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Disabling Characters

Representations of Disability in Young Adult Literature


Patricia A. Dunn

Disabling Characters provides detailed analyses of selected young adult (YA) novels and short stories. It looks at the relative agency of the disabled character, the behavior of the other characters, the environment in which the character must live, the assumptions that seem to be underlying certain scenes, and the extent to which the book challenges or perpetuates an unsatisfactory status quo. Class discussions about disability-themed literature, however well intentioned, have the potential to reinforce harmful myths or stereotypes about disability. In contrast, discussions informed by a critical disability studies perspective can help readers develop more sophisticated views of disability and contribute to a more just and inclusive society. The book examines discussion questions, lesson plans, study guides, and other supplemental materials aimed at students studying these texts, and it suggests more critical questions to pose about these texts and the positive and/or negative work they do, perhaps subliminally, in our culture. This book is a much-needed addition to college classes in YA literature, literary analysis, methods of teaching literature, disability studies, cultural studies, contemporary criticism, special education, and adolescent literacy.
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Chapter 2. Respect, Etiquette, and the Drama of Rude Behavior




Some YA novels have sections that provide subtle or not-so-subtle suggestions to non-disabled people regarding how to interact with more respect toward disabled people. For readers who know enough, for example, to face—and not turn away from—people trying to read their lips, these built-in lessons on etiquette might seem obvious. But if readers don’t know, or haven’t had the opportunity to think about these common courtesies, the frustrations we see, for example, through the perspective of a deaf narrator—the drama of the scene—can cement these gestures of respect and consideration in a way a lecture or textbook list of rules cannot.

Who am I to collect and judge fictional scenes on disability protocol? This is a question I keep returning to as I work on this project. As I’ve mentioned previously, I am not currently disabled in the way that word is commonly used. Some of the authors including such scenes are not themselves disabled. How would they know, how would I know, what is good and bad behavior, assuming there is even a general consensus on this?

I cannot judge these scenes based on my personal experience. What I can say with some authority is this: The texts I write about in this chapter are among the very few novels I’ve encountered that substantially address the subject of what is courteous or rude behavior toward people with ← 51...

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