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Disability in Mythology


Key Takeaways about Disability Representation in Early Mythology


  • Disability is a common theme in mythologies across cultures, often represented by gods and heroes
  • Hephaestus, the disabled Greek god of blacksmiths and artisans, is a prominent example of disability representation in mythology
  • Mythological narratives often reflect and shape cultural perceptions and attitudes towards disability
  • Examining disability in mythology through a critical disability studies lens reveals problematic tropes like the “super crip” and disability as divine punishment
  • Modern interpretations and retellings of myths are an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and promote more nuanced, empowering disability representation

Why study disability in mythology?

Mythology has long been a powerful medium for exploring the human experience, including the lived realities of disability. Disabled gods, heroes, and figures feature prominently in the mythologies of many cultures, reflecting and shaping societal perceptions of disability.

By examining these mythological representations through the lens of critical disability studies, we can gain insight into the historical and cultural contexts that have influenced attitudes towards disability, and identify opportunities for more inclusive, empowering narratives.

Disability in Greek Mythology

Hephaestus is shown in his forge, surrounded by flames and working on a mythical weapon, with intricate symbols and alchemical motifs integrated into the background.

An image of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, blacksmiths, craftsmen, and volcanoes, portrayed in an early 20th-century esoteric art style. This depiction should blend ancient Greek mythology with the mystical and arcane aesthetics characteristic of esoteric artwork from the early 1900s

Greek mythology is a rich source of disability representation, with the god Hephaestus being perhaps the most well-known example. Son of Zeus and Hera, Hephaestus was the god of blacksmiths, artisans, sculptors, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. He is described as being born with a disability – either a congenital impairment or as a result of being thrown from Olympus by his mother Hera.


Despite his disability, Hephaestus was a skilled craftsman and integral part of the pantheon. He created many of the gods’ iconic accessories, including Zeus’ thunderbolts and Athena’s shield. In some versions of his myth, he uses a wheeled chair or chariot to move around, demonstrating his ingenuity in adapting to his impairment.

Tiresias is depicted as a wise, elderly figure with his eyes covered, symbolizing his blindness. He holds a staff, representing his journey and prophetic power. The background is filled with mystical symbols and arcane motifs, emphasizing his connection to the divine and the prophetic visions that guide him.

An image of the blind prophet Tiresias in an early 20th-century esoteric art style. Tiresias is depicted as a wise, elderly figure with his eyes covered, symbolizing his blindness.

Other disabled figures in Greek mythology include the blind prophet Tiresias, who was compensated with prophetic abilities, and the centaur Chiron, a revered teacher who suffered from an unhealable wound. These myths raise questions about disability as a divine punishment or “trade-off” for extraordinary gifts.

Chiron is depicted with a horse body and human chest and head, embodying the figure of a revered teacher. He is shown holding ancient scrolls or a book, symbolizing his wisdom and status as a mentor to many heroes. An unhealable wound is visible on his side

Chiron the centaur is shown holding ancient scrolls or a book, symbolizing his wisdom and status as a mentor to many heroes. An unhealable wound is visible on his side, a poignant detail highlighting his vulnerability and the source of his deep knowledge of healing.

Disability in Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, the god Odin is a complex figure associated with war, wisdom, and poetry. According to legend, Odin sacrificed an eye in exchange for a drink from the well of wisdom. This “divine impairment” and its association with knowledge challenges the notion of disability as a weakness.

Odin is depicted as a powerful, one-eyed figure, with a contemplative expression, emphasizing the depth of his sacrifice and the wisdom gained. He stands near the mystical Well of Wisdom, surrounded by ancient runic symbols and the Yggdrasil tree,

Odin, the one-eyed Norse god, stands contemplatively by the Well of Wisdom, his sacrifice for unparalleled knowledge etched in his powerful stance amidst the Yggdrasil tree and ancient runes, rendered in dark mystical hues with golden accents

Another prominent example is the god Tyr, who lost a hand to the monstrous wolf Fenrir. Tyr’s sacrifice is portrayed as an act of bravery and a symbol of honour, suggesting that disability could be acquired in service of a greater good in Norse culture.

Tyr, the Norse god of war, in an early 20th-century esoteric art style, who lost a hand to the monstrous wolf Fenrir. Tyr is depicted as a brave and noble figure, with one hand missing, symbolizing his sacrifice.

Tyr, who lost a hand to the monstrous wolf Fenrir, depicted in an early 20th-century esoteric art style

Disability in Hindu Mythology

Hindu mythology also features disabled gods and figures, such as Ashtavakra, a sage who was born with eight physical deformities. Ashtavakra’s story subverts expectations by presenting him as a spiritual authority and intellectual equal to able-bodied scholars.

In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Dhritarashtra, the blind king of Hastinapur, is a central character. Though his blindness impacts his ability to rule, the narrative explores the nuances of his experience and relationships rather than reducing him to a one-dimensional trope.

