VODKA O’CLOCK 1548
ELSA S. HENRY
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ELSA S. HENRY is here on Vodka O’Clock again to talk about challenges of being a disabled writer and game designer and also tips on writing characters with these challenges. She was previously on episode 1509.
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Elsa is busy working on multiple projects at once. She also writes at FeministSonar.com.
Among her consulting work, she advises on making convention spaces accessible. We talked about issues with buildings, crowds, and travel through difficult places like airports. Elsa had a great experience at GeekGirlCon where there were ASL interpreters at her panels.
“Having those opportunities for people is a big step because that creates visibility for accessibility in a way that other things might not. Because again, it’s changing the culture. You have to make sure people realize that people who need disability access actually exist within your culture.” ~Elsa Henry
Something that may not be on an organizer’s radar is when disabilities challenge each other. The advent of quiet rooms pose a problem for Elsa who can’t navigate if the lights are dimmed. But with quiet rooms, they (and elevators) tend to have low lighting. But she recognizing quiet rooms as a great tool for the people who can use them.
Being a GM, Elsa requests that gamers at her table use large print dice. Her own has large print and Braille. Gamers are superstitious about their dice, not to mention some cheat. It’s that simple. She needs to be able to decipher what the roll is. One of her current projects is designing Accessible Fate Core which is about playing people with disabilities in the Fate system.
ASSUMPTIONS YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING FOR YOURSELF
Elsa gives us a rundown of what it’s like door to door for her to travel to a convention via plane. She begins two days ahead with packing. She now travels with her own wheelchair which she says airlines do not handle gently. They are also awkward and condescending by staff who infantilize her in the wheelchair which adds to her stress.
ASSUMPTIONS THAT YOU ARE NOT DISABLED ENOUGH
This is something that gets to me personally because it affects so many of my friends. Not to mention, that I have pain management problems but I don’t have handicap status nor do I think I need it (yet). But when people are rude and leave notes that someone in a handicap parking space is “not handicap enough” or flat out make argumentative comments, it’s a cultural problem. Elsa doesn’t use a wheelchair all the time, but her vision and hearing make crossing a busy parking lot extremely dangerous.
“A person who uses a wheelchair is not ‘in a wheelchair’. They’re not ‘wheelchair bound.’ They are wheelchair users because the wheelchair is a tool.” ~Elsa Henry
WRITING CHARACTERS WITH DISABILITIES
Since Elsa already gave a full presentation on DAREDEVIL at GeekGirlCon, (if anyone has that please drop a link in the comments), she only went over some basics about how problematic this character is in the Netflix series.
“This issue is that his powers are so strong that his blindness doesn’t matter. And so, the problem there is that he should still be blind.” ~Elsa Henry
In reality, and depending on your fictional character development, remember to keep in mind that government assistance and benefits expire usually between the ages of 18-21. Elsa said most insurance doesn’t even cover hearing aids.
Think of other sensory details when writing.
- * what does the room or person smell like?
- * what does the seat feel like under them or the fur of the dog they’re petting?
- * what does the lipgloss taste like when characters are kissing?
- * can they hear sounds of traffic, the heating system, or howling cats in the background?
- * describe your scene without using visual reference if that’s what you rely on.
FIND A CURE FOR “X” PLOTS
X-MEN has pretty much run out of ideas and use finding a cure for their mutations a lot. But, there’s no reason you couldn’t use it in terms of real human character.
Elsa emphasized research. First you need to know what a device or surgery truly does. The example given, cochlear implants, she explained do not restore hearing the way a hearing aid does. The second consideration is the community; the deaf community, in Elsa’s experience, is protective of who is allowed to participate which she has seen different from the blind community. Finally, the age of your character matters; parents make the decisions for their children regarding things that they believe will improve the child’s life.