I’ve written a fair amount about tabletop gaming and disability previously, either about my own experiences playing disabled characters in role-playing games, or about the best games to feature disabled characters. One topic I haven’t touched, however, is the massive controversy around the inclusion of wheelchairs in Dungeons & Dragons.
Back in 2020, Sara “Dislocating DM” Thompson produced the combat wheelchair rule set for D&D, and despite not being endorsed by D&D publishers Wizards of the Coast, it quickly gained traction in the gaming community. Unfortunately, while the combat wheelchair garnered significant support, the dissenters were not far behind; after all, there is a reason the D&D fandom has gained such a troublesome reputation.
The main argument against the inclusion of wheelchairs in D&D was that, in a world filled with magic spells for just about every situation, any and all disabilities would be eradicated. The combat wheelchair would be rendered useless, and therefore its inclusion was nothing more than “virtue signalling”. Much like myself, this argument falls down in many places.
First and foremost, disease still persists in the world of D&D despite the prevalence of magic, and has undoubtedly been an important plot point in many a campaign. That really is all there is to say on this point.
The next argument in favour of the combat wheelchair blows the mind of anyone who has never encountered disability before; not everyone who is disabled wants to be cured. While I would welcome a cure for the multitude of chronic illnesses that disable me by causing pain, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing, not every disability is a result of such circumstances. If I could alleviate the symptoms but had to remain disabled anyway, I would be absolutely fine with that. There are plenty of disabled people who have expressed no desire to be cured, and as such even in a world where magic had the potential to cure any and all ailments (which it clearly doesn’t), disability would still exist.
Furthermore, I believe that in a world of magic, there would be even less reason to want to be cured of a disability. Many of the negative experiences that stem from being disabled are a result of inaccessibility and ableism, not disability itself. The social model of disability takes it so far as to claim that it is society that disables people, and therefore the removal of disabling circumstances such as inaccessibility would essentially eradicate disability. I disagree with this notion as even with every accommodation, I would still need to use a wheelchair and would therefore consider myself disabled, but the idea does have some merit. In a world with spells that allow you to teleport like misty step, or to move objects out of your reach like mage hand, steps and high shelves would pose far less of a issue to me than in the real world. Spells wouldn’t eradicate disabled people; they would help us.
If all of the above still doesn’t convince you that disabled people belong in the world of D&D as much as anyone else, consider the following; it’s fiction. It’s pretend. It’s make-believe with maths. You are getting irate about an imaginary wheelchair for an imaginary person in an imaginary world. If you don’t want to use a combat wheelchair, then don’t. In short; grow up.