Disabled Characters in Search of an Author
Orjasaeter, Tordis, UNESCO Courier
Disabled characters in search of an author
IT is important for handicapped children to meet themselves in children's books, to see pictures and read about children like themselves, their lives, problems, feelings, circumstances. And it is important for other children to get acquainted with handicapped children.
Mentally retarded, physically handicapped or other disabled children almost never see children like themselves on television or in films, unless the programme specifically concerns handicapped children. They almost never belong to their environments in the mass media as naturally as other children do.
During the last decade quite a few books have appeared about handicapped children, but many of them are not good enough. They often activate our mechanisms of rejection and make integration even more difficult. Because literature influences us for better or for worse, especially when we are children, it is important to evaluate it critically.
There is the hidden rejection found in many well-intentioned books where healthy young people who meet handicapped persons are filled with gratitude for their own good health. The underlying attitude is that the normal thing is to be healthy, beautiful and charming--and the handicap somehow is a kind of punishment for our sins.
The blind characters in children's books are mostly girls--it seems so suitable that girls should be sweet and gentle and play the piano. The characters in wheelchairs are mostly boys, extraordinarily clever boys, the best companions anyone can think of and such excellent referees in a football or baseball game. The handicap is compensated far beyond reasonable limits.
There are so many misleading books about mentally handicapped children. …