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Allow Us To Explain

A Lesson In Illustrating Wheelchairs From Someone Who Uses One


Not too long ago I asked a famous comic book artist to draw me a picture of Oracle and what I got was not at all what I expected. Barbara Gordon was depicted in a hospital wheelchair with a blanket over her legs, certainly not the Oracle I know. “How could big name-so-and-so not know how to draw someone in a wheelchair?” I said to myself but then I thought, “Probably because they aren’t in one.” That’s just one possible scenario of course, there are plenty of artists out there (like Adam Hughes above) who get it right. But if there’s a problem we all suffer from at times it’s ignorance. Yes…all of us. Some more than others of course but even the most learned of us could do with a bit of education now and then and that’s my goal today.

It’s certainly not meant as a dig, but through the years, it’s become obvious to me that a lot of people are oblivious to the every day lives of people with disabilities (PWD). And that’s why awareness and education are important. It’s not that people don’t care (although some might not), it’s that they truly don’t know what’s appropriate in certain situations. Read on for a few examples of different types of wheelchairs, as well as those who use them, plus some commentary by a creator and an actor who are close to the topic at hand. 

This is a normal, manual wheelchair, also sometimes called a transport wheelchair. Why? Because its purpose is to transport people, it’s utilitarian. They use these in hospitals to get patients who can’t, or shouldn’t be, walking from one place to the next. A person who was permanently disabled would most likely not be using this kind of wheelchair yet I often see comic artists depict characters, Oracle for instance, in this type of chair when she should be in one that looks like this.

The difference? This is an easily maneuverable, easy to transport wheelchair. And no, it doesn’t have handles because people who use them usually like (and can) get themselves where they need to go without help. So why don’t we see this type of wheelchair depicted more often, for the characters who would use them, in comics? I asked DC writer Gail Simone, who’s written the character of Oracle often.

Simone said they always strived to be accurate but that sometimes mistakes happen. “We normally took care about the design of the chair in the earlier Birds of Prey issues, but sometimes, an issue might have a fill-in artist, and in some cases, the chair designs in those issues were occasionally downright archaic,” she said. “You can’t really blame that on the artist, it’s more my fault for not providing proper reference, or if I wasn’t aware a fill-in artist was being used, then the editor should have provided reference.”

Still, the fact remains, a good number of artists don’t already have this type of information on hand and that’s one of the reasons I decided to write this piece. However, Simone told me she was always listening to fans for advice and direction.

“Most of the comments we got from PWD were very positive, but the depiction of the chair needed updating and they let me know on the net and at conventions, for which I was very grateful. It was never angry, they just wanted such an important aspect to be handled correctly, and they were dead right. Specifically, it was pointed out that Barbara, a tech wizard, would be using a lighter, more maneuverable chair,” she said. “So on the second volume of Birds of Prey, I put the question out there to both chair users and health care professionals, what kind of chair would Barbara feel most useful and appropriate. And we got a stunning amount of response, which we were incorporating directly into the book, when it was unfortunately canceled for the big relaunch.”

Here’s artist Yasmin Liang‘s depiction of Barbara Gordon as Oracle. Liang said she looked to Google for reference but wrote, “I was terrified of putting Barbara in the wrong kind of wheelchair (I’m still quite sure all I’ve done is draw something vaguely alluding to one).” Actually, she did a pretty great job considering this is how someone with a spinal cord injury, similar to Barbara, looks in their chair.

That’s Teal Sherer, Venom from The Guild, who told me she has the same frustrations as an actress when seeing wheelchair on screen. ”I was flipping TV channels the other night and came upon this awful Hallmark movie called After the Fall,” she said. “It’s about this young woman who is a competitive show jumper and falls off her horse and becomes paralyzed.  They put her in this clunky, medical looking wheelchair which drove me nuts. It’s so false. In reality she’d be in a wheelchair that was similar to mine. Do your research producers!” The actress playing the starring role was not confined to a wheelchair in real life; having a consultant on set would certainly have directed them to the reality of the situation. Sherer is currently working on a comedic web series called My Gimpy Life, that will be based on her adventures as a woman in a wheelchair in Hollywood and hopefully clue a few people in on what things are really like.

