I’m not sure if I’m going to back to a regular blogging soon (I’m in my last term of college!) but I am bringing this up because it’s a serious issue that effects me personally and persists even today.
When people on social media talk about the need for diversity, there is a huge focus on three groups: people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, and women. And it is true, we absolutely need to talk about the need to represent these groups in a meaningful and positive way. But in these discussions on diversity, there is a huge problem: the focus is ONLY on these groups. You know who gets left out almost all the time?
Disabled people. Autistic people. People who have mental health problems other than anxiety and depression. People who have developmental disorders. In other words, people like me, and the people I work with as a social service worker.
It bothered me for awhile, but after coming across a particular Disney critical blog, I finally pinpointed why this is a big issue. When we talk about how damaging it is to have an all white, all male, or all straight cast (and it is), no one talks about how having absolutely no positive disabled and neurodivergent people can be just as bad. When you go on lengths on why representation for neurotypical and able bodied marginalized groups is important and that there needs to be outrage when none exists, it gives me the unfortunate implication (intentional or not) that disabled people are just supposed to shut up and take it when there are no autistic characters, no characters in wheelchairs, no characters who can’t see or hear very well, etc. Where’s the outrage for people like me when every character is allistic and the only canon autistic characters tend to be stereotypes?
In many discussions about diversity and inclusiveness online people need to be reminded that disabled and neurodivergent people exist and are just as important. They need to be pointed out when a show or movie is ableist. They only add in the need for disabled characters as an afterthought. I have actually seen some people call bigotry a “disease” or “mental illness” a few times. Sometimes if a character is clearly coded to be mentally ill they’ll either completely ignore it or jump over hoops to say they aren’t in order to justify their hatred for them.
The point is, even in places that are supposed to be inclusive, and even when people claim they respect diversity and want representation for all people, disabled and neurodivergent people (again, people like me and the population I serve) typically get left behind, and are only brought up in the most extreme cases or when it is convenient.
This needs to stop. We live in a world where mental illness and disability are depicted inaccurately, as villains and monsters, or as stereotypes. Accurate and positive representation is still incredibly rare, and there isn’t as strong a push for it. Systemic bigotry against women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color are very real and present in the media, and must be addressed and dismantled. But you need to remember that systemic ableism is also very real and present and needs to consistently be part of the conversation.