.


I recommend you read a book by Elizabeth Moon named Speed of Dark. It deals with this issue perfectly. The main character of the book is an autistic man who faces a decision whether to take a cure for his autism or not. This book formed my opinion on this issue.

a/n: I've replied to this as I've read it

Date: 2010-06-13 12:34 pm (UTC)
gloriamundi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gloriamundi
I too was taken aback by First, because we are not in the future, thus when you say such statements, you're impacting actual people in here and now. You're saying, "Wow, won't it be great when you're not like that anymore. When you're different?" Which is saying, "The way you are now is not okay."

Perhaps this is down to my interpretation of the term 'disability', but to me it seems that proposing a future where disability can be treated / cured / undone / avoided is very different to saying that people in the present with disabilities are 'not okay'.

- disability is not a choice.
- the person is not the disability. The disability is not the person.
- saying that a disability is not okay, that it could or should be negated in the future, is a statement about that disability -- not about the people affected by it.

I hope I'm making sense! (This is an especially frustrating comment to write with a barely-functional 'b' key: apologies for typos.)

Also, good point above re the rise of new disabilities in the future. I'm trying to think of examples of things that weren't classed as 'disability' in the past but are now, because of changes in modern life: I'm only coming up with examples like travel-sickness and food intolerances.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] gloriamundi - Date: 2010-06-13 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yolanee - Date: 2010-06-13 02:53 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yolanee - Date: 2010-06-13 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] gloriamundi - Date: 2010-06-13 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yolanee - Date: 2010-06-13 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] gloriamundi - Date: 2010-06-13 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] gloriamundi - Date: 2010-06-13 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] yolanee - Date: 2010-06-13 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand

Via metafandom

Date: 2010-06-13 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whatistigerbalm
I don't know how it'll read to you, but this sci-fi story never left me since I read it in my early teens: http://www.sff.net/people/joe.haldeman/story1.html

Here via metafandom

Date: 2010-06-14 02:17 am (UTC)
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] duskpeterson
I began writing mental illness fic around the time I became mentally ill as a child, and it's still very, very easy for me to write.

On the other hand, I began writing other types of disabilityfic before I became partially sighted. I remember trying to figure out who should beta a story of mine that featured a blind character.

"I know!" I said. "I'll ask my friend Katharine. She does disability access work for museums. She's sure to know someone's who's blind."

It took me a minute to remember that Katharine is, in fact, blind.

I think that what scares off a lot of writers from doing disabilityfic is the need to do research. I've run across conversations about this among fanfic writers, and there's a lot of feelings of anxiety that arise among them - a feeling that they need to do tons of research and get their stories vetted by folks who have the disability. Of course it's always great to do research and to have a story betaed by somebody who knows the topic, but my goodness, I don't stop writing medieval fantasy just because there aren't any lords handy to check whether I've depicted them accurately.

A worse problem I've seen is people turning disabilityfic into problem stories. One novel I really, really liked as an emotionally disabled child was Peter Dickinson's "Annerton Pit," which was a thriller starring a blind protagonist. The story was about something other than the fact that the protagonist was blind. I thought that was neat. I'd like to see more of that type of thing in disabilityfic.

But as Janice Lester put it above: "The folks who could do it justice tend to be able-bodied and hamstrung by fears of appropriation and causing offence."

Here via metafandom

Date: 2010-06-17 05:26 pm (UTC)
pandorasblog: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pandorasblog
This is such a great discussion, with so many interesting ideas being brought up. I think that a lot of the time, able-bodied authors don't think of including disabled characters because disability isn't on their personal radar. And when they do, the notion that 'everything will be prevented/curable in the future' is probably a major brake on their imagination. And then we get into the ugly issue of ablism and the undervaluing of disabled people, and therefore disabled characters.

But if you think about the perspective of someone in the year 1910, or even 1950, they'd probably have imagined that we, in the 21st century (we are living in a period they imagined in their science fiction) would have cured a lot more diseases than is actually the case. In practice, we've reduced infant mortality, increased lifespan, and developed better drugs to maintain quality of life, control chronic illnesses. In the wealthier parts of the world, that is.

But of course, that means that a) people are living with disabilities which would once have killed them at or soon after birth, b) people who live longer, live longer with age-related illnesses and disabilities, and c) people with some diseases are surviving and developing complications which result from the longstanding activity of those diseases. Not to mention that new problems are surfacing, and old ones getting more common, as direct and indirect results of our lifestyle, technology and our very adaptation: MRSA is a great example. We came up with antibiotics, we overused antibiotics, and resistant bacteria came knocking.

