Ableism in Fandom

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Related terms: Access Fandom, Disability Fic
See also: Misogyny in Fandom, Race and Fandom, Judaism and Fandom, Social Justice, Autism and Fandom
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Ableism refers to prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities or perceived disabilites. In a fannish context, the person may be a character in canon or in a fanwork, or a fan herself. Fans discuss the exclusion of disabled characters, the depiction of them when they do appear, the ways other fans write about them or transform able-bodied characters into disabled characters, and they also talk about their own experiences as fans who are disabled.

Ableism in Source Texts

Sasha_feather. 2010. From the edges to the center: Disability, Battlestar Galactica, and fan fiction. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 5.

  • See also: GateFail 2009 for more information about depiction of disability in SGU.
  • Fandom depictions of the character Joker from the Mass Effect franchise, who canonically has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease).
  • Controversy surrounding fandoms where major characters have "ambiguous PTSD" or other ambiguous, usually mental or cognitive, conditions.[1]
  • Canon and fanon depictions in Homestuck fandom, which contains a large number of disabled characters. In particular, the character Tavros Nitram is a wheelchair-using paraplegic. Canon and fandom both derive humor from his impending euthenasia ("culling"), his inability to climb stairs, and his ablist interactions with other characters.
  • Disability Superpower, in which a superpower not only compensates for a character's disability but it elevates the character above able-bodied abilities. See Matt Murdock or Bucky Barnes.

Ableism in Fanworks

The June 2010 discussion of hurt/comfort on Metafandom and the 2009 Warning debate. The linkspam Dreamwidth community also covered some of the issues.

Ableism in Fan Interactions

Mental Illness

Issues surrounding mental illness include both its depiction in source works (as mentioned in the example above about "ambiguous PTSD") and fan diagnoses of characters in fic and meta. While all of the above can be handled respectfully, it is not uncommon to see psychological disorders and terms being used inaccurately.

Perhaps most notoriously is the memetic Sherlock line, "I'm not a psychopath, I'm a high-functioning sociopath! Do your research!"; had Steven Moffatt done his research, he would have discovered that psychopathy and sociopathy are virtually synonymous, and neither are officially recognized diagnoses.

Fan diagnoses of villains is especially controversial because of the greater potential to demonize real-life people with a given disorder and perpetuate the societal stigma on mental illness in general.

A major mental health issue in fan interaction is clearly labeling potentially triggering material in fanworks (such as rape, self-harm, and blood) for fans with PTSD and other psychological disorders.


Some conventions have attempted to make their spaces and events more accessible for disabled fans.


  1. ^ Ambiguous Disorder on TV Tropes, formerly "PDD Not Overtly So".