Romances featuring disabled main characters
The books I grew up reading didn’t have disabled characters. If they did, the characters were often minor, a hindrance, and/or portrayed negatively and inaccurately. These romance displayed abled bodied main characters, which sends the message that the ideal body is non-disabled, that the people worthy of love are non-disabled.
I’m Hard of Hearing. I’ve always had my hearing loss. I grew up without any role models. I didn’t see myself in books, I didn’t see myself in movies or on television. I saw myself in random older people who had late onset hearing loss, which is vastly different from my life experiences. If a book did have a character with a hearing loss, it often left me angry at the inaccurate portrayal, and most of those didn’t start becoming a thing until I was an adult.
Bottom line: I didn’t get to see people with hearing loss as happy and healthy and worthy of love.
I wanted to change all of that.
It took me some time to get there. When I first started writing I didn’t think I’d be able to consistently write disabled characters, characters with hearing loss. So few books are out there with disabilities in general, why would I be able to write mine? Would readers truly want to read stories featuring disabled main characters? But then I started writing these characters, I started putting parts of myself and the people I know on the page, and I don’t want to stop.
More important, I sold these books. Readers started reading these books. Instead of being told to stop now and write able bodied, hearing characters, I was encouraged to make this part of my brand, to continue to give happy endings to those with hearing loss.
Because we all deserve a happy ending, not just the stereotypical hero and heroine. Because through my characters I can spread awareness and help counteract the harmful assumptions hearing and abled people make. Because we all do need love and deserve to see ourselves as worthy.
In Wrong Number I have two main characters with disabilities. Avery, who is hard of hearing like me and wears hearing aids. And Jake, who limps due to burns he sustained in a fire as a child. Jake is not like me and I did a lot of research in an attempt to portray him accurately and respectfully. I wanted a hero that wasn’t perfect. And I wanted his imperfections to be a positive part of him, much like Avery’s hearing loss.
Their disabilities don’t make up their whole autonomy. Rather, it’s simply a part of who they are. It affects their abilities at times, requires adjustment and accommodations. This is real life. I don’t get to pop in my hearing aids and go about my day as a hearing person. I am always hard of hearing, with or without my aids. A person with a limp has mobility limitations that affect them daily, and not simply an awkward gate but pain and adjustments to how an abled person moves. These limitations should not be a hindrance to finding love. They are a part of a person, and they deserve love.
And that is the ultimate takeaway here, we are all deserving of love. Many of today’s romances strive to break down those barriers in different ways. This is my way. Because even as we make changes and strive to step forward more inclusively, there is still a large under representation and misrepresentation in novels regarding disabilities. And there are so many different disabilities that deserve their chance to shine.
I love writing disabled characters! I love putting parts of myself onto the page, the raw parts, the thrilling parts, and all those in-between. I love being able to write things that an outsider can’t, and putting in my own experiences. For example, Avery has a hearing aid that breaks. The back end of the mechanical shell breaks off her first day at her new job. This is a true story! It happened to me in college, the final five weeks of classes and I ended up down a hearing aid for the rest of the semester since the aid could not be temporarily fixed.
I hope that I will continue to see more romances featuring disabled main characters, especially those written by disabled authors themselves. I hope we in the romance community can send the message that we are all deserving of love. Different shapes and sizes, different colors and abilities, our differences make us worthy. We can make powerful changes one book at a time.
After spending her childhood coming up with new episodes to her favorite sitcoms instead of sleeping, Laura Brown decided to try her hand at writing and never looked back. A hopeless romantic, she married her high school sweetheart, though they didn’t even go to the same high school! They live in Massachusetts with two cats with cerebellar hypoplasia, and an energetic kid who keeps them on their toes.
Laura’s been hard of hearing her entire life but didn’t start learning ASL until college, when her disability morphed from an inconvenience to a positive part of her identity. It’s important to her to create strong, competent characters with hearing loss, as she didn’t have that growing up. At home the closed captioning is always on, lights flash with the doorbell, and hearing aids are sometimes optional.