The disabled, handicapped, cripples and gimps in literature

Hmm. How the “disabled” are depicted in literature is an interesting topic. But disabled writers and artists? Pardon me being pedantic but disabled toilets are toilets that don’t work, disabled writers are writers who can’t write, and disabled artists are artists who can’t create art. And disabled accountants, I presume, can’t count. You might say that the soldiers in the picture were disabled, because they couldn’t fight, though I’m pretty sure they could have if their lives depended on it.

American soldiers fitted with prostheses
World War I Peg Leg Department of the Surgical Appliances Association in London, allied with the American Red Cross, where all splints and similar appliances for American soldiers were made The workers were all women, who became highly skilled in their unique war work. Some rights reserved Medical Museum, creative commons

Language, it’s a tricky thing. People used to have handicaps, and I contend that that’s a noble description, as a handicap is something you can adapt to and absorb into a full life, with varying limitations, so that it is part of a person’s experience and indeed general human experience and not a defining label. Racehorses win races with handicaps, after all.

Now people are “disabled” and that puts them in their box.

If the talks produce some meaningful language, then they won’t have been in vain.

PS, I’m a writer myself, and coincidentally a gimp. I also use the excellent GIMP software for those who are interested.

NB UPDATE: Just to be clear, I believe the term gimp is used by sado-masochists. I clearly don’t mean it in that sense. 😉 As I say above, language can be a tricky thing…

Trinity College talks to explore portrayal of disability in literature

5 thoughts on “The disabled, handicapped, cripples and gimps in literature

  1. Great to see your comment and picture pop up, Mary. How do you get your picture to accompany the comment? Please enlighten a grey geek… 😉

  2. I have to say I agree entirely with Philip. In my world being a ‘woman writer’ in the 80s seemed a strange term. You can have ‘disabled’, ‘woman’, ‘gay/queer’, ‘lesbian’, ‘black’ etc. etc. and really these are not helpful terms, any of them. One is – quite simply – a writer!

  3. Dear Philip,
    Thank you very much for replying. I hope I respect your point. Mine has really to do with the fact that so many non-disabled people speak on behalf of people with disabilities. For years I didn’t mention my disability, didn’t write about it. And people were always surprised when they learned I have cerebral palsy. And I began to hear the comment: “Everybody writes out of their experiences, why don’t you?” Now I get paid to write about disability, and my life is better than it was, even though, to perhaps many, I may be seen to trade on my disability.
    Thank you for responding, though. This is an important issue.

  4. Each to their own, James, but from my point of view you’re a playwright, plain and simple. Knowing that you have cerebral palsy doesn’t really add or subtract anything of interest in literary terms even if your subject happened to be cerebral palsy, or living with it. All best for your work.

  5. I write plays and have cerebral palsy and just find it cumbersome to say playwright with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsied playwright flows better, as does disabled playwright. Political correctness–however desirable, can still undermine style.

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