Bookish Musings: I Want More Books about… Disability & Medical Needs in Post-Apoc Worlds


I put the ellipses in the title because I’m going to make this a new kinda sporadic feature. Meaning I plan to do at least a few other posts about things I want more books about. I think it’ll be fun 🙂 Anyway…

In all my posts and conversations with everyone about disability in books, I have realized there is a subgenre that seriously needs to exist: people with disabilities and special medical needs in post-apocalyptic worlds.

I mean, this is something that almost no one ever considers. There would absolutely be plenty of people with disabilities who would survive the apocalypse, not to mention all the people who don’t quite have disabilities but still have certain needs because they wear glasses/contacts, have braces, take medications, etc. So where are all the books about them?! I would read the hell out of that subgenre, and apparently lots of other readers would too. So I’m gonna talk about it, and maybe some authors will get on board and start writing these books for me 😉

Why I Want More Books about Characters with Disabilities and Medical Needs in Apocalypses and Post-Apoc Worlds

Ummm, because it just sounds awesome?

Seriously though, soooooooooooooo many people have some sort of disability or take medication or have some sort of special need. And not only would it be fantastic to get some representation of that, there’s also just so much potential for stories there. Like, instead of just killing zombies or surviving, they could be trying to find/make the thing they need, to find a specific person who could help them, to somehow solve the problem on their own, to stockpile what they need, etc. But it’d be great just to see the added difficulties people with disabilities would have simply fighting zombies and/or surviving. And since so many people have some sort of disability, it would make the characters in these books super relatable.


Potential Ideas

Here, authors of the world, I will help you get started with some ideas:

– Characters with glasses/contacts trying to stockpile or raiding stores to find/make just the right glasses for their prescription. Ok, probably not a whole lot of story potential here, but so many people would have this problem, myself included! Just making a character who runs out of contacts and has to fight zombies and/or other people with blurry vision would be an added bit of realism.

– Characters who need certain medications learning how to make those medications themselves. (This is what Sugar Scars is about, one of the few books I know of that does fit this subgenre idea).

– Characters getting creative and finding the parts they need to make new prosthetics when the one they have breaks, or prosthetics that are better suited to the post-apoc world.

– Deaf/blind characters in a zombie book not being able to hear/see zombies coming. That would bring a whole ‘nother level of terror to the book but would also be really interesting.

– Characters who use wheelchairs and can’t run from danger. Maybe they survive by becoming (or already being) masters at using guns and other long-range weapons? Or not, and they just survive in other ways. Even navigating a zombie-free world would be difficult if there was plant overgrowth, bodies, rubble, etc. everywhere.

– Basically characters with literally any chronic illness or disability that makes things more difficult trying to survive anyway. No one ever thinks about disability in post-apoc worlds, so just including it period, would be amazing. There doesn’t need to be a special storyline about it. A book doesn’t have to be about disability in order to include disabled characters.

So you see? The possibilities are endless.


Books That Already Exist about Disabled Characters in Post-Apoc Worlds

*Note: I have not read all these, so I don’t know if the disability representation is actually good or correct.*

Sugar Scars by Travis Norwood
The Least by Michael John Grist
Left Alive #1 by Jeremy Laszlo
Defying Doomsday by Various Authors
Ash by M. Van

Talk to me!

Would you read books about characters with disabilities and medical needs in post-apoc worlds?
What other ideas can you think of for stories that would fit into this subgenre?
Do you know of any post-apoc books with disabled characters?


Your Thoughts


79 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: I Want More Books about… Disability & Medical Needs in Post-Apoc Worlds

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  1. Karen Blue

    You bring up some awesome points here and possible book ideas. I think there was an episode in The Walking Dead about someone trying to find diabetes medication and a whole lot of people wear glasses. Not too much of that happening in books though. Of course, I mostly read fantasy so I guess there wouldn’t be. Although, I just got done reading The Empress and there was drug use and addicts trying to find those drugs. I think that is another whole topic though.
    Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well that’s good that at least The Walking Dead is trying to include this kind of thing a little bit. Surprisingly, I know of far more fantasy books w/ disability than post-apoc books, even though it’s even more realistic in post-apoc. Thanks!

  2. Angela

    Great post! Having characters with some kind of disability would definitely make things more realistic. Not everyone is super-healthy or strong or has perfect vision; it would just add a whole other element to survival. Seriously, if my glasses broke during a zombie apocalypse, there would be some struggles!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! And I agree, it would absolutely be more realistic, especially in this genre. I think lots of people could relate, and it would add so much to the survival aspect! Yeah, I can barely see my hand w/o my contacts, so I’d be in trouble too lol.

