THE BLOG
30/11/2015 06:52 GMT | Updated 28/11/2016 05:12 GMT

The Department of Ability: Calling For Disabled Characters in Children's Comic Books and TV

The children's entertainment enterprise is a thriving industry with studies showing that 70% of children (between the ages of 0-8) spend their time watching nearly 2 hours of TV a day. The comic book industry is a multi billion-dollar enterprise with many popular annual events like Comic Con being dedicated to comic book fans and enthusiast alike.

Yet, despite this there continues to be a vast lack of disabled characters in children's media, particularly the TV and comic book industry.

One such individual is trying to combat this. Daniel White is the founder of Department of Ability: a project aimed at ensuring more disabled character's make it into children's media.

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An image of Emily with parents Dan and Aimee.

The project came to fruition after Dan's experience of being a parent to his daughter Emily aged 9, who was diagnosed with Spina Bifida at birth. Yet, she has a zest for life and a desire to live like any other girl her age. Like any child of 9 she loves to play sports, spend time with friends, read comics, and watch TV. Yet, one day when she and Dan flicking through children's TV channels they were surprised to discover that there were no characters that represented Emily in a positive light.

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An image of 9 year old Emily at the Feel the Force Day Convention 2015.

'I remember Emily looking up at me with a perplexed look on her face and saying "I think that there aren't any people with wheelchairs on TV because they aren't allowed" and this may me realize how serious this was. There weren't any characters that represent Emily and children like her and I wanted to change that' Dan explains.

Earlier this year, inspired with this new and as Dan describes it 'crazy' idea Dan set to work on creating a story with characters that represented the disability community to children. He created a comic book idea which tells the story of 5 disabled superhero's with varying physical and sensory disabilities, each gifted with their own unique superpower. The Department of Ability with their tagline 'born to be different, born to save the world' each use their disability to the best of their ability.

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An image of the Department of Ability: Born to be different, born to save the world.

Claypole: a hyper intelligent, undefeatable ghost who is blind, Billy: a dog with carbon wheels and a bionic, radio transmitting tail, Pawsy: the endearing and slightly cocky hyper fast cheetah with a prosthetic leg, Azazzatz an intelligent extraterrestrial with a super strength bionic arm and Emily who has incredible upper body strength, a multi-functional wheelchair. They harness their abilities to fight their enemies, defend justice, and save the world from the forces of extraterrestrial evil.

'I wanted the story to focus on their abilities,' says Dan. 'I didn't want it to focus on what they couldn't do, rather what they are able to do as superheroes.'

Dan describes how his story subverts the social belief that a disability renders you of your ability, instead Dan emphasizes how they use their disabilities 'as their super power.'

Dan is currently in the process of writing and producing the comic, which is due to be released in 2016 by the charity StrongBones.

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Am image of the Department of Ability comic cover.

'The essential aim of this project is to see more disabled characters in children's media including the comic book industry and TV,' says Dan. 'I hope that my efforts will encourage others to follow suit and create their own characters who represent diversity. Diversity is an integral part of childhood learning and children need to see it in order to embrace and accept it. As a father of a child with a disability, this needs to happen so that Emily and people like her can live in a society that has a positive association with disability.'

Coincidently, Dan is not the only individual who holds these views, Dan told me how many parents of disabled and non-disabled children strongly believed that there needs to be more representation of diversity on children's media.

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An image of the 2016 comic in progress.

'It's such a great idea,' one parent commented. 'Its so important for children with disabilities to see themselves reflected on the programs they watch and the comics they read so that they learn to embrace their disability as a part of them and don't feel as if they are excluded from their peers.'

The Department of Ability has been widely received appearing on many news outlets including BBC News, Sky News, BBC Newsround and ABC News. As well receiving praise from a number of celebrities including Alex Brooker, Warwick Davies and David Proud.

Each day that Dan works towards completion of the comic he is greeted with a comments and messages of encouragement from supporters who believe in his mission to bring disability awareness into the lives of children.

But, for Dan there is still a long way to go on the road to the story of this dynamic group of disabled superheroes. Amongst working towards the completion of the comic, Dan is also networking and lobbying for companies to include disabled characters into their media.

'Its as if companies are afraid to take the plunge and include characters of diversity. They need to open the door and listen to what we are saying.'

Disability is a huge demographic with 11.9 people (18 percent) of the people of the UK who are disabled yet why are they still not being represented? If we are to change perceptions towards disability wouldn't it be the most affective to begin by education children?

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An image of the fictional character Emily.

You can keep up to date with Department of Ability you can find them on their Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sources

http://www.departmentofability.com

http://adage.com/article/adagestat/statistics-children-s-media-habits-show-tv-king/230623/

http://www.livability.org.uk/news/language-journalists/