Despite one billion people worldwide living with some form of disability, representation of disabilities in the media still falls extremely short. In fact, comics seem to be carrying much of the load. Take, for instance, the blind superhero Daredevil, who not only manages to save the day but also displays intelligence and humanity.
Not forgetting paraplegic and wheelchair user Professor X, the ultimate defender of those outside the mainstream, uses his incredible brain to disarm his enemies. You can recognize parts of yourself in stories of extraordinary people who have to overcome incredible odds every day while struggling with loneliness and identity. But why does representation matter?
Why Does Disability Representation Matter?
Despite as many as one in four US adults living with some form of disability, it’s the media that shapes much of what we know and understand about other people. But while much of the media focuses on stories about white, non-disabled males, some comic book creators have taken a metaphorical stand. Marvel has characters that are deaf (Echo), have a heart condition (Iron Man), bipolar (Ant-Man), and an amputee (Misty Knight), for example. Meanwhile, the lead character in the comic Karmzah, an archeologist who fights bad guys, also has cerebral palsy (CP), one of the largest causes of childhood disability. The comic doesn’t shy away from showing the treatments and equipment the character needs every day and how they positively affect her life. In fact, her walking aids empower her and even give her superpowers. The comic offers a character that young people can identify with while also helping to change perceptions of disabilities.
Disability Representation In Comics
Comics have done great work in portraying physical disabilities, from how the disability came about to how the superhero learned to overcome it. For example, Batgirl turned Oracle Barbara Gordon didn’t let her new disability stop her and used her incredible tech knowledge to become Oracle and provide intelligence to several superheroes.
While it didn’t make it onto the big screen, Black Widow fights crime with a prosthetic leg, not letting her disability stop her abilities in any way. Comics have been gradually increasing the diversity of their heroes from gender and race to sexuality to better reflect the attitudes and standards of modern society. However, disabilities have been slow to catch up in the number of representations and are often treated as a form of paradox regarding superhumans.
Mental Health Disabilities
Heroes come in different shapes, sizes, and forms and are supposed to represent society and act as our protectors. But it’s mental disabilities where comics’ disability representation falls rather flat, largely focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For instance, Batman/Bruce Wayne’s trauma over losing his parents, Iron Man/Tony Stark’s capture and torture and death of his parents, and Captain America/Steve Roger’s shock of his unfreezing and World War II memories. However, there remains a huge gap in mental health representation that comics could look at filling when storyboarding their heroes.
Diverse characters make any storytelling more compelling and even the most out of this world plot more believable. But it also shows us that each of us has a place in the world, regardless of whether we have a type of disability. Superheroes don’t let their disabilities stop them, so why should it stop you?