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My Daughter With a Limb Difference Is Not a Witch

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If you didn’t know it already, the children’s book “The Witches” by Roald Dahl, has been turned into a movie starring Anne Hathaway. Hathaway plays the main character, you guessed it — a scary witch.

In the book her character, The Grand High Witch, has “claws” for hands to up her frightening factor.  There is no mention of missing fingers.  Growing up, it was one of my favorite books and Roald Dahl is a beautiful storyteller.

In the movie adaptation, unfortunately, Warner Brothers, HBO Max and the producers decided to portray Hathaway’s terrifying character with missing fingers — which resembles limb differences like ectrodactyly and syndactyly or “split hand.”

We are better than this.

By portraying “villains” as having disabilities, we continue to perpetuate the narrative that people with disabilities are abnormal and something to be feared. The lack of awareness, empathy and inclusion of Warner Brothers Studios is abysmal.

We continue to discount the experiences of others because we don’t see from their perspective.  We don’t invite them to the conversation.  They don’t have a seat at the table.

I can’t count the number of times people have openly stared at my daughter Callie walking in her prosthetic leg. Pointed and laughed, even.

The number of grown adults who have made an awful face and pulled back in disgust while she was swimming.

The number of parents who have pulled their children away from my daughter while in the pool as if she was not “good enough” to play with.

The number of children who have called Callie a “weirdo” or said that her leg looks “gross” or “scary.”

The number of people who “fight” for inclusion but leave out the disabled community.

The amount of times Callie has tearfully asked me to be “just like everyone else.”

Where do you think they learn that behavior? Sure, some of it’s sheer ignorance. Absolutely.

But the rest of it?

It’s in the media and content we consume.

When we accept the narratives that are portrayed in movies like “The Witches,” scatter dismembered limbs in our yards at Halloween, and call people with lower limb amputations “pirates,” we normalize using limb difference as something that’s frightening. We normalize a negative stigma, a lack of awareness, and frankly uncreative ways to define characters. We reinforce that disability is dreadful and scary. We normalize that the disability is “bad” and needs to be “overcome.” We normalize that a disability needs to be hidden away with gloves.

Differences should not be used to portray disgust. Or to frighten people. At all. It works to undo what everyone works so hard to change with children with limb differences.

I don’t ever want Callie to feel ashamed or hide her limb difference. I don’t want her to get bullied or made fun of by other kids. I don’t want her to question who she is or her value. I don’t ever want her to feel like she is anything less or that her uniqueness is something to be frightened of, because it’s not.  I don’t ever want her to watch a movie and see someone like her portrayed as a monster.

Imagine if you saw someone like you portrayed like that. We can do better.

Originally published: November 17, 2020
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