The Role and Perception of Disability in Mythology

Across cultures, mythological representations of disability serve various symbolic and narrative functions. Disabilities are often used as a sign of divine disfavor or punishment, as in the Christian characterization of the Greek god Hephaestus as a “fallen” figure akin to Lucifer. Alternatively, a god’s impairment may be compensated with supernatural gifts, such as Tiresias’ prophetic abilities or Odin’s wisdom.

Disability is also frequently deployed as a plot device or source of conflict. The disabled god or hero must overcome challenges related to their impairment to prove their worth and be accepted by their able-bodied peers. This “super crip” trope, while ostensibly empowering, can promote unrealistic expectations and erase the everyday realities of disability.

Mythological narratives also explore the intersections of disability with other aspects of identity, such as gender and sexuality. Hephaestus’ disabled masculinity is a source of mockery from the other gods, and his marriage to Aphrodite is portrayed as non-normative. These myths reflect and reinforce cultural stigmas around disability and desirability.

Modern Interpretations and Influence

Contemporary adaptations and retellings of mythological stories have the potential to perpetuate or challenge traditional disability stereotypes. Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson series, for example, features Hephaestus as a character but does not deeply engage with his disability identity.

In contrast, some modern interpretations use mythology as a vehicle for exploring disability experiences and promoting positive representation. Neil Gaiman’s novel Norse Mythology humanizes the disabled god Tyr and portrays his impairment matter-of-factly. The Disability in Kidlit website features reviews and discussions of disability representation in children’s and young adult literature, including mythological retellings.

Disability activists and scholars are also drawing on mythological figures to celebrate disability identity and challenge ableist narratives. The Disability Visibility Project, founded by Alice Wong, aims to amplify disabled voices and foster community through storytelling. By reclaiming and reimagining mythological characters like Hephaestus, disabled people are asserting their place in the cultural imagination.


Disability is a significant theme in mythologies around the world, reflecting the ways in which different cultures have historically perceived and constructed disability. While many traditional mythological narratives perpetuate problematic disability stereotypes, they also offer opportunities for subversion, reclamation, and the creation of new, more inclusive stories.

By applying a critical disability studies framework to the analysis of mythological representations of disability, we can better understand the cultural roots of ableism and work towards more authentic, empowering portrayals of disability in contemporary media and storytelling. As disabled people continue to reclaim mythological figures and forge their own narratives, we can look forward to a richer, more diverse disability mythology for the modern age.


Image Labelling for Accessibility (and SEO)

We live in a visual world. Images are used as shorthand all the time, and since the arrival of rapid internet access we communicate more than ever through photographs, gifs and emojis. Just take a look at your social media feeds and you will see them by the score.

emojis: inaccessible to the visually impaired

So imagine if you couldn’t see those images at all. That’s the day to day experience faced by millions of people with visual impairments. Your use of an animated gif to express surprise or amusement might literally be impossible for someone to understand – or even access.

Some of you might run a website – a blog, or even an online shop. Now imagine the experience of trying to navigate and use your site if every image was just a blank space on the page. That is the reality faced by many users of the internet.

But there is good news! The originators of the internet foresaw the need for inclusivity, and built a series of protocols into the coding behind the internet to support labelling of images. Not only that, but a raft of software has been developed to ‘read’ that code – often literally – for the benefit of visually impaired or blind users.

It is up to all of us to take advantage of this technology to make the world a little bit more accessible.

A happy side effect of taking accessibility into account is that Google’s spider is in effect like a ‘blind’ user of your site. It will take account of image labelling in its ranking of your site – and so it is important for SEO to make sure you follow these guidelines, even if you don’t aim your content at visually impaired people.

How it Works

When a visually impaired user visits your website or social media stream, the software they use is different to that used by the majority of us. In some cases, images are hidden altogether, and only tex

Webbie is the mostly commonly used screen reader

t is displayed – often in a high contrast colour scheme and at a much bigger scale. Too see how this affects the user experience, we recommend downloading WebbIE.

Where the eyesight is impaired to such a degree to make reading impossible however, users might be using screen reading software such as JAWS. This actually reads content aloud, or even try it translates it to Braille through a clever interface.

Before looking at what you do with your images, try downloading some of this software yourself to see how it works and understand exactly how different the internet is when shorn of the visuals so many of us take from granted.

General Principles

Before we get down to how to put text behind an image, it’s worth thinking about what it is we’re trying to convey. The general principle is to explain as much as possible about what is in the picture with clear and comprehensive descriptions that make sense within the context of the piece.

For example, lots of articles use photographs of people simply wearing emotional expressions to add a kind of ‘feeling’ to the accompanying piece: perhaps a pensive-looking man, or a happy couple.