  3. chucklesthescot

    I read a ton of apocalypse and zombie books and I’ve been complaining for years about a lack of blind/deaf/wheelchair bound characters etc in these books. I have read some that feature this kind of character-a few good ones but some badly written ones too. I’d always be willing to try more.

    1. Kristen Burns

      If anyone would know how few books there are like this, it’d be you since you read more post-apoc than anyone else I know. It’s a shame there aren’t more! Especially since, as you said, some of the ones that do exist are badly written.

  4. Wattle

    Omg. I’ve NEVER realised, you hardly ever read about characters with glasses (I can only think of Harry Potter). I wear glasses! Half the people I know wear them 😮 whaaaaat. And the medication idea is cool too.

    Even things like deafness and blindness are underrepresented. I guess, in fiction land, the perfectly working human body is the go to because it’s easy?

    1. Kristen Burns

      I can’t recall many characters with glasses or contacts either. But so many people wear them! And pretty much all disabilities are underrepresented. The fact that it’s easier to write about perfectly healthy people probably is why :-/

  5. Karen

    This is not a genre you read (I don’t think) but Ann Aguirre has a PNR, The Demon Prince, with a hero has a chronic illness that doesn’t get cured and they have to come up with a way to manage it after supply shortages (and other factors) but yes, all of your suggestions would be great to read about.

    For What It’s Worth

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t tend to read much straight PNR, but I’ll check it out, and I’ll def add it to my SFF disability list! What specific chronic illness does he have? Do you remember?

  6. Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

    So much YES! Honestly, I think every genre needs to represent disabilities more, but I would totally read more of this genre if they had disabled characters. It adds so much, you’re right, especially your idea of a deaf or blind character dealing with zombies. How scary right?! I know plenty of people in my real life who have disabilities (glasses, diabetes, etc.) – including myself (hearing loss, glasses)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Glad you agree! I also think every genre could use more disability, but this one seems to be especially lacking. It really would add so much though! And be realistic!

  7. Dina

    These are all really good ideas. It’s definitely not a genre that includes disabled characters or even people with medical needs. I want to see some diabetes representation in dystopia and post apocalyptic literature, too. As someone who wears glasses, I have to thank you for including us glasses-wearers in here. There’s a lot of us, and like, no one ever talks about how life would be for someone who is reliant on glasses/contacts. I like the idea of having characters creating their own ways of coping, rather than relying on the normally prescribed methods to survive. It’s harder to write, I guess, but I am thinking of steampunk takes on things as an example.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Sugar Scars is about an MC with diabetes 🙂 Although it does have some non-disability related issues. And yeah, glasses/contacts would be a real problem. I can barely see my hand in front of my face w/o my contacts! I’m sure it is harder to write which is prob why authors avoid it :-/ but it’d be great to read.

  8. Olivia Roach

    I often think about this when I am reading because I have a little sister in a wheelchair and sometimes when the end of the world scenario happens I try to picture where she would fall into everything going on. I remember in the Gone series by Michael Grant, there is this character called Brittany with braces and as no one can adjust them her mouth grows too big for them and it gets super painful. I don’t know how she gets out of the situation again but I remember appreciating that Michael Grant included such a character. Also in The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz where there is an alien invasion, one of the characters has a mental disease and wears leg braces.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Actually I read The Rains just a couple months ago, forgot about him. But I’d like more books that have MCs with disabilities, you know? Like, in The Rains, the teacher didn’t play that big of a part, and it wasn’t like it was explored at all how having that disability affected him in their situation (other than his immunity). But that’s actually pretty cool that an author thought to include a side character with braces! That really would be a problem.

  9. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf

    I think that this is something that has helped turn me away from YA dystopian and fantasy novels. I’m tired of everyone being perfectly fit, including the adults. Your ideas for new books are wonderful. I am seriously wanting characters with glasses in books right now because I’m realizing that I probably need to update my prescription for glasses now. I’m also playing Humans vs. Zombies, so I’m even more aware of how hard it is for me to see without my glasses, so I would love to see more characters in YA (in general) with corrective lenses.

    I’m remembering that The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín was a dystopian fantasy that came out last year. Though I got nowhere near finishing it (only 5-10 pages), I remember the protagonist was already disabled at the start would be subjected to the Call. She or the narrator commented about how she knew she wouldn’t be able to run from it. I can’t recommend it without having read it, though.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah but even in most adult sci-fi/fantasy, everyone is perfectly healthy and fit :-/ I’m glad you agree about this though! There really aren’t many characters with glasses or even contacts, but my goodness, I couldn’t even tell a human from a zombie w/o mine lol.