Here we have a motorized, or power chair. It’s something someone who has limited mobility or muscle function would use and like other chairs, can feature any number of extra pieces to conform to the needs of the individual. It’s similar to the kind of chair theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking utilizes.

Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a neurological disorder that falls under the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s purview), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. May is ALS Awareness Month and a great opportunity to learn more. The important thing to remember is who you’re drawing for. What limitations does the character have? What can they do? Even if a character’s condition is similar to another’s, they may require a completely different set-up for their adaptive device.

For instance, while ALS is very similar to muscular dystrophy, the diseases path may take a very different journey and require different care. I have a type of muscular dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It’s also a neurological disorder but affects me much differently than ALS affects Hawking. This is the kind of wheelchair I use every day.

The term for my particular wheelchair is a power scooter but my friends have been known to call it a go kart, while I affectionately call it the Batcycle. Power scooters tend to be used by the elderly than anyone else but I don’t care because it’s totally cool.

And here’s what a scooter looks like in comic form.

Stewart McKenny illustrated me into an issue of Super Friends at DC Comics and did a pretty great job with my scooter even though he and I live on separate continents.

There’s room for variation of course. People with the exact same conditions may not use the same equipment or even use the same equipment all the time. It’s whatever works best fo for the individual. I have a manual wheelchair I take with me if I’m traveling and know the scooter is going to face obstacles. It does have handle bars because I don’t have enough strength in my arms to push myself for extended periods of time.

In the short-lived Birds of Prey television series, actress Dina Meyer used a few different chairs as Barbara Gordon.

Google image search is a huge resource for reference material, I found an abundance while looking for items for this article. But here are a few good links for both writers and artists to bookmark:

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a dig at artists or their methods, just an attempt at opening some eyes. It’s easy to be oblivious when something isn’t staring you in the face. Believe me, I’ve asked enough people, friends and strangers, if there was a step into a building and had them respond, “You know, I’m not sure,” to realize these issues aren’t relavent to everyone. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

There’s not a lot of disabled characters in comics but it might not be that way forever and those printed on the pages now deserve to be portrayed as accurately as possible. Simone made sure to tell me she, as someone who is very aware of PWD, knows they can always do more. “Looking back at any work, I tend to focus on what we could have done better, like a lot of writers,” she said. “While I think Barbara was a brilliant example of a kickass PWD character, we definitely could have and should have presented her chair as more modern much earlier in the run.”

Although I’m disabled, I’m not the authority on the disabled of the world. I don’t claim to know all and I can only share what I personally know and see. Even I don’t get it right all of the time, so I understand how easy it is to make mistakes. The number one thing to remember is – people in wheelchairs are exactly like you, except they’re sitting. Seriously. We may have to do more to get ourselves ready and out to work in the morning but we’re just regular people living our lives. All of the wheelchairs I showed you may have similar components but they are not the same, just as people have different personalities, so do wheelchairs! (My old high school buddies will tell you stories of all the smiley face stickers I had on my old one.) Keep in mind who is using the wheelchair, do some research to find out what type they would use, and you’ll go a long way to making not just PWD proud but educating everyone else at the same time.

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  • http://twitter.com/ScarletRegina Scarlet

    “The number one thing to remember is – people in wheelchairs are exactly like you, except they’re sitting. Seriously. We may have to do more to get ourselves ready and out to work in the morning but we’re just regular people living our lives. ”

    <3 – I feel like that little heart is a cheap comment but I'm not sure I can say more than what I already said yesterday on my blog. Thank you for being you, Jill. I have a lot of shame associated with my illness and just by you being you, you've helped a little with that. So <3

  • Nick Gaston

    Great information—this is going to be surprisingly handy for a few projects of mine (I do aim to please). Thank you!