These might not be essential to the content but lend useful context. Descriptions should therefore convey the meaning of these images and reflect this context: “A pensive looking man, reflecting the way in which people are affected by this issue”, for example.

The alt attribute as seen in HTML codeYou do not need to say “a picture of” at the start of the description as the software or user will be able to determine this for themselves.

Some photographs are more specific. A good example would be product photography if you’re looking to sell goods or services. A great description would include dimensions, colour, and function of the product: “The Trabasack Curve. This is an all in one wheelchair lap tray, travel bag and lap desk. It is 30cm wide and 28cm deep. It comes in black or purple trim, and fastens to any surface with Velcro fastenings” for example.

Each case is very different, so it is up to you to spend the necessary time to craft detailed descriptions that would offer the most help to your site visitors.

HTML sites

If you are writing your own code (or have a web developer working on it) then the most of the legwork is handled by two attributes:

  • The Alt attribute
    This is a concise description of the image and should convey everything that a user might need to know about an image . If you are not visually impaired yourself, and don’t use a screen reader, you can see what this is by hovering your mouse over an image. If an alt attribute exist, you will see a ‘tool tip’ style note . Full guidelines are available here.
  • The Longdesc attribute
    While no longer supported by some modern browsers, this attribute gives you the opportunity to link to a longer, more detailed description of the image. Again, guidelines for use are available here.

Social Media

The two major social media sites – Facebook and Twitter – support accessible labelling of images, and you should pay regard to their own guidelines and the tools they have made available for you to deliver great accessible content.

  • Twitter’s guidelines can be viewed here.
  • Facebook’s guidelines are here.

For other sites such as LinkedIn and Tumblr, it is unfortunate that there are no native ways to support accessibility. When posting images on these sites, you should give all necessary context in the text accompanying them.

Top Four Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters

Top Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters


Using a purpose made safety cutter makes opening those eagerly awaited mail order products so much quicker and safer! We’re buying more online than ever before and with online shopping comes box after box of not always well-wrapped goodies. Getting packages open is not easy at the best of times and it can be highly problematic if you have a disability which effects your limbs, grip, fine motor skills or coordination. Here we’re looking at some gadgets designed to make ripping open boxes and getting to your goodies easier than ever before, with an eye on their suitability for disabled people.

Many of the package openers on the market are utility tools which can be used around the home in other ways. Many cutters double up as kitchen tools, can be used for cutting ties off clothes, couponing, arts and crafts and much more.

iSlice Safety Cutter

Image shows the elongated, oval shaped safety slicer in a soft green colourThe iSlice Safety Cutter features a ceramic blade, which is quick, easy and safe to use. The device is a complete replacement for scissors and traditional safety knives. It can be used for removing film, shrink wrap or difficult moulded plastic packaging. It is also magnetised and has a built-in keyring hole making it portable and easy to use on the go.


Westcott Box Opener

Westcott Mini Ceramic Safety Blade Box Opener - GreenOnce again featuring a ceramic blade, this Westcott Utility Cutter benefits from a durable and robust design. Ceramic lasts up to 10 times longer than stainless steel so it makes for a long-lasting blade. The compact size of this box opener makes it a popular choice and the fixed blade and finger loop help when guiding and controlling the blade.


Zibra Open-It!

Image shows the red-coloured Zibra Open-it on a white backgroundSold as a product which relieves the stress of “wrap rage”, the Zibra Open-It is a strong utility cutter. It can slice through hard packaging as well as paper and plastic, easily breaking through twist ties and zip ties. It has additional functionality allowing it to pop bottle caps and unscrew bottle caps.






Nimble: The One-Finger Package Opener – Our Top Pick!

Yellow thimble shaped rubber cutting tool

Nimble Safety Cutter

Topping our list of package openers is the Nimble. This smart and unique device stands out because of its accessible design. Using just a single finger, this device makes it easy for people with a range of disabilities to easily cut and slice as required. A single finger swipe can cut open a box, food packaging or any other item, without any risk of injury. The safe blade profile offers no risk of injury and it the one-finger operation design (patent pending) means even if you have limited hand mobility, you should be able to properly use and benefit from the Nimble.

The Nimble package opener is suitable for people with joint paint, little hand strength, tremors and reduced hand-eye coordination, as well as in many other situations. The device was developed and tested by over 150 people, some with disabilities, some without and the result is this effective and well-designed cutter for many different items in the home.

Safe on the skin

A unique benefit of the Nimble is the small blade means it is very difficult to hurt yourself. It is so small that the ridges of your skin ridges actually move out of the way and it doesn’t cut you. I know it sounds incredible but it is probably the safest cutter on the market today. This makes it particularly useful for anyone with dexterity problems. The bright yellow colour is also a boon for those with a visual impairment.



You can see exactly how the Nimble works in this useful video:

Order your nimble directly from here