      Thanks for letting me know! I had no idea the MC was disabled, I’ll look into that book 🙂

  10. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

    Yup my favorite have been the ones that have portrait some of this. Angelfall for example even though it was just for the first pages, the main character’s little sister is in a wheel chair in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco and her mobility issues just added to the whole tension. It was great to see her sister getting creative to move her around. Her mom is schizophrenic so there is some rep in this series.
    And I already told you about Life as we Knew it and asthma but…
    I’m surprised I haven’t been able to talk to you into reading either yet! 🙂 I guess your spouse’s love is not enough to influence [winks]
    I like temporary medical conditions too like pregnancy! Like Bird Box a horror book I’m reading now. OMG one of my worst nightmares is to be pregnant in a post apocalyptic world!

    1. Kristen Burns

      LOOK I’M ANSWERING YOUR COMMENT 😉 I think someone else said something about something happening later so the girl doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore though? Miracle cures aggravate me. But it sounds like it’s great while it’s in the story. And yeah, post-apoc would be hard for mental illness too, esp if someone needed meds.

      You only like vaguely told me about the asthma and I still don’t even know what character has it???

      I have Bird Box! I just haven’t read it yet. But I will!

    2. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

      Yup unfortunately the girl is not in a wheelchair for very long BUT she is not cured. She is not longer in a wheelchir because something really really really bad happens to her. I just remember that when I read it felt very real for the few pages that the MC was caring for her disable sister. But ow I had to reread it 😉

      In Life as We knew it The MC’s older sister suffers from asthma and a big part of the plot is them dealing with that and there is definitely no magical cure here. A lot of real life struggle and unexpected twist. Very very very real [I’m asthmatic, my kids are too and I was very satisfied with the way it was presented]

      BIRD BOX!!!! I can’t put it down. Holding my breath the whole time I’m reading it! Hope you enjoy it as much as I’m
      THOUGH… it may not be more than 4.2 stars for other reasons. [characterization, especially around the pregnancy]

      1. Kristen Burns

        Ohhh ok then I misinterpreted the other comment, thanks for explaining!

        Ah, ok, I will have to add that to my books w/ disabilities list too! Especially if it’s actually good rep. I’ve been diagnosed w/ asthma but, to be honest, I think it was an incorrect diagnosis.

        Glad to hear it’s so good!!!

  11. Laurie (Bark's Book Nonsense)

    This is such a great topic. I do worry for all of those less-than-perfect souls who will likely perish in an apocalypse without meds, help, groups to assist. I would be royally screwed if my glasses broke. I’d love to read more work addressing this sort of thing as well.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks 🙂 It would definitely more difficult to survive for a lot of disabled people. And I’d also be screwed when I ran out of contacts because I don’t even know if I have glasses, but I can hardly see my hand in front of my face w/o my contacts.

  12. Wren

    I’ve actually considered this a lot….I mean imagine needing medication and then BOOM zombie apocalypse, worldwide chaos, lack of medical care…. where are diabetics going to get insulin? Where are trans people going to get their hormones? What will a disabled person do if their wheelchair breaks, or they’re left alone in the top floor of a house surrounded by zombies? Even myself with my anxiety disorder, I think about going through a post-apocalyptic world without my meds and just….I’d be unable to function it’d be terrifying! Lots of good thoughts in this post, I think there’s so many great ideas here.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, it would be a major problem. For some people (like diabetics), it would mean death unless they could figure something out. I thought about that as well, that many people with mental illness would struggle without medication. But soooo many people would have these kinds of problems, so including them in books would be great!

  13. Wendy @ Birdie Bookworm

    This is excellent!! I was just talking about how characters with disabilities or mental illnesses don’t exist in Heterosexual romances, but your so right! They (medical conditions included) don’t exist in any type of Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopian setting either. I’m trying my hardest to think or just one… The closest I can come up with is some of the characters in the Gone series. (Depression, eating disorders, and autism are the three that stand out.) Some authors should really change that.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I mean, there are more in sci-fi/fantasy in general than I originally thought when I started making the books w/ disabilities list I have on my blog, but still not a lot. And post-apoc is where there really is a shortage, even though I feel like it would be a genre that would be so much more realistic if it included disabilities. That’s great that the Gone series at least has some inclusion!