    Of course, this does also bring up the elephant in the room…namely, the surprising lack of innovation in equipment for people with disabilities in comic worlds compared to our own. (Though Xavier’s giant gold hover chair does come to mind…).

    Apparently, any comics-person who’d be inclined or able to invent a better wheelchair just ends up skipping a step, builds themselves a robot suit, and starts robbing banks. ‘Probably also explains how they’ve had AIs and robots running around for decades, but no one ever pre-invented the iPod.

  • Anonymous

    like Joel answered I can’t believe that some people can make $9311 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you look at this link===>>http://must2visit.blogspot.com 

  • http://sdhardie.tumblr.com Sheila

    My dad was a paraplegic. His chair was very similar to the one shown at the top of this page (not the drawing, but the real one). It’s not at all unreasonable for someone to assume that’s what a regular wheelchair looks like.

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Right, and that’s what I assume most people assume. And I would go so far as to say that is a “regular wheelchair.” But like I said, it’s all about what works best for the individual.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002542117823 Lorraine Donahue

    ALL of this information and education is so very important. All the displays and construction styles make a huge differance for the disabled person. I am Tripledgic with secondary Multiple Sclerosis. I am very Grateful to get any hand me down chair. I’ve yet to have one that both breaks work. I make it work – just like getting tooth paste on my brush. I am so Blessed with what has been handed my way. I’m not a Actress-Musician- celeb … or have money. Between my husband (whom is my 24-7 care provider) make less money each month than one could afford to have a comfy chair. Food banks and community care are Blessings…… I bet – 95% of People in chairs are hand me downs. I’m happy for those that have the ability to have ANY chair – ANY design. Thank You. Lorraine Donahue 

  • Anonymous

    I think I drew the wrong one in my gift art to you! I was referring to Adam Hughes’ depiction among others XD Well I learn something new today.. thanks for a comprehensive article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.pfaltzgraff Jennifer Hughes Pfaltzgraff

    My son is only 8, has CP and uses a Zippie that supports him from head to foot. It’s lime green and has his name on it. It drives me crazy to see kids in catalogs and TV shows in the utilitarian chairs. Crazy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Travis.K.Fischer Travis Kyle Fischer

    Now that both Charlie and Babs are walking around again, are there any mainstream wheelchair bound people out there anymore?

  • Arnold Cheng

    Not to plug my own blog, but I wrote about this topic too, in more detail about “why” there are different wheelchairs out there. It might be helpful for some people. http://askawheeler.blogspot.ca/2011/12/types-of-wheelchairs.html

  • Becca Malamud

    Great article! This is something that constantly bothers me. Someone in the comics brought up Xavier’s hoverchair and I always wondered why no one else in comicsland seems to have super advanced tech. Any reccomendations for comics with super fast chairs or high tech prosthetics or what have you would be great if someone knows something. Superheroes with disabilites needs to be a thing. Looking at the olymics held for PWD we’re starting to see runners with prosthetics going faster than so called able bodied runners. I really fel this should go somewhere if it hasn’t already.

    One point of contention. “Wheelchair bound/confined” has always grated on me. I’ve never liked the connotations of helplessness or of being trapped. I know not everyone feels this way but it really bothers me…

  • http://twitter.com/NextStopOrBust Priority Seating

    Not to plug my own blog, but I wrote about this topic too, in more detail about “why” there are different wheelchairs out there. It might be helpful for some people. http://askawheeler.blogspot.ca/2011/12/types-of-wheelchairs.html 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OXQJMMH7IMFYLLSLO4O6YVIR2A Deb

    Thank you for this…as an illustrator myself, I found it very informative.  

  • Anonymous

    I’d noticed that Darryl “Chill” Mitchell was playing wheelchair bound characters in a number of his roles a while back, and in very high-tech chairs. It was only after the fact did I discover he’d actually been in an accident and had been paralyzed. So in those cases it was a case of him actually needing the chair, and not them getting the details right. Same, obviously, for Christopher Reeve’s remake of Rear Window. 

