#diklSFF: A Conversation About Disability in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Comments: 3



On March 20, 2016, halfway through our disability in SFF event, we held a Twitter chat tagged #diklSFF to explore specific issues surrounding representation of disability in science fiction and fantasy. Our social media coordinator, Yahong (娅泓) Chi, led the discussion. Five questions and one hour produced rich and thought-provoking dialogue among readers and writers alike. The complete Storify with all the best tweets can be found here; read on for a summary of the conversation.

Our first question asked about common disability tropes in SFF, and why they appear. Many responses noted the wide-ranging erasure of disability first and foremost, either through a complete lack of representation or the transformation of disability into a superpower or magical power. Possible explanations for the common disability-superpower link from participants included ableist ideas of compensation and defaulting to familiar devices. Another trope noted was the “cure” and its illogical foundations, given the many causes of disability.

In contrast, our second question asked participants about positive disability representation in SFF. Responses included the acknowledgement and normalization of disability in future societies, using SFF to explore attitudes to disability, exploring the potentials of assistive technology, and simply offering disabled characters main roles in fantastical stories. Participants also discussed the powerful possibility of representing powers derived from disabilities in SFF stories by disabled writers.

For our next question, we asked participants what they thought of unnamed disabilities in SFF settings. Answers ranged from the inclusion of acknowledgement, even if named differently, to the importance and place for stories exploring disability without diagnosis. Some also noted the issues of labels being perceived as bad, or a book being named as a “political” or “issue” book.

Question four broached SFF-specific ways of erasing disability. Participants suggested pain-free assistive technology that effectively rendered disabled characters non-disabled, the assigning of disability to villains or as character flaws, and representation of invented disabilities in lieu of real-world ones. On a broader scale, sweeping eradication of disability within the dystopia subgenre was noted, along with its assumptions of superfluity and worth.

Our final question asked people for their recommendations of books with positive disability representation in SFF. Happily, there were many. We’ve included some here, but be sure to check out the Storify to see all the titles!

We thank everyone who participated in the #diklSFF Twitter chat, and remember that the entirety of the SFF event will always be available to view here on the site under the sff-event tag.



  1. “A4: Assistive magic/tech that’s just like not being disabled. No maintenance issues, pain from use, etc. Means it can be ignored. #diklSFF”

    I loved Star Wars as a kid and this in particular has made me appreciate the series as an adult. Vader is a disabled badass (and, #sorrynotsorry, the coolest character in the series) and not only do we hear the sign of his disability with the mask every single time he is onscreen, we see that he has to go through the “maintenance” of keeping his body functioning. We can infer that he may be in pain, or not, depending on your interpretation. So, there’s tech, but he still has to maintain the tech for it to work. But we get enough about that routine in brief flashes that it doesn’t feel voyeuristic.

    Idk, he’s scary as hell (especially when I was, like, 6) but those details always made him seem more human.

    Eh, I’m just having a lot of Star Wars feelings lately. For Obvious Reasons.

    • I see what you mean, but why is it that the only disabled person whose disability seems to actually affect him the villain? Luke loses his hand in Episode V, but if you watched Episode VI, you wouldn’t be able to guess that he was an amputee.

  2. Pingback: Future Tense Recommended Reads: Science Fiction and Disability – Columbia College Chicago Library