I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year again, as a kick in the posterior to finish my second draft of the book I wrote during a previous NaNo. Because I’m going to complete this thing. Going. To.
I was procrastinating by perusing the forums there when I saw a thread about diversity in YA. Was anyone writing diverse characters?
I thought of my one character, and was like “Yes.”
Except in reading the thread…I realized that diversity had a different meaning for everyone. Most talked about how many ethnicities were involved in their stories. Next came sexual orientation. All well and good and needed, because people like being able to relate to cool characters. One mentioned writing about a physical disability, and that’s cool. Another talked about a communication disorder. Okay, that’s cool. But mostly, when it came to the idea of diversity, people instantly went for different race/gender/sexuality – not disability. And even when they went with disability, it wasn’t an intellectual disability.
One of my supporting characters has a mild intellectual disability. She doesn’t have autism or Down Syndrome or a label. She is loosely based off of someone I knew in real life, and is not a character that is pitied or sad. She is her own person, her own character, and is someone who teaches the main character about friendship and enjoying life.
This character is important to the story – but not because of her intellectual disability.
I’ve been thinking about this all morning, diversity and what it means. I stand behind the need for more diversity in books. But do even those going for diversity forget the full range of what diversity is? That it’s not just about what you look like or who you love?
Granted, most of the characters I write about are white, because, well, write what you know, right? But I’ve also found that in every story idea I’ve had in the past five years, there’s a person with an intellectual disability included. Not that my daughter who has an intellectual disability will ever read one of my books – we’re still working on reading. But if it ever goes to film or animation, she might watch it, maybe see herself portrayed for once. And as her mother and a writer, I want to make sure the portrayal is a positive one and not one of those “poor us, our child is disabled/has autism, we must weep and tear at our clothes and sigh about how haaaaaaaard it all is!” portrayals that seem to be the only ones that make the cut – and even then, the person with the disability is a prop to the main characters, and not a character in their own right.
Because people like my daughter are rarely portrayed in the arts or media. She’s not as inspiring as the autistic savant or the first teacher with Down Syndrome or the Paralympian. It’s okay, we’re still taking baby steps here. There’s so much diversity to catch up on. But I just wanted to say – I am now noticing a hole in the diversity movement, and I’m willing to do my part. I won’t promise to be perfect about it, I’m still learning the ways myself. But for so many families, a person with intellectual disabilities is part of their story. They need to stop being excluded.
And by the way, to the producers of Doctor Who, I have a great idea about the Doctor and a mom and her daughter with ID, and how they save the planet…in case you are looking for ideas…