    The thing that’s so cool about this piece is it could easily have been about a gearhead getting angry that they got the ignition timing wrong on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet, with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor on a tv show.(*) Or a Doctor Who fan annoyed that they get the details wrong when they mention the show on Gray’s Anatomy.  This is something that you deal with every day, and it seems so easy to get the details right and they just don’t. And you have to accept the fact that they didn’t bother because they didn’t care, or know any better, and they figure everybody won’t know or care either.  It’s just that in this case, it’s about an inextricable part of your life, and not just a hobby that FEELS like one.

    My daughter is autistic (specifically an Aspie) And if I had a dollar for every TV show or movie or video game (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 2) who went for the “non-verbal mathematical savant” trope, I’d easily be able to spring for dinner at the Outback. One thing that I have to remind The Wife is that they aren’t doing it on purpose. They go for the easy depiction, the low-hanging fruit, because they presume that’s what most people “know” it to be, and they don’t have time to properly educate the viewer.  It’s not quite the same as stereotyped or even prejudicial depiction, it’s just…laziness?

    So I sit there and enjoy the entertainment for what it is, and The Kid looks at the autistic plot device and says “He’s weird”.

    (*) – This is a humorous reference. Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ’55, the 327 didn’t come out till ’62. And it wasn’t offered in the Bel Air with a four-barrel carb till ’64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top-dead-center.

  • http://twitter.com/thelambandtea The Lamb


    (My old high school buddies will tell you stories of all the smiley face stickers I had on my old one.)”

    Aw, 13-year-old me is super-jealous! I spent the bulk of my formative years switching between crutches and wheelchairs of various types- my parents opted to rent equipment rather than purchase, not realizing how long I’d need them. My wheelchairs were always very ugly and transport-style, due to my school not allowing me the dignity to roll myself from class to class. It was ridiculously clunky and frustrating.

  • Kath

    Lovely article, Jill. I hope some artists (and writers, editors et al) take note and follow through with improvements.

    My uncle is in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident many years ago, and it’s strange how people treat him differently. If a family member insults him affectionately (NEVER about his disability, though), people will be shocked by it. Why? It’s not for them to be offended about, and why does his disability mean my mum can’t be, well, a sister to him?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kalynn-Osburn/100000209378615 Kalynn Osburn

    Never realized how much Oracle (top pic) looks like my girlfriend.

  • Ken Shinn

     The Chief in Doom Patrol also used to have a pretty nifty, gadget-armed wheelchair, although it looked like a pretty standard model. There were occasional allusions (I believe) to his “battle-chair”, which he occasionally contemplated breaking out if the World was about to end or similar, but as far as I recall it never actually appeared (although his “Big Chair” did memorably appear in a one-off page in issue 50 of Grant Morrison’s run!).

  • http://sdhardie.tumblr.com Sheila

    Well, I guess what I mean is, I’m not really sure we can blame the artist for not knowing what a wheelchair looks like, or for assuming that they look like the one pictured…  I mean, I lived with one in my house for 17 years and if you asked me to draw a person in a wheelchair today, that IS what I would draw because that’s what I knew. Maybe the artist in question DOES know someone in a wheelchair, and it happens to be that kind? I’m not trying to start an argument, just pointing out that “because he isn’t in one” may not actually be the reason he chose to portray the person in that way. It may be  what he knows. (And maybe that’s what you are actually saying… my brain is a bit foggy today.)

    I actually had no idea that chairs like that second one were even available. My dad died some years ago, so admittedly, I haven’t seen one in a few years… What makes me sad is knowing that so many people who need wheelchairs are stuck with the “old” kind (for lack of a better term here) due to finances or availability or whatever. My dad chose to use the manual over automated, but I do remember one time looking at newer, more comfortable and technologically advanced chairs with him one time, and they were prohibitively expensive. I do hope that has changed in the years since.

    Thanks for posting this. Brought back some memories of my late dad and brightened my day. :)

  • http://twitter.com/gallifreygal63 Michelle

    Well, there’s a Japanese manga/anime series called Fullmetal Alchemist which is set in a world that has an incredibly advanced form of prosthetic limb technology called “Automail”, in a setting that otherwise roughly mirrors Europe circa WWI. One of the main characters (Edward Elric) has an Automail arm and leg,

  • http://www.facebook.com/katharine.tapley Katharine Ellis Tapley

    I’ve often wondered about this, why wheelchairs in media are often nothing like the chairs I see people using IRL.

    This was really informative!

  • Kath

    Xavier, in the Wolverine & the X-Men cartoon, had a wheelchair in ‘our’ time (well, might have been a hoverchair – can’t remember exactly), but in the ‘future’ he had these pretty awesome leg supports that allowed him to walk and run, but if they broke he’d be unable to – and I believe it did happen at one point.

  • Anonymous

    Nice article. Wheelchairs are a bit like bicycles in this way: everyone *thinks* they know what a bicycle looks like, but try getting 10 people (even 10 artists) to draw one for you. Probably only the regular cyclists will get it right. And I guess (though I could be wrong) there are probably more cyclists than people who use wheelchairs, so it’s not surprising few people really know what one looks like.

  • Anonymous


    It’s certainly not meant as a dig, but through the years, it’s become obvious to me that a lot of people are oblivious to the every day lives of people with disabilities (PWD). And that’s why awareness and education are important. It’s not that people don’t care (although some might not), it’s that they truly don’t know what’s appropriate in certain situations.”

    Thanks so much for acknowledging this.  Articles like this one, that exist to inform, are super important, because there are so many people who make stupid blunders just because they’re not familiar with things.  Great article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Phoenix59 Alan Seeger

    Having been a wheelchair user for the last ten years (after a head-on car wreck on the Interstate that should, by rights, have taken my life) I am still being provided with a boring transport wheelchair that looks like it came straight out of a hospital’s storage room. Having seen photos and video of the extremely cool chair that my long distance friend Teal Sherer has, I am determined that the next time it’s time for me to get a new chair, I am not taking no for an answer. This chair weighs about 55 pounds and is a pain in the derriere to lift into our van. As an artist, I agree that you have to study the subject of your art; not many artists have a lot of exposure to the various types of chairs. It’s a matter of edjumakayshun.

  • http://www.vaughnonmovies.com/ Vaughn On Movies

    Very nice insights. You never know when what you think is the norm is actually the wrong. What do you think of Professor X’s chair from the ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1527492007 Lorinda Adams

    This. SO MUCH. It’s something I asked Gail Simone about both online and at conventions. I offered to take photos of my TiLite from tons of different angles, both occupied and empty, actions shots jumping a curb and the like, falling sideways or backwards, etc, and donate them to the reference art file if it would keep them from drawing Barbara in a frickan 50 lb hospital transport chair. She said it was her fault for not providing enough references, but never said she wanted the photos. I figure she was busy and missed it. By the time I asked her at a convention as opposed to online, she wasn’t sure where the book was going.

  • http://revolvingdoorcommune.wordpress.com Teresa Jusino

    Thank you for this, Jill! This is helpful not only for artists, but for writers who may want to perhaps specify a type of chair in their scripts, giving the artist something to work with. Really, really cool. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/libbak Libba Kelly

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m recently put into a chair and I’m mad and fighting. I appreciate you sharing how to rock it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bexley-Lister/100000454520033 Bexley Lister

    * “Are you sure?” 
    “I’m positive.”

    Love that movie.  ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/amusedmuse Rachel

    Thank you for taking the time to educate.  I’m not atune to these things as I don’t have anybody in my life who requires a wheelchair or powerchair to get around.  I appreciate this invitational chance to be more informed.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amberlovescomics Elizabeth-Amber Delaney

    I’m sharing this link and quoting it with all my comic workshop peers at Comic Experience. My subscription to the workshop is about to expire and if this is the only thing they remember me sharing, that’s just fine. PS – damn hot picture of you, Jill!

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    I love that one! I wish I had a hoverchair!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=557743856 Jack Vasvary

    Thank you for this article, Jill.  It drives me nuts as well when I see a person in a chair being incorrectly portrayed.  I have Spina Bifida and use a sports style chair to get around.  It’s just really good for maneuverability, ease of use, aesthetics, and disassembling and reassembling from my car.  I’m also a comic book creator who’s main character is in a chair.  Granted, it’s no ordinary chair.  It’s more of a battle-ready chair similar to the James Bond Astin Martin with all sorts of crazy weapons and gadgets.  And oddly enough, even being a chair user, I’ve been very intimidated in designing it.  

  • http://twitter.com/amongthegoblins Katherine Traylor

    This is really interesting. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this awesome article!  As an occupational therapist, it makes me insane to see the way PWD and their rehab/medical equipment are portrayed in the media.  Ideas of how people function and what they often use to facilitate their lives seem to be stalled in the early 1900′s.  The scenes in Lost depicting John Locke’s rehab and that deathtrap of a wheelchair made me yell at the TV.  Even scenes from Million Dollar Baby made me kind of crazy.  

  • Becca Malamud

    I thought the PT “specialists” in Lost were awful as well as the language (I started throwing things at the screen everytime Jack offered to “fix” someone”). I excused the wheelchair by saying that Locke was too far in denial about the permanence of his injury to invest in a decent chair just so it wouldn’t bother me.

    To the actors credit he did an alright job with how he used the chair, positioned his body etc (Just compare Archie in Glee. Eugh.) and I felt the writing was okay in the last season.

    Lost fell into the trap of using a disability as a Dramatic!Backstory(tm) and ended up losing perhaps far more interesting story lines. Writing someone who’s just been injured/become disabled makes it too easy to fall for the “PWD just want to get their legs back/become able bodied trope which is fairly insulting.

    There’s my canned rant for the day…..

  • Anonymous

    Ha! I used John’s denial as an excuse as well but seriously, no matter how much denial you were in, no therapist would allow a patient to choose a w/c the pt couldn’t transfer to (hello, swing away arms!) and without a cushion (decubitus ulcers? those can kill you.)  Don’t get me started on the portrayal of “therapy.”  The initial transfer of John to his very first wheelchair made me so angry.  
    The “PT” who looked like an orderly and demanded John get out of bed (supine to sit in one fell motion with no compression garments??  sure what could go wrong??) then lifting a new para like a baby and carrying him to an ancient manual w/c.  Showing no transfer/ADL/independence training and then showing PT as just passively ranging is legs…RAH! OT rage!!

  • Becca Malamud

     The moving him like a baby baby thing made me phisically nauseous. I wonder if the initial loss of dignity maybe contributed to the denial….

  • Anonymous

    Ugh the lack of dignity in that scene was appalling to me.  Also part of what made me so angry with that scene was that it portrayed “PT” as as a concerted effort to trap John in dependence.  I feel this characterization of John’s rehab dehumanized him and cheapened a journey that could have lent more depth to his character.  
    I get that his character was supposed to be in denial of his status but I felt the entire portrayal could have been done better and with respect for PWDs as PEOPLE.  I think the common media portrayal of PWD like this skew and harm how society perceives and treats PWDs.

  • http://twitter.com/packet Rachel Blackman

    There’s supposedly a genuine reason for this: the editors don’t want to do away with real-world problems readily in the comic world because the perception is that it doesn’t go over well with people who have those problems in reality.  I.e., you don’t want to have Reed Richards come up with a cure for AIDS or a solution to the world’s famine problem, because then some people view you as cheapening the actual suffering from those problems.  Among other reasons, this is part of the root cause of the ’Reed Richards is Useless’ trope.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReedRichardsIsUseless

    But yes, as much as Oracle is one of my favorite DC characters, it did sort of bug me that Bruce “I Am Made of Money and Rub Shoulders with Powerful Magicians and Brilliant Super-Scientists” Wayne never seemed to put much effort into seeing if there was a way for her to walk again.

  • Becca Malamud

     Not to mention that Bruce basically walked off a broken back.

    He could have at least built Barbara a nicer chair or bionic legs or something…

  • http://www.facebook.com/navid.hayder Navid Hayder

    Thank you so much for writing this article! First of all, let me say that I’m responding to the fact that you are mentioning Oracle here. Barbara Gordon — perhaps the most intriguing female superhero to ever grace the books. I’m currently experimenting a lot with my fiction and creative writing class helps; I found out that with my favourite characters and comic-book heroes allow me a good place for that experimentation — and later when i post it as fanfiction it allows me to get an immediate response from readers. Currently, I’m working on a story centered around Babs… and whichever genre or characterisation I kept basing her on, I kept going back to this girl I really liked a while back (it was unrequited love and we don’t speak anymore)… so it was difficult, for me at least initially, to characterise Babs as this person I knew and felt so strongly towards… it didn’t help in characterising Barbara that way because the more I did (the more it felt natural that Babs and this girl I’m referring to share such similar attitudes and character) the more I wanted to stop. I wanted to stop thinking about the girl I liked and move on, and so I wanted to stop writing Barbara Gordon altogether…

    I was stuck in being unable to see Barbara in any other light, and this was driving me insane.

    Today, I found your article and it occurred to me that Babs can be so much more than what I thought of her. She’s a much more profound character, and really, an individual on her own right. I no longer have to think of Babs in reference to my last crush. I can move on… and I can finally write Barbara Gordon… as Barbara Gordon.

    Once again, thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/TechnoMistress Lisa Lacey Liscoumb

    Great article, and bookmarked for me now, so I can reference it when I write about someone in a wheelchair in one of my stories.

  • Anonymous

    Lorraine have you checked with your insurance company about getting you a wheelchair? I live in Minnesota and with my doctor’s request and a letter of justication from a therapist I am eligible for a new wheelchair about every five or six years.

    Feel free to email me if you would like more info.. michellelynn1965@gmail.com

  • Anonymous

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  • http://twitter.com/gilibugg Gili Bar-Hillel

    Great post, thanks for being so matter of fact. Two things I feel like adding as parenthetical comments: one is that many people – not commercial artists, but normal people with average drawing skills – have great difficulty drawing a bicycle. People find it hard to draw something if they don’t have a mental shortcut for what a drawing of it is supposed to look like, and lots of people don’t exactly know how a bicycle works, so without looking at one, they can’t draw a realistic looking bicycle. I assume the wheelchair problem has something to do with this, and that you are correct: explaining how a wheelchair works and why would really help artists depict it correctly.

    The second is that my two boys, aged 10 and 5, think wheelchairs are extremely cool and have a bit of wheelchair envy. We used to have a next door neighbor in a wheelchair who had an elevator platform that lifted her chair into her van, and they thought this was one of the best machines ever. At first I was a bit dismayed, I thought it was lack of respect and understanding of the difficulties faced by people in wheelchairs. But on second thought, wheelchairs are absolutely ingenious contraptions, and why shouldn’t they be as cool as scooters, bikes or skateboards. Two boys with perfectly healthy limbs and motor functions could have a lot of fun playing on wheelchairs. Maybe if this were not frowned upon but encouraged, there would be a greater awareness in the general public of accessibility problems in the design of public spaces. I think it was prudish of me to discourage their interest in wheelchairs, even though my intentions were respectful. Their curiosity about how wheelchairs work and how they assist people is a perfectly natural response, and I bet if I encouraged them they would come up with design ideas for ramps and lifts, because people who are motivated by scientific curiosity do that sort of thing. I’m going to show them this post because I bet they’d think it’s cool.

