Scenario: A character you like is disabled and, as the book progresses, you love that character more and more. Maybe he/they/she has your disability, maybe a condition or disease not often covered well in literature. Either way, you’re digging it. You tense as the climax nears. The showdown starts and the character has a revelation: He/they/she was never disabled in the first damn place.
There are books using “fake disability” as a plot twist, and there will probably be more once one or two make it big. Disabled people rarely see ourselves in literature, so a portrayal we relate to that turns out to be a “mistake”, “shock”, or “drama” is very disappointing. Plus, it makes our truths seem more tenuous. Wheelchairs, diseases, canes… they’re all for able-bodied people’s entertainment.
And, these “plots” are definitely for the able-bodied, not us. Our disabilities are used to tug at the heartstrings of those who have no clue what it is like to be us, who pity us and keep their distance, who donate to a charity and pat themselves on the back. They want to see the cripple struggle for a “normal” existence and then be “cured”. It gives able-bodied people a good story, a narrative they agree with: Disabled people should do everything to live as close to being able-bodied as possible (even if it could kill them)… and then be cured.
Disabled people don’t get much to choose from in the realm of media when we desire representation. Many of us are leery when we see a new book with a disabled protagonist or a neurodivergent character in a sitcom.
Able-bodied/neurotypical people don’t understand it because, to them, any representation is something we should be grateful for. Any effort should be praised! They believe these things because they have plenty of representation for themselves and, since it is rare to see a cripple in a movie, they definitely remember it. They think, because they can name three or four examples of gimps in cinema or books, that there are a lot. In their social circles, the only disabled people they see or remember are frail grandparents in nursing homes so surely, the amount of people in media reflects the amount of disabled people they’ve met!
Meanwhile, disabled people are stuck with problematic portrayals, sifting through and hoping to find a gem of a character among the drivel. A book where the plot twist is that the king is really the court jester, or the president is an alien from a war-loving, though inept, sub-race from a parallel universe where our hero saves the day… crutches and all.
Have you ever read a book where disability was used as a shock or twist? How did you feel about it?