  14. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    This would be a pretty awesome sub-genre to develop. I’d totally be with you in struggling with my glasses in a post-apocalyptic world. I would completely struggle with my contact lens prescription because I am so blond that I’d have to travel miles to find any. I’d also struggle because I can’t drive (although petrol would run out so that’s not a major issue) and really, I probably wouldn’t make it, I don’t have good survival skills. I know Susan Ee wrote the Penryn books and her sister was in a wheelchair and she was helping her to survive. Then weird stuff happens to her sister so she doesn’t need the wheelchair but that’s whole other thing. Her sister did seem like a hindrance to her survival, which kind of sucked in the whole good rep battle, but it seemed real, it would be hard in a post-apocalyptic world with a wheelchair, it’s hard in the normal world with one.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It really would be. And yes, I can hardly see my hands in front of my face w/o contacts, so I’d be screwed w/o them! I doubt you’d be doing much driving though anyway lol. Oh, some sort of miracle wheelchair cure? :-/ I’ll pass then. But, I mean, about the rep, it still sounds realistic. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, people w/ certain disabilities, we’d all be kind of a hindrance, wouldn’t we? (Myself included since I’d totally be useless at fighting or outrunning zombies or doing anything active w/ my illness.) But I guess the point is, regardless of that, everyone deserves to live, and just cuz you can’t walk or something, it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute in other ways.

  15. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    You are so right, Kristen!
    In Rebecca Zanetti’s Scorpio Syndrome series, there are characters with chronic illnesses, and medication is becoming a problem most of the characters worry about. I can’t remember if anyone is disabled, though.
    In Susan Ee’s Angelfall series, one of the main characters is in a wheelchair. And that works into the plot really well.
    Great topic this week.

  16. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I’ve thought about that with glasses—this would be a major problem for a lot of people! But you bring up good points about the other issues too. I hadn’t really thought that out, but it adds an interesting twist. I HAVE read a book with a deaf character POV, though. Silent World, which is part of Kate L. Mary’s Broken World Series has a deaf MC, and not being able to hear the zombies is definitely addressed!!

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  18. Cee Arr

    Awesome post! 🙂

    I’ve read a couple of books with this as a theme actually! (Not loads – but a couple.)

    Unfortunately, the rep. in Angelfall by Susan Ee is ableist af. The carer rep is fab, but the rep of both physical disability and mental health problems is awful.

    The Stand by Stephen King (which is 1000+ pages) has a deaf/mute main character named Nick (one of many, many, many main characters!) I faintly remember something else about medication going on… but honestly, there’s so much going on in that book that I really don’t know. The rep varies (as you might expect from something that freaking long.)

    The Fireman by Joe Hill (700+ pages) is one I’m in the middle of reading (and have been for a while, because 700+ pages – plus I love Joe Hill and try to make his books last! (Like, for over a year…)) and has a little deaf/mute boy, also named Nick (because I guess Hill’s been reading too much of his father’s books!) and a pregnant lady (which leads to needing to get supplements etc.) Seems ok rep-wise so far!

    Shade’s Children by Garth Nix uses radiation and the effects of the bad things that happened in the apocalypse to create challenges that are similar to (and probably count as) disabilities.

    And those are the ones I remember! Lol. Oddly, I don’t actually read all that much dystopian/post-apoc fiction (I mean, some of it… but not like looooads!) – I’ve clearly just got lucky! XD

    1. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

      omg I’m gonna have to reread Angelfall Cee!. I’ve have some very close experience with schizophrenia and I thought it was very well represented but I love that you always make me look closer for thing I missed like in Aristotle and Dante! 🙂

      humm for some reason Kristen skipped both our comments. it must be something about Angelfall 😉

        1. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

          ok I read it and GREAT REVIEW CEE!
          Almost as if I wrote it myself [uh-huh I’m THAT modest]
          Now, seriously speaking… what I mean by “as if I wrote it myself” is that I agree 100% with everything you said BUT it’s interesting how I saw all that from a different angle!
          In Paige’s case I though the rep of the disability was good because I was looking it at it from the carer perspective [I have not suffered from that kind of physical disability but I have cared for loved one] So I thought the struggles the carer had to go through were very well represented. Like you I thought Paige was made to be too “angelical and perfect” but I never thought that was a bad disability’s rep but just bad characterization. As far as the schizophrenia rep… Like you, also thought Penryn’s mother illness was very extreme and there was nothing else of her but the illness.. BUT, interestingly, that’s what made it good rep for me! because by the time the story stars her mom had been off her meds for weeks and that’s was EXACTLY the way my loved one behaved when he went off his meds. Unfortunately his schizophrenia was very acute and when he didn’t take his meds there was not a trace of the person he was, just the illness 🙁
          Interesting how we reached different conclusions from the same perceptions!

          1. Kristen Burns

            I haven’t even read this book, but this discussion about the rep is great! Sometimes rep is difficult because, exactly what D said, everyone has a diff experience w/ disability, so what one person thinks is bad rep, another might think is good rep. Interesting.

