DM Shepard

Feb 9, 2021

5 min read

Stop Telling People What They Can Write!

Do you have X-Ray vision? Then stop assuming you know what a person’s disability is and what they should write about.

Woman wearing a baseball cap standing in front of a log structure
I’m a disabled female veteran. Can you tell by looking at this picture? Then don’t discriminate against me based on how I look or what you think a disabled person should look like.

“If you’re not Neuro-diverse/disabled, you can’t write, those characters/stories”

As a disabled woman, does that mean I can’t write about “normal” folk? Because, damn…I obviously don’t know what that feels like, right?

Excuse me?

Exactly how do you know?

Are you a medical professional?

Are you inside this person’s head to know if they are or aren’t?

Speaking as someone who is defined as neuro-diverse and disabled, I do believe it’s:

One: a spectrum and it’s not always obvious, even to “normal” people and professionals. I can’t just go get my blood drawn or have an MRI done and boom — confirmed. Getting an official diagnosis can be difficult. Many people are misdiagnosed with other mental health/physical issues for years.

Two: since it can be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed, people with these conditions can go through life without even recognizing that they have it, often thinking they have some other condition.

Three: (And this one is a biggie) Per the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it’s illegal for you to ask me if I have a disability/try to force me to disclose the nature of my disability.

Going back to my statement above about writing about “normal” people, I’ve used my writing for many years as a means to cope with my multitude of issues. There are times I long for the life that got disrupted by my disability, and many of my characters reflect that. My novels sometimes allow me to live out a life my body won’t support. On the flipside, I also write characters that are experiencing what I go through. I truly am grateful that there is a recent push to get more people with disabilities into the media/publishing. I want to see more people like me in books, television and movies. And not just as the side character, or the “lessons learned” character.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie the Holiday is where Arthur tells Iris, “You’re leading lady material, but you’re acting like the best friend.”

I’m a disabled female veteran, and the leading lady of my own story. Why can’t a woman with disabilities be a heroine in a story instead of the best friend?

My Disability/Chronic Illness Doesn’t Have to Fit Your Stereotype or Agenda to be Real

Do these people want to support people with disabilities, or do they want to SHOW that they support people with disabilities? Ironically, the rhetoric I’m seeing on social media leads me to believe I only have support if my disability fits their pre-conceived stereotype and makes them look good.

Only in the last few years did I start writing openly about my struggles with my disability to help others know that they are not alone. Revealing you have a disability, especially in the workplace, can be a double-edged sword. Most people are good people, and want to do the right thing, but unconscious bias and discrimination based on what they think your limitations are starts to occur. It can lead to people assuming you can’t handle the tougher assignments, the more complex jobs, the harder work, because your “condition” might get in the way.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Protects us by allowing us to ask for reasonable accommodations for our disability, but not requiring us to disclose the details of our conditions and making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on our condition.

I want “normal” people to include disabled characters in their stories. The more the merrier. Side characters, main characters, villains, protagonists, all of the above. Yes, there have been gross misrepresentations and stereotypes of all kinds of minorities in fiction throughout the ages. Now that we’re aware of that, writers from all walks of life can do a better job. Every creator has a unique perspective to bring to the art.

Please do some research, obviously. If you don’t, expect to get slammed in your reviews, but, hey, that’s the peril of any artist, right?

I’ll leave you with this final thought. Disabled people are making an impact on the world. We’re not something to be pitied, make you look good or teach you a valuable life lesson.

And if you don’t watch out, we’re going to pass you by while you were busy making assumptions about who we could be.

Woman wearing safety glasses in front of solar panels
This is also what disabled looks like. Me with my new solar panels out at the Cabin this summer.

I joined the Navy at 18 to escape a small town in the Mojave Desert. A diagnosis of MS disrupted my dreams of becoming a super spy. I made limoncello from my lemons and became an electrical engineer instead. My fascination with live high voltage drew me to Alaska. I came for the job, but stayed for the adventure. I enjoy blogging about my journey as a woman working in STEM, my experiences dealing with everything MS has handed me, and the wonder of the Alaska wilderness. My husband and I have undertaken the task of turning 30 acres of remote land into an off-grid retreat. I write stories about women in STEM who save the day and the hot guys who sometimes help along the way as well as historical fiction about the Klondike Gold Rush. I self-published my first horror novella, The Dark Land, on Amazon in May of 2020. I will release the sequel, The Devil’s Valley, in May of 2021. Both stories are set in the wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and draw on the Athabascan “Head Waters Peoples” legends of the Cet’ann, or “The People With Tails”.

The Legend of Alaska’s Headless Ravine is steeped in blood. It’s hunger for human flesh never sleeps, even in the deepest cold of winter. Courage, skill and lover will be stretched to the limits on the frozen trails of the Dark Land.