Junkrat and how to do disability right

As Junkrat finally gets his own map, it’s time to explore just why this overlooked character is actually a great representative for disability.

If you managed to survive yet another Overwatch update recently (we are grateful, Blizzard, it’s just the downloads can take forever) then you’ll know that Junkrat finally got his own map. This was met with joy from Junkrat fans; he’s often overlooked compared to other characters who are still waiting for his Pop! to be released. As annoying as Junkrat players can be begging to play as their Aussie hero, and I am one of them, the character himself is a feircely proud representative of disability.

Junkrat’s disability happened because of his outrageous “explodey” life – namely, blowing shit up. He didn’t decide to err on the side of caution afterward but carried on how he wanted to. Too many narratives around disability suddenly see disabled people stripped of their own autonomy. Yes, being disabled brings some changes and clearly these are visible with Junkrat, but that doesn’t require disabled people to be infantilised. Junkrat knows the dangers of life, and wears the scars of his battles and now prosthetics, but he carries on happily and proudly because he chooses to. There’s no reason for caution, he manages his own health and has his own abilities and is often vital to the team (if you can get someone who knows how to play him properly).

“Too many narratives around disability suddenly see disabled people stripped of their own autonomy”

Junkrat is a character who reclaims his identity proudly and stamps his authority over his own life. He doesn’t fit the super human narrative; he doesn’t go as fast as Tracer for one thing and Pharah can easily send him flying, but that shows the respect the character is given. He’s allowed to be human. He’s given complexity despite the fact this game has a lack of narrative. His identity as a fighter is intrinsic to his identity as a disabled person. He works around them, manages his disability and is more than equal to every other character. It’s empowering because it doesn’t patronise, nor does it sensationalise.

“It’s empowering because it doesn’t patronise, nor does it sensationalise”

That’s not to say that Junkrat hasn’t got problems as a character, but these largely stem from the community. Junkrat has some of the best skins which pay homage to popular DC characters such as The Joker and The Scarecrow, and so while he’s not the most popular character, the fans he does collect are devoted. The conflict stems when this devotion slips from being respectful to being appropriative.

There are those without Junkrat’s disabilities who cosplay as him, who treat his fake leg as something fun and cool. It’s an insult to people with disabilities who have to live with the reality of prosthetics. Disabilities aren’t to be fetishised. Junkrat is a character who disabled people can plant, in fact, many have enjoyed making their own prosthetics to match his as cosplay – but that cosplay is reserved for people who see themselves in Junkrat. It’s not an experience for others to co-opt. There are plenty of other amazing characters to cosplay who would be more respectful. They may not be your favourites, granted, but if you respect what Junkrat symbolises then why would you want to risk harm or offence to the disabled community for whom he represents?

Junkrat helps portray disability with respect, honour and ferocious pride. He’s a radical lesson for us all.

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