Write characters with disabilities who don’t suck

or we will make fun of you (Issue 1)

Fixing whatever this is would be complicated. Writing compelling, non-sucky characters with disabilities? Not complicated. Image via Laura Collins Britton, lcbritton.com.

Who Cares about Writers with Disabilities? (Not many people, apparently.)

For those of you who don’t follow the creative-writing-conference world closely, the AWP Conference is the largest creative writing conference in the U.S. (the world?) and is one of the largest (quasi-)academic conferences, period. The AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference, held annually, is attended by more than 10,000 people. That’s a ton of writers, publishers, editors, professors, and more crammed into a conference center, all there to talk about creative writing. It happens every spring.

Months before the conference, writers submit panel proposals on a variety of topics. This past year, just like every year, writers with disabilities submitted panels on disability topics. Then, in the fall of 2015, when the acceptances were going out for #AWP2016, it became apparent that every single disability-focused panel had been rejected.

Karrie Higgins, award-winning essayist, blogger, and more, took AWP to task on her blog:

Sure, they gave us a “disability caucus,” which translates to a “networking event” where we hang out with our own kind and don’t make problems for all the able people … but not a panel. NOT ONE. We were not worthy of even ONE panel.

And it’s not just the lack of representation on the panels where AWP falls short. Their accommodations for writers of disabilities who attend their conferences is pathetic. You can read about author Stephen Kuusisto’s experience’s with AWP. His experiences have not been awesome:

In sum, the AWP is a largely progressive and affirming outfit. Except where disability is concerned. I must say that after a decade attending their conferences I’ve found the cumulative experience so demoralizing I’ve decided both to speak out about the matter and to skip the affair. The former is appropriate. The latter is sad.

He then lists each sort of normal accommdation that conference-goers should expect, and how each of these accommodations seems wildly beyond the capability of the AWP conference and its attendees to manage. You want a handout for a panel? No. You want wheelchair accessibility? Hahaha. No.

And then, to make sure everyone really felt included this year, a representative of AWP published a diatribe about our complaints in the Huffington Post, and then quickly took it down. (Thank you, Wayback Machine, for insuring her insults live on for us to mock.)

Although Karrie Higgins raked her deservedly over the coals, I think the word we’re looking for here is “clusterf@ck.”

So I’m not attending AWP this year (even though I was accepted to present as part of a non-disability-focused panel), nor is Karrie Higgins, nor is Stephen Kuusisto. It’s just too much trouble to fight through their “accessibility services” when those services should be standard practices, not special requests that may or may not be granted.

(I know you’re on the edge of your seat, so I’ll give away the spoiler. We’ll be examining AWP’s accessibility services in greater detail in a future issue of this newsletter: “Don’t expect help! Help yourself!”)

The Consequences of AWP’s Disability Incompetence

There are consequences to AWP’s rejection of all disability-focused panels, their barely accessible conference, and their doubling-down when a representative was horribly, publicly offensive to people with disabilities.

There will be fewer writers with disabilities at AWP this year. There will be, apparently, zero panels on writing with disabilities, writing about disabilities, or anything having to do with writing+disabilities.

Now, the largest organization of creative writing people in the U.S. (the 10,000 people at AWP) has even less access to the knowledge and experience of writers with disabilities.

Now, writers who do not have disabilities have fewer opportunities to learn about how to effectively represent characters with disabilities in their writing without relying on obnoxious stereotypes.


Don’t Worry! We’ve hired an expert to help you out.

Meet Tipsy Tullivan.

In a mere two minute video, she will provide for you a ton of help on effectively using disabilities in your writing. This video is the first in Tipsy’s series on writing about disabilities. It’s really important to us that everyone out there have access to Tipsy’s wisdom.

In particular, this first video will teach you how to use disabilities to create three-dimensional characters. From eye-patches to missing limbs, to my personal favorite, psoriasis, a disability can really spice up a boring character.

“Psoriasis is really underrated in fiction.”

Let’s hear it from Tipsy herself:

Look for more Tipsy in the next issue of “Write characters with disabilities who don’t suck or we will make fun of you.”

Until then!