Diversity: Reaching a New Reader

As an author, I love to write about people of different cultures and circumstances. The ability to work a Pacific Islander into the story or a past love Caucasian reunited with his African-American college girlfriend opens lots of conflict and wonderful ways to deal with pain. Makeup sex after 10 years is awesome.

I’m starting a new short story for the Bowman’s Inn anthology involving a world-famous jazz musician and a business woman who is deaf. Yeah, that conflict will hit you right between the eyes. He will come to realize that many of his fans have disabilities and she will come to feel the music through vibrations. It’s moving along well at the moment. But it certainly made me think.

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The thoughts began to stir after an RWA talk by Angela James on Self-Editing. Ms. James stated the habit modern authors have of describing their characters by using a popular actor or singer creates a void in the mind of readers who are unfamiliar with the person. I stated that in my recap of Ms. James’s talk on Scribophile, and one of our members loved the statement. He just happens to be blind.

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He uses a text to voice app for participating in the group plus for reading books and manuscripts. Lots of things most writers never consider have been brought to our attention because this man chose to join our group. Like if you type in all caps, his app will shout that sentence. Section breaks that use three asterisks will create the reading of “Asterisk asterisk asterisk.”

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But the worst is saying that the main character looks like Anson Mount. Then this reader has to go on Google and try to figure out who the actor is and then try to find a good description. It’s easier, in the long run, to not alienate your readers by saying He ducked when he entered the room, avoiding a collision between his forehead and the lintel. Blue eyes scanned the room, brightening when he saw the woman. A cheeky grin popped up as he swaggered to her side.

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I’ve been thinking of ways to make my writing more accessible to people who have disabilities. For instance, I have a slight disability with my hands, both tendonitis and arthritis have weakened my grip and made it hard to hold a real paperback. Hardbacks are not even an option. What if I included a free eBook version with every paperback purchased? What if I made sure my writing sounded clear and understandable through a text to voice app? What if I encouraged fans to tell me what problems they encounter and how I might be able to solve that for them?

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For the deaf population, I’m thinking I need to avoid using songs as important story plot points. This is the area where I am most lacking. And yet it could be part of my future. My father had gone deaf by the time he passed on, and my brother is using hearing aids. My sister and I are not currently in need of assistance, but my husband insists I don’t hear half of what he says. To which I reply, “What?”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Sunday.

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