Toph’s blindness was one of the most excellently handled aspects of AtLA because it wasn’t treated like a disability. So often in shows (and especially children’s animation) disabled characters are limited to apperances in “very special episodes” where the main characters have to learn a lesson that these people are capable “in spite of” their handicaps, like that episode of Kim Possible wherein Kim constantly stumbles over herself around Felix. This approach is often just as insulting as making them the butt of jokes, because it’s patronizing and it limits the amount of roles disabled characters are allowed to have.
Avatar challenged that stereotype with Teo, and then sent a giant middle finger its way by introducing Toph. She’s turned what would otherwise be a disability into an advantage, and she’s not afraid to crack jokes about it. She functions well enough that the other characters often forget that she is blind, but at the same time it’s an integral part of her bending and allows her to be the greatest earthbender ever. It sends a powerful message that having a physical disability does not make you less of a person, and often affords you a unique perspective that the so-called “normal” people never get to experience.
One of the many reasons I love this show.
I can’t stress how deeply I agree with this. As the child of a handicapped mother, I’ve always wanted to see disability being portrayed correctly on television, films, and novels. My mother never walked, she was born with SMA and to this day, she lives a perfectly normal (albeit hectic, we’re a family of 10) life despite her limited strength. But so often, people portray handicapped people as these victimized, infantile sorrows of society and that just drives me crazy! What makes Toph so incredibly dynamic and so amazingly real as a person with a physical disability is that she doesn’t let it get in her way and she finds the tact and humor in her own so-called limitations. Further still, the constant running gag that people forget that she’s blind is both hilarious and truthful- when I walk with my mom, I say we ‘walked together.’ I go up stairs and still find myself turning around, surprised that she’s taking so long on a ramp- in my mind, I always assume she’s right there besides me, behind me, trailing at my pace on the stairs. We joke about it, we pick fun at it, it’s never anything that really grims up any situation- and when we see people belittle her or dramatize her situation because she can’t walk, my siblings and I are always shocked and surprised- Because it offends! Because why are you giving my mother a sad face? Why are you pouting and sighing because she’s in a wheelchair? Why do we feel so bad for people who we can see function happily and healthily, albeit in a way different from our own manner of life? Disability isn’t easy. It isn’t a walk in the park or a garden of roses. There are tough moments and diffiult days and moments of sheer frustration that I cannot imagine or speak of. But that doesn’t make them lambs at a slaughter because so what? So what if you can’t speak, or hear, or see, or walk? So what if you can’t lift your arms or jump? There’s nothing to feel sorry about because people like Hellen Keller, Stephen Hawking, my mother, even fictional characters like Toph- and people you and I know and love, people all around this globe- often prove to be so much stronger, despite what people may assume.
Disability doesn’t define you. Disability doesn’t make you any less, or make you the butt of the joke or make you the tragic hero to be sobbed over. The strongest people in this world are the ones who are faced with limitations and still maintain the charisma to laugh because they know that they still retain the sheer, fierce power to do and act and be the very freakin’ best. Not the best blind person, not the best amputee, not the best mute or crippled. The best mother, father, sister, brother, fighter, leader and overall person they, like we all should, strive to be every day.
the cutest thing!