Is it important to see someone like you in books, movies, or TV? What parts of you do you expect to see? Is it someone with your personality? Your nationality? Perhaps your gender or sexual orientation? Or perhaps, like myself and countless others, it's someone with your disability.
There seems to be two main types of portraying disability in the media. On one hand, there are stories designed to inspire. We are Olympic athletes, but more than that, according to UK's Channel 4 we are “super human”. We are people who have overcome incredible odds just to get out of bed. Just holding down a normal job is worthy of praise, because it has taken us so much more effort to get there. On the other side, people with disabilities seem to be cast into the roles of villains. How many, especially in the superhero world, have facial disfigurements, missing limbs, eye patches? The list goes on. The truth is both of these types of representation are as unhelpful as the other. We have as much chance of representing our country at the Olympics as an able bodied person does. We are people from a wide range of backgrounds, with a myriad different personalities, faults, and bad habits. It's time we were shown as such. And here is where casual diversity comes in.
In the UK, there is an ad campaign for the brand Malteasers, a candy made by Mars.. Malteasers also have a long history of tongue in cheek, slightly risque, female centric ads including this one which features a woman telling her friends about a night with her new boyfriend. This ad, in its entirety, is still on British TV at all hours of the day, and innuendo content aside, it has grabbed attention, along with the rest of the campaign for another reason. Most of the ads in the campaign feature people with disabilities.
Much like the woman in the ad, I too get spasms, mine are a result of being born with cerebral palsy-- a condition that affects muscle coordination and movement in the joints. It also, when the brain signals are incorrect, can cause muscle spasms. Unlike the woman in the ad I don't use a wheelchair, nor do I have a story where a hand spasm turned into a happy ending, but I do know the hilarity of suddenly clapping my hands out of nowhere due to my brain deciding it was appropriate, or mule kicking my husband when we are trying to sleep. They come out of nowhere, sometimes they hurt, sometimes, they have funny consequences, but they are part and parcel of everyday existence. They are also not that big a deal. Just like in the ad, it is simply a funny thing that happens. These are the type of stories we need more of, where a disability is just a part and parcel of life, not a thing that puts us outside of the rest of humanity, whether through praise or pity. This is what casual diversity strives for.
Casual diversity is the understanding that race, sexual orientation, disability, or gender does not define a person's whole being. It's a part of who they are. It has shaped their personality to varying degrees, but it is not the only thing. At its heart, casual diversity is knowing that there is no one narrative for a group of people. We are all startlingly different. Yes, we share certain things, but not enough to make one story fully representative of a whole group.
This isn't to say that sharing stories about living with a disability is not important, but while every story with a main character that isn't able bodied, straight, and white is treated as an opportunity to talk about our differences then we will forever be the novelty act. The truth is people with disabilities do not spend our days trying to be inspirational or lamenting our fates, we get on with our lives, live them within the bounds of our limitations just like everyone else. These are the stories we need. Everyone should have the chance at being a superhero, being the lead in a romance, playing the hard-boiled detective, and getting chased through a haunted house, even if those stories are shaped in part by the differences we all have.
As writers, we can build on the steps already taken by including a diverse range of characters in our stories. We shouldn't be scared of the research involved or people telling us our portrayals are wrong, its an opportunity to learn, get it right the next time. If we don't try at all nothing will change.
It's a richly diverse world out there, it's about time our media and entertainment reflected that.
K.Lawrence hails from the wilds of north east Scotland and has been writing for longer than she can remember. Her first novel, The Raven And the Nightingale, is currently available through Amazon and Inkubus Publishing. The sequel is in the works. K has also written several short stories which have appeared in Inkubus Publishing Anthologies and one short story that has appeared in the latest A Murder of Storytellers anthology.
When she is not writing, K likes to play guitar, go to concerts, take photographs of everything and anything, and paint. She is also an avid collector of Funko Pops and other geek memerobilia.