Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writing Disabled Characters

Last month I attended a really insightful meeting at WGA in Los Angeles, and I met the coolest writer/totally adorable new friend there, the lovely Lara Ameen. The best part of it is that she's an expert in writing characters with disabilities (she even has a degree to prove it), and she's willing to share her wealth of knowledge with us.

In her own words:

Why Disability Portrayal in the Media?
As a woman with cerebral palsy, I think it's important for people with disabilities to be represented both in front of and behind the camera. There are taboos associated with disability. That it's scary or something to be feared. People don't know what to say or will not know how to provide proper accommodations, etc. Disability is the most underrepresented minority in the media yet anyone at any point in their life can become disabled. It's important to include accurate portrayal of disability representation in fiction, film, television and online media because otherwise those stories will not be told. There's a saying that originated in the disability community: "Nothing about us without us." 

Will you tell us more about how to write characters? Of course. Here is a link to a presentation:

Some of the highlights from the presentation (totally worth watching the whole thing just for the video clips alone):

*There are two models of disability studies. 1. The medical model: The problem with the disabled is that there is a problem with the person, and they are miraculously cured of the disability by the end of the story (BAD) 2. The social model: Stigmas, attitudes, etc. in society about someone with disabilities are more problematic than the disability itself. 

*Don't be afraid of going to all the normal places you'd go with other characters (if you would've written a sexy scene for your character, don't stop just because they're disabled! Everybody needs some lovin')

*Introduce people by their NAMES and not their disabilities (person-first language)

*Avoid these common stereotyping traps: The victim (don't define your character as a victim just because they're disabled), the hero (don't define them as a hero because they overcame their disability to become more normal) , and the villain (portrayed in crime/taking revenge as a portrayal of mental illness and how that makes them bad).

*Hint: Check out My Gimpy Life

Finally, who is Lara Ameen? I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old (3rd grade). I had a Spottie Dottie notebook from the Sanrio store that I would write in all the time. I also wrote short stories and plays that I would perform with my friends. I love singing and acting, too, and participated in musical theatre, various community theatre productions and was active in choir class from third grade until community college. I also took some private voice lessons. So I have some performance background, but I LOVE to write! I wrote songs, poetry and fanfiction in high school. I've actually known I wanted to go to graduate school and get an MFA since I was 15. Later, in college when I wasn't in screenwriting classes (there are only 2 at Berkeley), I was writing on my own. I'm interested in TV writing, so I started to write comedy and drama spec scripts and my friend and I wrote a drama pilot together. I also minored in Disability Studies and interned at various disability rights non-profits in Berkeley, which ignited my love for disability advocacy and activism. My minor has definitely influenced my work in many ways. My Screenwriting professor, Mira, at Berkeley also ended up becoming my mentor. I credit her in my decision to pursue an MFA in Screenwriting at Cal State Northridge. 

To stay connected to Lara's witty insights, follow her on Twitter at @trucherrygirl and follow her blog at

1 comment: