I love stories, and podcasts are my favorite way to experience stories. I am especially fond of the dynamic spontaneity that arises when people work together to create stories using tabletop role-playing games. As a queer femme genderqueer, I’m thrilled by the current explosion of the tabletop role-playing game podcasts by women, queer people, and nonbinary folks. Representation matters, and stories that showcase people with underrepresented identities have the power to change how people think of each other and themselves.
I wish I could say that my experience as a disabled, neurodiverse person within this community was equally positive, but that isn’t the case. Mostly, disability is simply absent. When present, disabled characters are usually only cosmetically disabled, where magic or technology is used to give them the same abilities as able-bodied characters. Disabilities that aren’t cosmetic often come into conflict with play style and game mechanics in ways that cause them to be either ignored or exaggerated in unfortunate ways. Meanwhile, disabled minor characters frequently appear as jokes, villains, burdens, or objects of pity.
This isn’t surprising. In the broader world, awareness of ableism is growing, but there are still many aspects of ableism that people are only starting to learn about. Good disability representation is rare, and ableist language is common enough that it takes effort to stop using ableist terms.
However, these challenges make good representation of disabled characters especially meaningful. We need stories about disabled heroes that capture what it is really like to be disabled—stories that find the balancing point where disability affects the character’s life without overshadowing everything else. It is time for stories that are about more than just disability, stories full of fun, creativity, humor, and adventure, stories about complex people who grow and change.
This is why I podcast—because I am so passionate about creating these stories and putting them out into the world. As I do this, I want to capture more than just my own ideas and experiences. I want to show off the amazing creativity and diverse experiences of the disabled people in my community. And for an avid gamer like myself, the collaborative storytelling of tabletop role-playing games is the perfect way to do this.
My podcast, Writing Alchemy, is the place where I work together with an inclusive group of participants to make Unfamiliar Heroes, a tabletop role-playing series about the adventures of disabled and mentally diverse heroes. In it we create fun and silly adventures that are also deeply meaningful. Through Writing Alchemy, I share these stories with the broader podcast community—a community that I love and that I know wants inclusive stories. These stories aren’t just for disabled people, they are for everyone.