I found an intriguing article when trying to find something to write about tonight. The National Writers Union has a diversity section on their website. One of the diverse groups covered in this section is writers with disabilities.
Being a writer is difficult enough when you’re facing the normal barriers of trying to get words on paper–fear, writer’s block, impostor syndrome, lack of time, creating a writing routine that works for you….shall I go on? Add the physical problems of a body and mind that just don’t always do what you want it to when you want them to, and most people think those are enough to overcome when you’re trying to make a life (not even a living) as a writer.
But the literary world is even harder to break into if you have a disability.
Some publishers think that people with disabilities canʹt write or meet deadlines. I can’t imagine where they would get this idea, but some might even believe that few people with disabilities buy books. My first reaction is to get angry, then I just shake my head in wonder and disbelief. We’re discounted before we even begin.
Like so many publications, most have very little budget to pay anybody, much less the ones focusing on disability. Most of them are online only, and one in print with which I’m familiar, Pentimento, has currently suspended publication until at least next summer.
Publishers often expect writers with disabilities to write only about disability. Well, duh–like we can’t know or care about anything else. And if those writers do get their foot in the door, they have difficulty getting the assistive equipment and special accommodations that they need to function optimally when they’re on book tours.
This is one particularly frustrating to me. Writers supported by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may not be able to afford to attend courses or conferences, to pay union dues, or to spend time in residencies. Vocational Rehab prefers to retrain for lower wage jobs but don’t encourage becoming a freelance writer.
This is a problem for anyone with a disability who is trying to work. Some disabled writers cannot legally earn above very minimal amounts without losing medical, housing and personal assistance benefits. Social Security regulations are not clear about whether royalties count as income. Also, a writer on SSI or SSDI may win a research fellowship or publish a book that earns money. But if they do either of the above, they might be punished by losing government aid for in‐home assistance and ventilator.
Confusing and nonstandard laws and policies can affect a writerʹs willingness to work for money or to fight for monetary and other rights. Such writers may fear “getting caught” at success that triggers a government re‐evaluation and the devastating consequence of a loss of benefits. This is another issue that anyone who works at all with a disability faces.
Writers are often encouraged not to give their work away or “write for free.” A writer with a disability may have no choice if they want to share their work with anyone. Blogging or self-publishing are options, but it’s not usually the way a writer envisions his or her writing career panning out.
There isn’t likely to be a writer with a disability who has the success of Danielle Steel or Nicholas Sparks. I really hope and pray that one day that will change. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you were the person who broke through? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe one day I can say I knew you WHEN. (Yes, chronic illness peeps, as far as I’m concerned, you face all these issues too. Break out of the box!)