And since all of that is true, I don't see why it wouldn't continue to be, even if we assume preventions or cures for a lot of today's common conditions exist in, say, 2100. You, or someone else above, mentioned that nanotechnology is a slew of new allergies just waiting to happen, and I'd assume that new industries in the future (especially those that involved coming into contact with substances from other worlds) could lead to all sorts of previously unknown allergies, highly specific industrial accidents/injuries and illnesses (like how many nurses are allergic to latex today).

Also, unless we're imagining a social, technological and medical utopia, then there'll be lots of people who can't afford prevention or cure. And for people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities, there may be high-tech new assistive devices, but those devices (and the microcomputers and nanotechnology that make them work) will presumably have new bugs. If they're still running on Windows, then you BET they'll need a million patches in the course of the user's life.

God, I want to write future disability fic now... I realise I've reiterated a lot of stuff people already said, but I am really interested in this and appreciate the rare opportunity to ramble about it.

Also, for disability in SF, look for the "Brain and Brawn Ship" series by Anne McCaffrey (and others): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ship_Who_Sang

I've only read "The Ship Who Searched".

(COMPLETE SPOILERS)

It's about a little girl whose parents are space archaeologists, and at one of their digs she comes into contact with something that causes a degenerative condition. Essentially, Tia's body progressively loses its functionality and she is given the opportunity to hook into a spaceship that will become both her life support system and her new body. 'Shellpersons' like Tia get matched up with an able-bodied person and go on various kinds of missions.

The thing I love about the book is how the disabled characters recognisably have their own culture (Shellpersons have their own type of music which works because of their sensory parameters, they tell 'Softperson' jokes, and there's references to how their experience impacts on their interactions with each other and with non-disabled people), and Tia fights to improves her rights as a worker and increase her autonomy re: her earnings, how she uses them, etc., instead of having to depend on an assigned able-bodied liaison. Essentially, the book makes the point that a scheme designed to benefit disabled people could also allow them to be exploited, but should not do so.

The ending might be a downfall, or might not. When Tia gets financial autonomy, she invests in various companies, including one which builds a prosthetic body she can transfer her consciousness into. This allows her to physically express her love for her Brawn pilot. So.... plus points for the fact that he falls for her as a disabled person, but minus points for the fact that the payoff at the end of the book is basically 'Yay, Tia has a facsimilie of her "normal" body back!'

I *think* that this was not the intention of the author, since we've already been shown how Shellperson consciousness, senses and experience are different from those of Softpersons rather than worse, and it's hard to imagine that Tia will give up zooming around the universe as a Brainship... but we all know about intent and how it's not actually the point. So it's very much a 'your mileage may vary' book for disabled readers...

Date: 2010-06-17 08:01 pm (UTC)
allochthon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] allochthon
Somewhere upthread someone wondered about future disabilities. One work that comes to mind is Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song. The non-Federation species that is the focus of the book considers non-eidetic memory to be a disability, and this is an ongoing plot point. Not having perfect pitch is also a disability in this story. Not wild examples, but maybe worth a glance.

Also, Michael Mirriam is an up and coming spec-fic writer who almost always (always?) has a disabled person as the protagonist.

Date: 2010-06-28 02:55 pm (UTC)
trialia: River Song (Alex Kingston) drinking a cup of coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] trialia
Honestly, speaking as a PWD, I like the idea that disabling conditions could possibly be a thing of the past in SF, fantasy, the future. Two of the three main nasties that I have, I'd gladly get rid of if I could. I don't see it as ableist so much as utopian, because if you were born without a disability and never developed one, would you think about it? Would you regret not having to try to be "functional"? I wouldn't.

I think the ableist part of things like this is more often than not the way in which it comes about. Abortion, for example. That would not be okay. But if they found a way to do it without harming those PWDs who already exist, would that be such a bad thing? And why?

ETA: Basically, I want my former level of functionality back. I am currently unable to work, study seriously, or embark upon the career I've wanted to follow since early childhood -- because of my disabling conditions, not in spite of them. Because I have them and there is no effective treatment at present for any of them. For the most part, I am barely functional. I struggle to take care of myself and at the age of 24, I passionately resent that. The way I feel about it is that I want my life back and if they come up with a way to do that for me and other people, what's so bad about it, if they do it right?
Edited (additions) Date: 2010-06-28 02:58 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] trialia - Date: 2010-06-28 07:30 pm (UTC) - Expand

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags