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Fictional Disability

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This trope covers characters who have some sort of disability that doesn't exist in the real world. This can include, but is by no means limited to:

  1. Some sort of illness triggered by or connected to magic or technology that doesn't exist in the real world (much in the same way that electronic devices with flashing lights can trigger epilepsy or sensory overload in people who would likely never have had to worry about such things before they existed). For example, an allergy to Green Rocks, Phlebotinum Pills, or Super Serum.
  2. Injuries and deformities that are aggravated or caused by magic or technology, preventing the magic or technology of the setting from healing them (e.g. a character who was mauled by a creature whose wounds cannot be healed with magic, or a character who lost a leg to an illness which prevents her from having a new one cloned).
  3. Difficulty learning to use magic or technology in the setting (when it's explicitly because of some sort of disability, rather than the character just being uninterested or never being given the option of doing so), being treated something like dyslexia and other learning disorders.
  4. Disabilities in non-humans with Bizarre Alien Biology. (e.g. a member of a flying species who is effectively flightless).
  5. Any fantastical condition which inhibits the character (e.g. not having a shadow; infestations of fictional germs or parasites).
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This can still include conditions that end up being a Disability Superpower or Disability Immunity, as long as the condition itself is still debilitating.

This trope can be used as a way to write disabled characters in settings which have magic or technology which would otherwise fix it, or to explore the social consequences of the magic and technology existing (although this can lead to a Space Whale Aesop; "Don't invent faster computers or people will lose the ability to eat plant matter!"). Cyberpunk and other social science fiction settings love using both variations, since including characters who can't benefit from the technology is a fascinating way of analysing its effect on society.

Super-Trope to Un-Sorcerer (whose disability is the lack of a setting's ubiquitous super powers), Science-Related Memetic Disorder (where being a Mad Scientist is treated as a disorder), and Superpower Disability (where the drawbacks of a superpower are so severe they qualify as a disability) — examples of both belong on their respective pages. Compare Kryptonite Factor and Power Incontinence, which can be combined with this trope and Neurodiversity Is Supernatural, where mental disorders are given fictional supernatural origins.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Children of the Whales: Liontari is immune to the influence of the Nous, the entity that absorbs people's emotions in his native society that has come to consider emotions evil and barbaric. This has resulted in him having no guidance on how to control them and being an outcast.
  • Haibane Renmei: Reki was born with grey wings instead of the normal white due to being stuck in a Circle of Sin. This left her ostracized by others. She hides this deformity by dyeing her wings.
  • My Hero Academia: 20 percent of the human population is born Quirkless, meaning that they don't possess any kind of superpowers. For people like protagonist Izuku Midoriya, this can be humiliating and the source of scorn and bullying, especially since he wants to become a superhero more than anything. Luckily for him, his sheer heroic spirit and willingness to throw himself into danger for the sake of others inspires his idol, All Might, to pass down his unique Quirk to him.
  • Pokémon: Learning to speak like a human somehow made Meowth unable to learn any new attacks and completely killed off any real potential he had as a battling Pokémon. He can't even use his species' Signature Move Pay Day, which would have been useful for the ever broke Team Rocket because the move creates money out of nothing.

    Comic Books 
  • Teen Titans: Due to a childhood illness, Starfire's sister Blackfire is the only member of her species who can't absorb ultraviolet radiation. This leaves her unable to fly.
  • In the Marvel universe there are some Skrulls born without the ability to shapeshift like the rest of their species.

    Fan Works 
  • Essence: Bulbasaur was born with embryonic trauma due to its parents' murder prior to it hatching. Embryonic trauma is a condition that happens when something traumatic occurs during a Pokémon's development. As a defense mechanism, the Pokémon's mind represses memories that they produced while still in their egg. A Pokémon is born "stateless", not knowing any moves or life skills.
  • Let Us Be Your Poison: Weiss suffers from a very rare genetic condition called "animanecrosis", better known as "Soul Lapse". She doesn't have a connection to her Soul and thus can't use her Aura or her Semblance.
  • My Huntsman Academia has Broken Souls, people who are born with such weak souls that they can never manifest an Aura. In addition to precluding them from the increased strength, durability, and healing that an Aura can provide, they will never develop a Semblance of their own. Broken Souls also tend to have their growth stunted, leaving them shorter and more feeble than their peers unless they have the good fortune of having strong genetics. Izuku is one prior to the events of the story, but he receives an Aura and Semblance of his own when Toshinori passes One For All to him.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan works often expand on Scootaloo's canonical inability to fly, as well as creating additional conditions:
    • In Dinky's Destiny, Dinky Hooves is a unicorn foal who can't use magic well due to her clockwise horn.
    • In Kilala 97's next generation setting, Alto Trot is a pegasus who was born without wings, and was thought to have been born an earth pony until he climbed onto a cloud his mother was using to water her plants. Although his magic is still pegasus rather than earth pony magic, allowing him to walk on and shape clouds like any other pegasus, he's unable to leave the ground unless he's carried up or able to climb onto a low-hanging cloud.
    • Oversaturated World: In Launch Error, it's shown that human Scootaloo can't fly even when she gets the magical wings that let other Pegasus Aspects fly.
    • Rainbow Factory: Scootaloo, Orion, and Aurora all fail their final flight test and get sent into the Pegasus Device, which kills them to make rainbows, just like all other weak fliers that fail the final test, like Fluttershy and Derpy.
    • Scootaloo & the Cabinet of Seers: Scootaloo worries so much about her possibly being never able to fly, she wants Twilight to consult the greatest Seers of their world about it.
    • Spellbound Fireflies: Scootaloo can't fly like other pegasi 'cause she was never taught how until Rainbow Dash teaches her.
    • Triptych Continuum: In Scootalift, Snowflake diagnoses Scootaloo with being a slow / late developer, so she will take longer than other pegasi to be able to fly.
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    Films — Animation 
  • In Barbie Fairytopia the protagonist, Elina, is the only fairy in her meadow without wings, which she is teased constantly about. Although by the end of the movie she is given wings by the Enchantress, the ruler of the fairies.
  • Finding Nemo: Nemo has a small, malformed fin caused by his egg being damaged before he hatched. It doesn't keep him from swimming completely, but Marlin is very over protective of him because of it and because he's the only survivor of his clutch.
  • Happy Feet: Mumble's egg was dropped before he hatched. This somehow resulted in him not being able to sing like all the other penguins, so he tap dances instead.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: Toothless lost part of his tail fin after being shot out the sky by Hiccup. He can't fly on his own anymore, so Hiccup invents a fake fin that he can manipulate so they can fly together. In the 3rd film, Hiccup makes another that Toothless can use on his own, so he no longer needs Hiccup to fly.
  • Toy Story 2: Wheezy's missing squeaker is treated as if it's this trope.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk has to wear antique reading glasses, because he's allergic to the drug that most people take to correct their vision.

    Literature 
  • Animorphs
    • In The Other, an Andalite named Mertil suffers from a condition that makes him unable to use the morphing technology, and his friend Gafinilan suffers from a painful disease known as Soola's Disease, which can only be gotten rid of by acquiring and morphing another Andalite.
    • In The Reaction, Rachel is revealed to have an allergy to her alligator morph, which causes her to morph uncontrollably whenever she experiences any strong emotions. She gets better by the end of the novel, though.
    • In The Proposal, Marco's emotional issues revolving around his dad deciding to marry his math teacher causes him to morph into freakish animal hybrids, such as a salmon with gorilla arms or a skunk/spider hybrid. Similarly, he gets better by the end.
  • A Tale Of...: Maleficent is a fairy who was born with no wings. This, along with her unusual appearance, causes other fairies to wonder if she's even a fairy at all.
  • In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, exposure to the magic equivalent of toxic waste can cause infants to be born without a soul and apparently simply stop existing after death—no afterlife, no nothing. The condition is called "apsychia", and is considered a birth defect; the protagonist meets a medical researcher who is working on an experimental procedure in which tiny pieces of many souls are fused into, essentially, a synthetic soul which can then be implanted in the apsychic child. Whether this will actually work is still unclear.
  • Discworld:
    • A yennork is a werewolf with permanent Shapeshifter Mode Lock as either a wolf or a human. This doesn't mean they are a wolf or a human, just a werewolf without the "switch".
    • Strange diseases or disorders are a known hazard of high-magic areas. The Science of Discworld describes one unfortunate who came down with a bad case of Planets.
    • In keeping with the Discworld philosophy that everything has an opposite, the squib "Medical Notes" reveals that Discworld physicians have diagnosed Attention Surplus Disorder, Foribundi's Syndrome (the opposite of Hollywood Tourette's, where you're incapable of swearing even when it's expected of you) and Anoia (the persistent feeling that you're out to get everyone).
  • Harry Potter treats lycanthropy like this. Lupin regularly takes medication to alleviate the worst effects of his condition and required extensive accommodations during his school years. When his wife becomes pregnant, he worries "What If the Baby Is Like Me?"
  • In The Laundry Files, Krantzberg syndrome is the result of attempting to do magic using one's brain (instead of something like a smartphone or desktop computer). It's caused by Eldritch Abominations literally eating away at the brains of such people, producing symptoms similar to dementia or Alzheimer's.
  • Neuromancer: Case starts out as a once-talented computer hacker who was rendered unable to access virtual cyberspace networks after his central nervous system was damaged with a mycotoxin as punishment for stealing from his employers. An offer to fix this damage is what sets the rest of the story's plot in motion.
  • Ragnar Lodbrok and His Sons: Even though Ragnar's new wife Kraka (a.k.a. Aslaug) prophetically warns that a child conceived within the first three nights after the wedding will "have no bones", Ragnar insists on consummating the marriage without delay. Accordingly Kraka's first son, Ivar, is born "boneless", "as if there were gristle where his bones should be". Ivar is unable to walk and has to be carried everywhere; nevertheless he is "so large that no one was his equal" and "the handsomest of all men", and he has great strength in his upper body which makes him an excellent archer. Ivar's condition (which, despite the statement that Ivar has no bones whatsoever, does not seem to effect his upper body at all) does not seem to match any real-life disability.
  • Travelers: It turns out that a human mind that's greatly exceeded its normal lifespan through Body Surf eventually dies of its own form of old age, manifesting as the inability to perceive the passage of time ("temporal aphasia"), which appears from the outside as increasingly long periods of catatonia. 0115's wife originally died of it, and he knew he would succumb to it within a few years; unfortunately, the stress of the Director resetting his mind causes it to show up ahead of schedule.
  • Wings of Fire:
    • Peril is a SkyWing born with a condition called "firescales". This means that she was born with too much fire in her body. Touching her causes burning and she can kill others if they hold her for too long. She needs to eat coal every day to survive. That last one is actually a lie that her queen told her in order to make her more subservient to her.
    • Peril's twin brother was born with the opposite problem. He had too little fire in his body. He was killed not soon after being hatched.
    • Starflight doesn't have the normal NightWing powers like being able to read other's minds. This is due to him being hatched in a cave instead of in the light of the moons.
    • Subverted with Sunny. Everyone thought she was disabled or deformed — her eyes are the wrong colour, she's too small, she doesn't have a stinger tail, and she just looks off — but she isn't. She's just a hybrid. Her father was a NightWing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Books: Played for laughs in an episode where Manny reveals to Bernard that he suffers from a condition called "Dave's Syndrome", which will cause bad things to happen if the temperature hits 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Bernard treats this as a joke and decides to deliberately make Manny overheat in order to see what will happen — the episode ends with Manny jumping up and down on the bonnet of a car, naked except for a hot water bottle strapped to his groin, as a pair of pedestrians look at him sadly and one says to the other "poor man — must be Dave's Syndrome".
