Perhaps I'm not the best qualified person to tackle this subject, but it's one that I've thought about a lot this year. I see the constant calls for diversity in fiction, and especially in science fiction. Not enough PoC characters, disability not being considered, not enough gender equality, variety etc. But here's why I struggle with disabilities in my own stories.
In October this year, a man left paralyzed from the chest down was able to walk again (albeit on crutches) using cells taken from his own nose to regrow nerves in his spine. 3D printing has enabled the creation of an artificial spine. I watched a medical show involving a man who had his windpipe damaged in a car crash that left him unable to speak and forced to breathe through a hole in his chest for seven years. After radical, experimental surgery and using an artificial windpipe scaffold with some of his own body cells grown on it, he woke up immediately able to speak and breathe through his mouth. A woman has given birth after having a womb transplant from a donor.
Since I write far future SFR, the fact that we are already able to perform such medical miracles right now makes it hard for me to imagine ANY disabilities existing in my worlds, though they still could. Of course, not all the civilizations are as advanced in my universe, so there are opportunities. But those don't tend to be the focus of my stories so far. So perhaps I need to consider that the whole concept or definition of disability itself will have to change in my stories.
An example is the Earth Girl trilogy of YA SF written by Janet Edwards and published by Pyr in the US (my eldest is a huge fan). In these books, the heroine is considered disabled because a problem in her immune system means she can't travel from planet to planet and has to remain on Earth. This makes her a freak in the current society.
I also have a WIP with a heroine who has a similar issue. After breaking her neck which in present day would have left her paraplegic, my heroine's own body rejects attempts to regrow her spine or repair it using stem cells, and she's forced to have a cybernetic replacement. While this actually enhances her abilities in some ways, it makes her a medical liability due to the additional costs and difficulties of providing her with full medical care and repairs (something that must be paid for and supplied by her employer). So the ability to fix and/or prevent leaving her with one disability creates a whole new one.
Of course, current advances in medical science don't necessarily mean we'll be able to fix every form of disability, or that curing it might not have side effects or create other issues such as ethical or religious conflicts, for example. Any ST:NG fan will be familiar with Geordi's blindness and how the writers tackled that throughout the series, including how losing his visor caused major problems, and how an offer to cure his blindness by the Q was used to tempt him. In Neal Asher's The Technician (heavy, far future SF) one character is autistic (autism also runs in my family, so it's something I'm familiar with but don't write for personal reasons. I'm just as guilty of not writing disability into my stories). In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Xavier is taking a drug that enables him to walk but costs him his telepathy (though at the start of the story, he's actually glad to lose his powers). And if you're looking for a story where physical disability is dealt with very well, I suggest you read Tin Cat by Misa Buckley (and here, the hero is curious about the heroine's disability as he's come from a future time where it's curable/repairable). There are many reasons why someone might chose not to accept medical help. I vaguely remember an episode of Babylon 5 where parents refused to let their son undergo life-changing surgery because it went against their religious beliefs to pierce the body, despite the fact their son would otherwise die. The doctor disagreed, went ahead, and was devastated to discover the parents had euthanised their child because of his actions.
Yes, there should be more stories featuring disabilities, and even disabled heroes/heroines. But if you are uncomfortable to write them, or concerned that even with research that you could get it wrong, perhaps it's a good idea to think about what a disability in the far future might be when we are already on the brink of being medically able to do so much more.
With thanks to my daughter for the information on Earth Girl.
After spending twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, Pippa Jay is now a stay-at-home mum who writes scifi and the supernatural. Somewhere along the way a touch of romance crept into her work and refused to leave. In between torturing her plethora of characters, she spends the odd free moment playing guitar very badly, punishing herself with freestyle street dance, and studying the Dark Side of the Force. Although happily settled in the historical town of Colchester in the UK with her husband of 21 years and three little monsters, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head.
You can stalk her at her website, or at her blog, but without doubt her favorite place to hang around and chat is on Twitter as @pippajaygreen. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Goodreads, and Wattpad.
Her latest work is an alternative 1920s superhero romance--When Dark Falls--released 21st November by Breathless Press.
|EXCERPT | GOODREADS|
Available at... Breathless Press
All Romance eBooks | Bookstrand
Smashwords | Barnes&Noble
Amazon US | Amazon UK
Desperate for answers, Kadie looks to the new defender of the night, the only person who can hinder the total domination of Professor Dark—Nocturnelle. The mysterious vigilante superhero came from nowhere with her cybernetic sidekick Shadow, set on putting an end to the brutality of Dark's regime. But as his laboratories work on a new secret super-weapon, Nocturnelle and Shadow may not be enough to save Nephopolis...or to save Kadie either.