Dis-Ability Writes




verb: diss

1.speak disrespectfully to or criticize.

“I don’t like her dissing my friends”


noun: diss

1. disrespectful talk.


People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else. The one way that they are not the ‘same’ as none-disabled is this: – People with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their none-disabled peers!

I met a woman who was confined to a wheelchair for 90% of each day. She had a degenerative illness. She was well educated, very funny with a rude sense of humour and loved going to concerts. She told me once that she went to a music festival where she was harassed by a couple of festival attendees, then… they pushed her over in her wheelchair! I was gobsmacked when she told me this. In my naivety, I imagined that because someone had a physical disability, other people would have enough empathy to realise the difficulties they had were enough to be getting on with, thank you very much, without adding to them. If you are a none-disabled reader, imagine,if you will, struggling to get your body out of bed, into the shower, into clothes, onto the bus and into class/work. You’re exhausted before even beginning to learn/work. And then after a long, exhausting, frustrating (because you couldn’t see what was on the menu and no-one was gracious enough to tell you what was available in the canteen) day, someone calls you names; they diss you.


Words are amazing, and scary. I say scary because sometimes we might say or write something that is taken the wrong way by others. In a country that is hyper aware of political correctness (UK), we often find ourselves tiptoeing around, ‘people of colour’, ‘black’, ‘people with disabilities’, ‘girl/woman’ etc. I remember growing up with words that are no longer used in the UK today; and my teenage daughter finds abhorrent and shocking when she hears them. You can still hear some of them on American TV shows, words like spaz – from Spastic (which was the word used in my childhood for people with cerebral palsy). I cringe when I hear this word now. My next door neighbor and childhood friend had cerebral palsy, I only knew this because my mum was a nurse and told me. ‘L’ was like the rest of us, we gave her no quarter, if we had to run as part of a game, then ‘L’ was on her own. But, and this is shameful, I still used the word ‘spaz’ to insult other kids.

I am ‘mostly’ comfortable around a variety of individuals as I work in an educational establishment that has staff and students from many different countries and cultures; so we’re a mixture of skin tones, and people with a variety of visible and invisible physical and/or learning difficulties. If in doubt, ask; not a specialist, ask the person you are trying to make a connection with who is ‘not like you‘.

This year, I am working with a student who has not one, or two, but three physical conditions: Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy and Autism. I’m learning a thing or two about myself! It got me thinking about writing and writers, how many had/have disabilities? Because, when you buy a book or get one from your local library, you really have no idea how long it took to produce and the circumstances of it’s author. So I had a little look around to find authors with disabilities.


Helen Keller

Keller became blind and deaf at just 19 months old, after contracting scarlet fever. Despite her disabilities, she learned to read in multiple languages and went on to graduate college. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Keller was well-travelled and outspoken in her convictions; a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labour rights, socialism and other similar causes.

Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.


Christy Brown

Brown, an Irish author, had cerebral palsy which left him severely paralysed, and was only able to write or type with the toes of his left foot. His memoir My Left Foot details his life with the disorder. Brown’s success is a prime example of not letting society’s preconceived notions about disabilities set you back. When he was born, doctors urged his parents to commit him to a convalescent hospital, but his parents decided to raise him at home. That decision gave Brown the opportunity to become the artist he would one day be.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Wrote a 700-page book, whilst suffering from a rare form of temporal lobe epilepsy. Dostoyevsky kept records of 102 epileptic seizures and used his experiences to create characters who also suffered from epilepsy. He also, of course, produced some of the finest literature the world has ever known. Dostoevsky was affected by physical and mental disturbances following a seizure (This is also called the ‘post-ictal ‘state), sometimes it took him up to one week to recover fully.  His chief complaint was that his ‘head did not clear up’ for several days and symptoms included, “heaviness and even pain in the head, disorders of the nerves, nervous laugh and mystical depression”

Dostoyevsky’s works of fiction include 15 novels and novellas, 17 short stories, and 5 translations.


Jorge Luis Borges

Borges became progressively blind from a genetic disorder, losing his sight completely at the age of 55. He never learned braille and was unable to read for the rest of his life. Borges continued to write and let his blindness inspire his writing. He also developed a logical approach to how his writing would change with his new disability. In an interview for a newspaper he said, “I have to dictate. I can’t write. And that’s why I have fallen back on classic forms of verse. I find that sonnets for example are very portable. You can walk all over a city and carry a sonnet inside your head, while you can hardly do that with free verse.”

Borges wrote more than 20 books.


Patricia Polacco

Children’s author and illustrator Patricia Polacco didn’t start her first book until the age of 41. She didn’t do well in school, and wasn’t able to read until the age of 14. Patricia suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia until a teacher recognized her disability.

She has over 50 published children’s books.


Octavia Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler was one of the few African-American women in the field of American science fiction; the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1995. But Octavia was diagnosed as a dyslexic. She also loved to daydream and was very shy, as a child an almost paralyzing shyness made it difficult for her to socialize with other children. She dealt with her shyness by working past her dyslexia and losing herself in books, as well as writing her own stories as early as 10. She developed an interest in science fiction at age 12, sparking a lifelong talent as a science fiction writer.

She has over 20 published works.


Caiseal Mór

Bestselling Irish fantasy novelist Caiseal Mór is on the autism spectrum. Before his autobiography was released, he kept his disability a secret from the public. He was diagnosed as a child, not speaking until he was four, and was taught to be ashamed of his autism, worried that he might end up institutionalised if people knew. Caiseal still struggles with conversation as an adult, preferring to communicate via the written word.

He has at least 16 published works.



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Writer of fiction, sci-fi, horror and more. Painter of magic realism. Grower of cabbages and currants.

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