Ableist Narratives Are Challenged In ‘Who Wants Normal?’

Frances Ryan’s memoir details the struggle of disabled women against ableist representation. Her story of self-acceptance is a boon for disabled readers.

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Author Frances Eyan beside her book "Crippled"

Frances Ryan, acclaimed UK journalist, details what it’s like to live as a disabled woman in her new book Who Wants Normal? The instruction-manual-memoir hybrid has been bought by Fig Tree, an LLC affiliated with Penguin Random House, according to The Guardian; and critics have already lavished the book with praise. Ryan’s earnest representation of normal life living with disability is empowering and impactful. The book is meant primarily to aid readers in embracing themselves and to not fall victim to ableist stereotypes.

A still from the film "Me Before You", with the male disabled protagonist and the female protagonist standing on a beach.

The Ableist Norm

Though representation for those with disabilities has improved over time, Ryan remarks that these characters are typically two-dimensional at best. So often in dramatic works, a disabled character is penned as a tragic figure. They’re someone who’s very identity revolves around their disability. For popular audiences, the story of a disabled person overcoming those limitations to become “normal” may seem inspiring. Ryan and other prominent voices in the disabled community argue that sending this sort of message to viewers with disabilities is dishonest.

The Helpless Heroine

In her book Who Wants Normal?, Ryan reiterates the importance of self-acceptance. Exterior forces often tell the disabled that they should desire separation from an aspect of themselves. Specifically, the author addresses how being a member of this marginalized group is more challenging as a woman. 

A photo of Francis Ryan talking in front of a microphone.

Disabled people are already heavily infantilized by the public, spoken of in the media through condescending semantics about ‘inner strength’. Abled writers wax poetic about how ‘brave’ they are for ‘overcoming’ their disabilities. This is especially true when discussing disabled women, who fall victim to patronizing rhetoric that often outright ignores them as an individual.

Education & Representation

Frances Ryan is thankfully part of a relatively recent movement to include healthier representation of disabled people in media. This is done through a lens that prioritizes agency rather than helplessness. 

Ryan’s previous book Crippled discusses Britain’s problematic framing and treatment of its disabled citizens. She records the gut-wrenching accounts of many such people who’ve been harmed by the cruel regime. Her book is a wake-up call to the many of us who are blind to how disabled people are often treated like a plague on society.

The cover of Frances Ryan's book "Crippled" shows a handicap icon on a blue background.

Ryan’s mission is to provide a tether not only to disabled women, but also women with mental illness and non-binary people. Ryan’s work has also helped inspire greater strides to write for neurodivergent people who lack a point of reference in pop culture.

She and authors like her understand the importance of providing representation for isolated groups that feel misunderstood and alienated from the rest of the world due to how little they resemble what’s seen in popular media. Going forward, these works are inspiring disabled authors to share their experiences with the world.

In the mean time, look forward to Who Wants Normal? hitting the shelves in 2025.

Interesting in reading more diverse stories? Check out this Three to Read article!