Head shot of Dan next to his 10 year old daughter Emily holding their comic book

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.

5 thoughts on “Why is it so hard to find books with a disabled character?”

  1. We all are disabled in away more than other some are disabled with there thinking

  2. Don’the forget Wizzy the Animal Whisperer by Anthony Ridgway,who is himself disabled This features Dan and his high tech very cheeky talking wheelchair. The book is being very received by children of all ages. Publisher: Little Knoll Press

    1. Hmm… I’ll check it out. Also there’s disabled superhero Minnie, who joins a supervillian as a team – in The Antagonists by Burgandi Rakoksa, who is also in a wheelchair herself. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Antagonists-Book-One-Burgandi-Rakoska-ebook/dp/B015BWS9J0
      And Marcus Sedwick’s She Is Not Invisible, about a blind girl who travels to America to find her father. Loved that book, it was extremely mysterious and mathematical too.

      And lemme just plug my friend and autistic artist Sabrina Gardiner, who blogs about her characters each named after a different American or Canadian city. Some have disabilities, such as Pictou who suffers incontinence. Her blog is surfingtheseagard@wordpress.co.uk.

      Hopefully there will one day be more characters with disibilites, and more realistic and multi-dimensional characters as well. A lot for us writers to think about… Let’s do it!

  3. Wouldn’t it be good if there were books where it was really ambiguous as to whether the protagonist has a disability or not…it could be incidental to the storyline but maybe crucial at one key point in the storyline. But first and foremost the character is accepted as a person with the range of emotional and character strengths and weaknesses of any character (and apologies if the books you mention above have this flavour)

    1. You might like to check out Synthesis:Weave (previously mentioned on Scope’s blog) – although the disability there is evident.
      I’ve recently published a short story prequel, titled Synthesis:Pioneer – the disability there isn’t at all obvious until later in the story.

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