          2. Cee Arr

            I get what you mean (and thanks for the compliments! That review still seems soooo clumsy to me though!) but I guess the sister came across a little like inspiration/pity porn to me…? It wasn’t so much the mother’s actions as the way Penryn thought about her – she seemed to blame her for her illness with a level of… not callousness, exactly, but close.

            I’m trying to remember this book and my thoughts at the time, so apologies if that was a little vague! 😉

            1. Kristen Burns

              Sometimes there’s a fine line between how a character perceives things and the message a book portrays. Sounds like that’s the case in this book that I have not read but am totally joining in the convo about 😛

    2. Kristen Burns

      That’s awesome that you’ve been able to find these books! I’ll have to check them out! But it’d nice if there were more books in which the protagonist had the disability, not just side characters, you know? Clearly you have gotten lucky if you don’t even read much in this genre but managed to find all these though!

      1. Cee Arr

        Ha, clearly I have a gift 😉 I think you should try out Doom Patrol – not post-apoc (similar vibes in places though,) but the lead character (ish – ensemble cast) has a prosthetic leg (by the end… it’s a long and bizarre story!) and she’s awesome! XD Also, have you read Monstress?!?!?!

        1. Kristen Burns

          Not sure Doom Patrol would be quite for me (I believe I read your review of that one), but I have it saved to add to my books w/ disabilities list 🙂 No I haven’t Monstress. Why, is there disability? Or is this unrelated? Lol

          1. Cee Arr

            The main character is an amputee Asian girl in a matriarchal steampunk fantasy version of Asia XD also there’s an adorable fox girl who I want to adopt and hug and squish forever! O.O

  19. Lola

    I do agree that this would make a good addition to the post apocalyptic genre and it can definitely lead to some great plot lines and extra complications this would bring. And I can see how people with disabilities like being deaf or blind, would rely more on other sense to survive in a post apocalyptic world. I do think it would be interesting to see how these characters with disabilities and medications would survive in a post apocalyptic world. You have some good ideas here. I don’t read a lot of post apocalyptic books myself and can’t really remember if I ever read any with disabilities.

  20. Evelina

    This is great. I would really want to read about that. You know, I think Blindness by Jose Saramago sort of works, although I don’t mean the blindness part (cause nearly everyone goes blind), but if I’m not mistaken, a few characters have some sort of disabilities. Or at least one. I think there is an old man who struggles with things. But I read that a year ago, so I might be misremembering it. Then, there’s also The Day of the Triffids, where everyone also goes blind so I liked how they handled stuff about the people who were already blind and sort of had an advantage. But I guess these books aren’t REALLY about that. They just happen to glance over his a little.

  21. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Oh, I agree with this SO much! It’s one of the biggest frustrations I have when reading post-apocalyptic, or even any kind of dystopian or survival book- where is the struggle that SO many people have? I have thought of the glasses/contact thing too, and definitely medication of all kinds. I mean, why does no one seem to suffer medically ever in these books unless they’re attacked by a bear or a zombie or something? There is one book I read, Until the End by Tracey Ward, and the MC has a mental illness and has to take medication and it is a real struggle. I think I read one about a girl with diabetes too, but I cannot for the life of me remember the name. Anyway, great post, you are so, so right!!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Let’s face it, it’s just easier to write about a group in which everyone is perfectly healthy and abled, so that’s what authors do. But it’s unrealistic! Seriously, no one even gets sick despite their terrible living conditions. Like you said, it’s only when they’re attacked by a zombie or something. Ooh that’s awesome that you found one with a character who needed meds! Well, if you ever do remember the diabetes one, let me know 🙂 Thanks!

  22. Drake's Mom

    Hi – found this post via Chuckles the Scot’s link. Thanks for writing it! I have a connection to a zombie author who built a scene/storyline around a classroom of special needs students, I like to think in part due to my questions about how my son with autism would fair in the world. I wonder how many post-apoc novelists really truly just believe that most individuals with disabilities simply wouldn’t have survived. (It’s not until book 6 – Transformation, Zombie Crusade series.)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Unfortunately some people do probably (incorrectly) assume people with disabilities wouldn’t survive, but I think it’s more likely that authors don’t include it simply because it’d be harder to write :-/ Thanks for telling me about that book! I’ll definitely check it out!

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  25. La La in the Library

    These ideas would be great to spice things up a bit in a lot of dystopic stories. I don’t read much of that genre anymore because they have started to all sound the same to me. Ha ha. XD

    1. Kristen Burns

      Right? A lot of genres start to sound the same if you read too much of them, which is a bummer, so adding in something like disability could make a big difference and make a book stand out!