  • http://twitter.com/EveJacques Eve Jacques

    You are SO gorgeous with your smile and your WW tote. A friend who uses a wheelchair told me about ‘the triple take’ – where she could see guys thinking: ‘Girl in wheelchair… Wait, she’s HOT!… Wait, I shouldn’t be thinking that.’ You must get that a lot!!

  • http://twitter.com/SalRomero Sal Romero

    Thanks for that Jill. I’m a little embarrased to say this issue has never crossed my mind. Whenever I see a disabled person in a wheelchair (either illustrated or on the screen) I never thought about the type of chair they are in. Your article helped give me much better perspective and understanding.

    Thanks again!

  • Sarah Kate Amann

    I will definitely be saving this page to keep as a reference. As someone with a learning disability, I understand completely how situations like this can feel, and I do not want to make anyone feel this way. Thank you for sharing and for teaching, because a lot of the tie it really is ignorance that causes these mistakes.

  • http://twitter.com/queltica Queltica

    Passed this on to Neil Gaiman, and he’s spread the word – your article really is helpful on so many levels!  Thank you for writing so clearly about this.  As a pwd myself who uses different assistive devices depending on how I’m doing at the time, I’ve also been surprised at how clueless I’ve been until I’ve had to rely on something new myself.  I also LOVE seeing other pwd portrayed doing something, anything that isn’t medical.  We have lives!  :)  Thank you! 

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Thank YOU for sharing it with him! 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1219050117 M. Elizabeth McIntyre

    I haven’t managed to read every comment, so forgive me if this was already mentioned!

    The low-back style of chair would only be appropriate for a paraplegic with a specific injury. Some injuries cause paralysis that goes higher on the body (into the torso, for example) while still leaving the person with the use of their arms. If that’s the case, a low-back chair would be dangerous, because for people with that injury, balance and center of gravity can be a major issue. (Doctors who work with spinal cord injury say that almost every injury is unique: one person’s paralysis probably isn’t completely identical to that of any of their other patients.)

    My stepfather (a paraplegic who had the use of his arms, but very little feeling in parts of them, and complete paralysis below the armpit) used a relatively sporty chair (a Quickie) that looked somewhat like the low-back chair you show here, but had a padded full back panel more like the transport chair. (We also had the transport chair around as a spare; he used it for about the first five years after he was injured.) If he tipped forward too far, he would fall of out of the chair. A chair with a lower back would have doubled that danger, because his balance was so poor.

    There are many reasons someone would need to use a wheelchair: the only major commonality is difficulty with mobility! The needs of a paralyzed character are different from those of a character who has an autoimmune disease or someone whose legs are too weak to support them. That’s something else artists and entertainment industry pros should keep in mind. :)

  • http://twitter.com/ArmyofWomack Cindy Womack

    Whilst reading BOP it would irritate me no end when that month’s artist would put Babs not just in a “transport” chair but a high backed,big wheeled monstrosity that looked liked it should be carrying Mrs Havisham or Lady Bracknell! Such obvious counterintuitive (uh guys is Babs poor and /or living in the Victorian age?) oversites just come off as lazy drawing and editing. Im Not even a PWD and it would stick out like a sore thumb!

    Hmmm, as for that artist whos lackluster commission helped inpsire the article; it wouldnt be an atist who became known in the 90s when he broke away from the big 2 and started his own company would it? He’s notorious for being unable to draw feet paralyzed or no could be lack of knowledge…could be lack of talent.

  • Kevin Flynn

    Thanks you for articulating something I couldn’t quite figure out… why Oracle, who is a major league tech-head, would have such a clunky low-tech ride?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=577263554 Tony Trott

    Nice post.  The thing that bothers me is your use of the phrase “confined to a wheelchair,” as you must know, wheelchairs are extremely liberating devices for the people who use them.  And I read “wheelchair bound” in one of the comments; wheelchair-user or person who uses a wheelchair are much better phrases!

    Not trying to snipe, just to advocate and educate!

  • Dav

    Awesome.  I went looking for a good reference, and this was the first link I clicked on – paydirt!  Thanks so much for putting this together.