Come, sit, let me tell you a story. It’s 100% original and has never ever been used before and doesn’t have any societal baggage attached to it. Also, I’m lying. But let me tell it to you anyway.
Once, not all that long ago, there was a dramatic story to be told! And that dramatic story needed a villain. And not just any villain, but a truly evil, twisted villain, somehow marked as the villain. And since, as we all know, all listeners and viewers of all stories are normal - just like you and me! (I know you must be normal, because these stories always assume the listener is non-disabled, and we all know that disabled people aren’t normal, right?) - the best way to mark our villain is to make him one of those scary cripple-types. In fact, if we can give him, say, a hunched back, or some nasty facial scars, or a withered arm, or even - oh, here’s a great idea, let’s make him all wheelchair bound! - then everyone will know, just by looking at him, that our villain is evil in some way. And bitter about being crippled, because we all know people are bitter abut being crippled. In fact, let’s make our awesome crippled villain bent on the destruction of normal people (just like you and me!) because of how bitter he about being all crippled and stuff. Awesome. This story is totally original, and I will now make millions of dollars!
Or, I could just be copying Shakespeare (Richard III), Disney (Scar, from the Lion King), George Lucas (Darth Vader), Kipling (Shere Khan, from The Jungle Book), Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman (Nessarose, from the musical version of Wicked), and half the writers of Doctor Who (Daleks, John Lumic & Cybermen, Max Capricorn, The Collector, and probably more that I can’t think of because wow does Doctor Who have some issues with Disability Fail). Heck, for fun times, check out Evil Cripple Tropes and Evil Albino Tropes. But be sure to pack a lunch - both tropes are pretty darn common, and neither list includes the bitter cripple who just needs to be put in his place but isn’t really a villain.
That male pronoun use is on purpose. Other than NessaRose (in the musical, she’s “that tragically beautiful girl / the one in the chair” who ultimately gets crushed by a house), the vast majority of bitter crippled villains are white men, and their motivations really do tend to be seeking revenge on the unaccepting world, their bitterness often compounded by not being able to find love. As the fictional Richard III put it:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
These ideas come from some great stereotypes the general public tends to have about people with disabilities.
First, of course, is that we all must be bitter and angry about our existence. This has a wee germ of truth in it, I must admit. Right now, for example, I’m pretty pissed off that my husband and I were invited to an event on campus that isn’t wheelchair-accessible, even though my university prides itself on “prioritizing accessibility issues”. Since I bring this issue up quite often, I’m sure people see the two of us as a pair of bitter angry people. Kinda like how the fact that feminists do get angry about a lot of things, like rape culture, women in refrigerators, and Being A Girl = Bad!, which has lead to that wonderful media stereotype of the Evil Raging Man-Hating Harpy Feminist Villain. Perfectly rational things to be irritated or even angry at, and suddenly you’re a Doctor Who villain.
The second is that people with disabilities, especially men, can’t possibly be having consensual romantic relationships (should that be what they want - asexual people with disabilities exist), and their rage at this will naturally turn to trying to destroy the able-bodied men who are stealing all the womenfolk away. I don’t quite know how to take on that stereotype, because I know people with disabilities who are unpartnered and unhappy about it, but I have yet to meet any who are in a rage-state over it. Most of them are like just like the able-bodied folks I know who are single - happy, sad, mixed feelings, maybe a bit angry. Like everyone in that situation, really.
Just like whenever people criticize pop cultural portrayals of certain minority-groups as villains, some are going to read this as a long way of saying “You can never have people with disabilities as villains - they must all be Good Cripples who Do No Wrong! Gosh, soon you’ll be insisting that the only people allowed to be villains are white (able-bodied) men!” To calm those fears, let me tell you straight up:
The problem isn’t that there are villains with disabilities. The problem is that villains with disabilities outnumber heroes with disabilities - and those villains tend to have very stereotypical motivations. Why not have Max Capricorn’s motivation to destroy his company’s flagship be wanting the insurance money, rather than wanting revenge for being kicked off the board of directors when they found out he was disabled? Why not have Nessarose’s motivation for revenge on Boq being about his disdain for Elphaba, rather than his rejection of herself? Why not have a Bond-like super villain with a disability who wants whatever because his lover enjoys the finer things in life, and those finer things are pricey? A villain who’s robbing from the rich to pay for her expensive pain management regime and thyroid meds?
Heck, let’s go all out: What about a disabled villain and a disabled hero in the same place? Our heroine, Ravena Awesomepants, a full-time wheelchair user who has a sarcastic sense of humour and a love for musicals, is also captain of the space cruiser the S. S. Susan Burch on an important mission delivering Expensive Important Stuff to a colony, when her ship is captured by none other than the evil villainous Lady Amanda, who was born blind. Lady Amanda wants the Expensive Important Stuff because her current lover, Captain Ashley, is terribly fond of Expensive Important Stuff, and she’s determined to get her hands on it. Little do they both know that their pseudonyms hide their former love affair! Will they end up together, or will their respective moral codes one again drag them apart? And what is the Expensive Important Stuff anyway?
Okay, I can tell that Hollywood is not going to be banging my door down for that particular plot, but you see what I mean. There are so many more stories to tell than these ones. Let’s bin the bitter evil crips, and move on, shall we?