Why is it so hard to find books with a disabled character?

Dan White is the author of the brilliant The Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower.

For World Book Day, Dan tells us how he was inspired to create the comic book and why there needs to be more disabled characters in literature.

My book-devouring, art loving daughter, Emily, had stopped anticipating reading about disabled characters in her comics or literature.  For her, that day would never appear. Or would it?

It was the disparaging look I saw on her face when she first learnt to read that set me on a course of action.  Art, writing and comics are my second love, and that drove me to create the group of disabled superheroes that is The Department of Ability – a graphic novel with a difference, launching later this year!

Disability isn’t the main focus – they’re battling to save the world

I wanted to draw disability in a way that was not really about the disability. Yes, the five characters in he Department of Ability show physical differences, but there’s no backstory, no preface on disability and how it affects this motley crew, you just get 5 different SUPERHEROES battling to save the world in a final war between good and evil.

The Department of Ability are colourful, strong and fun! A ghost? Alien? A Dog? A Cheetah? Emily? How’s that for diverse!?

Several of the characters designed for Department of Ability comic strip
The characters from The Department of Ability comic strip

The Department of Ability has captured hearts worldwide even before the first volume is published. But it’s not just disabled hearts, it’s hearts from everywhere. From the warmth of Matthew Wright, to the voice of The Today Show USA, to the desk of comic genius Stan Lee, the belief and enthusiasm of established comic writer Leah Moore (daughter of Alan) and the tireless work of Scope, all who have seen and loved my creations see a future of change.

There’s a growing desire worldwide to see more diversity and essential inclusion. It’s a strong a message to those in charge of what we read and watch, telling them, “we love difference, and want to see more of it. We all have a right to be heard”.

Inclusion is vital, especially for children

Currently, this world seems to be run by people terrified of accepting disability into the media they enjoy but inclusion is vital, especially for children. They need and want to see images that reflect themselves, otherwise we’re going to have another generation growing up being seen solely as needy and marginalised.  Who wants that?

I read and review many books on disability but they are incredibly rare and it makes you wonder how much more could be achieved if the industry threw caution to the wind and realised the good they could attain by giving us everyday, non-static, non-stereotypical characters.

Inclusion means include, and that means all. It will dispel myths, preconceptions, and will inspire the reader to discuss disability in a whole new light, barriers will fall and disability will not be seen as the last to the party.

A young girl holding up her drawing of her superhero, a mermaid with a wheelchair

I hope The Department of Ability will kick open a door for more diverse stories

All the talents that blossom and bubble in this amazing community will finally be able to show itself to the wider world, it just needs a thinker outside the box to see there is no barrier, and to see the power and might of the untapped purple pound, all £249 disposable billions of it.

2017 is the year of Department of Ability BOOK One, and it will hopefully kick open a door for an army of stories, pictures and talent to emerge.  The authors are there, the future is there, let it in. The Department of Ability are loud, brash, dysfunctional, passionate and determined, a bit like everyone else on earth really.

For National Storytelling Week, we asked for better representation of disability in literature. Read about the activities we’ve done so far and please help us spread the message.

Visit the Department of Ability website to read the comic strips and keep up-to-date with the launch.

PIP is a lifeline for disabled people and needs to be protected

We know that life costs more if you’re disabled. Personal Independence Payments (PIP) play a key role in helping disabled people to manage some of these extra costs.

Last week the Government announced plans to tighten up access to PIP. We are concerned that this reduction in financial support will make it harder for many disabled people to live independent and fulfilling lives.

The extra costs of disability

Scope research shows disabled people spend on average £550 a month on costs related to their impairment or condition. For one in 10, these costs amount to £1,000 a month.

The additional costs disabled people face broadly fall into three categories:

  • Expensive purchases of specialised equipment, such as wheelchairs or screen readers.
  • Greater use of non-specialised goods and services, such as energy or taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Paying more for non-specialised goods and services, such as insurance or higher tariffs for accessible hotel rooms.

These costs have a detrimental impact on disabled people’s financial stability. For instance, disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people, whilst households with a disabled person are more likely to have unsecured debt compared to households without a disabled member.

The financial barrier of extra costs makes it harder for individuals to get a job, access education and training opportunities, pay into savings and pensions, and participate fully in their community.

The role of PIP

The role of PIP – and its predecessor Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – is to support disabled people to meet the additional costs of disability.

Unlike other aspects of the welfare system, PIP is not an income replacer like Employment and Support Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance, nor is it designed to boost people’s income when wages are low like tax credits. It serves to level the playing field between disabled people and non-disabled people by helping to tackle the financial penalty of disability.

This puts disabled people in a stronger position to contribute to, and benefit from economic growth as employees, savers and consumers. In research we carried out with over 500 recipients of either PIP or DLA, over half said that PIP was important in helping them to work. A further 58 per cent said that even a small reduction in their PIP award would have a significant impact on their ability to live independently.

Our concerns with proposed changes to PIP

Scope has welcomed previous commitments by Government to protect the value of PIP and keep it free from any taxation or means-testing.

However, last week proposed changes to PIP regulations were announced that would make it harder for many disabled people to score points for certain descriptors in the assessment.

This follows two recent legal judgements which ruled in favour of awarding higher points during a PIP assessment for people who need help taking medication, or who can’t travel alone due to “psychological distress”.

Since the announcement, Scope has received a number of queries through its helpline, online community, social media and customer contact teams from current disabled claimants who are worried about whether these new changes would affect them.

A new PIP assessment

We are concerned that the changes Government are proposing make a crude distinction between those with physical impairments and mental health problems, which will lead to many disabled people missing out on vital financial support with disability-related costs.

However, we know that someone’s impairment or condition is not an accurate indicator of the additional costs they face. Disabled people have unique experiences of additional costs, which often arise as a result of barriers to participating fully in society. For instance, somebody with an anxiety disorder who finds it difficult using public transport may have to consequently spend more on taxis to get around.

We want to see reform of the PIP assessment so that it accurately captures the range and level of disabled people’s extra costs. Disabled people with lived experience of these costs should be directly involved in designing and setting a new assessment criteria.

What Scope is doing

We are calling on Government to think again about these changes and are briefing government officials about why it is so important that they don’t go ahead.

Our Chief Executive has also spoken to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise our concerns and ask Government to rethink its decision to reduce access to PIP.

We will continue to raise our concerns with PIP in the media to ensure Government hears disabled people’s experiences of extra costs.

We’re keen to hear from you about why PIP is important to you or about your experiences of getting PIP. If you’d like to share your story, please comment below or email stories@scope.org.uk.

For further information about PIP, visit Scope’s website or call our helpline for free on 0808 800 3333.