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Melora", the eponymous character is from a planet with very low gravity. Most Elaysians never leave their homeworld for this reason. Melora adapting to "standard" gravity requires a special chair, which is treated as if it were a disability. She starts treatment that would make it possible for her to function completely normally in standard gravity, but decides not to go through with it as it means she'd never be able to return to her homeworld.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Siblings Amanda and Todd Brotzman suffering from Pararibulities; a hereditary condition that causes vivid hallucinations with real physical pain. It is considered a real condition In Universe.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: In the Order of Hermes Magical Society, House Verditius stands out as preeminent Magitek engineers who are, inexplicably, unable to use magic without their Magitek foci. Any mage who wishes to join the House must submit to a ritual that inflicts the Founder's disability on them.
  • In Pathfinder, gnomes originate from fae spirits of the First World and never completely acclimated to the mundane world. If they don't maintain a certain level of whimsy and excitement in their lives, they begin to suffer "the Bleaching", a fatal degenerative condition where their bodies fade to stark white as their minds fall apart. A rare few survive the experience and are rewarded with Dissonant Serenity and agelessness.
  • Warhammer: Teclis is the greatest mage the Elves have ever produced, and one of the greatest mages in world history. He is also a ridiculously Squishy Wizard and very physically frail, requiring daily healing potions to be more than bedridden, and having a limp incurable by magic. By contrast, his brother Tyrion is a peerless swordmaster.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere: The Ace Pilot Rena Hirose suffers from the "Silverstone disease", meaning that her skins lacks any protection from UV sunlight radiation whatsoever. As a result, the only way she has to be outside during daytime is inside the fully-enclosed cockpit of her plane.
  • Destiny 2: Asher Mir had one of his arms and his Ghost converted into Vex technology after encountering the Vex Axis Mind Brakion in the Pyramidion on Io. Being a Guardian the process hasn't been as devastating as it could be, but his Vex arm seems to be fairly useless and is constantly curled against his torso, his Ghost is nowhere to be seen and is implied to have been absorbed into the greater Vex consensus, and he's even started to bleed Vex radiolaran fluid. The loss of his Ghost also keeps him under the threat of a permanent end should he be killed, and he's well aware that his condition is killing him.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the inventor of cybernetics, Hugh Darrow, has a rare condition that causes his body to altogether reject any cybernetics (most people's bodies reject them to some degree, but this can be controlled with medication). This means that he must walk with a cane. His bitterness over this is why he takes part in the Evil Plan to turn the public against cybernetics.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Each game in the series has fictional diseases that can debilitate the player and others, including (but not limited to) Rockjoint, an inflamation of the joints that reduces melee weapon damage; Brain Rot, which hampers Magicka; and Bone Break Fever, which hampers Stamina.
    • Throughout the series, vampirism is described as a disease. Depending on the game, it goes by a different pseudo-medical term, including "Porphyric Hemophilia" in Morrowind and Oblivion, "Sanguinare Vampiris" in Skyrim, and "Noxiphilic Sanguivoria" in Online. In each case, the disease progresses to full-blown vampirism if left untreated for a few days, and has side effects that can hamper the afflicted, from increased fatigue to an aversion to sunlight.
    • Morrowind and Oblivion have "Stunted Magicka", a condition which prevents people from regenerating their Magicka reserves naturally. This instead forces them to absorb it from outside sources. It can be congenital, notably for those born under the Atronach star sign, but can also be inflicted by a magical disease.
    • Morrowind has the Corprus Disease, a Mystical Plague concocted by the evil Physical God Dagoth Ur channeling power from the heart of a dead god. Physical symptoms include bulbous tumor-like growths and severe skin lesions. Mental symptoms include initially mild dementia and schizophrenia-like effects which become more severe over time, eventually leaving the sufferer with an aggressive, animalistic level of intelligence. For Dagoth Ur's chosen followers, the course of the disease can be magically directed to turn them into powerful Cthulhumanoid sorcerers utterly devoted to their master.
  • Kid Icarus: Pit has the classic "flying being that cannot fly" disability for some unexplained reason. It's quite the sore spot for him. In Kid Icarus: Uprising, Palutena can grant Pit the Power of Flight to guide him places as if he were flying, but not for more than five minutes at a time, or else Pit's wings will come aflame. By contrast, his Evil Knockoff Dark Pit gained limitless flight under his own power by slaying Pandora and plundering her powers until he travelled to the Rewind Spring, where Pandora revived herself from said powers.
  • In Mass Effect, Ardat-Yakshi is a genetic condition that causes the Asari's inherent mental abilities to kill anyone they mate with. Diagnosed Asari are either Locked Away in a Monastery or executed because there is no cure for the condition, Ardat-Yakshi quickly get addicted to the sensation of killing their mates, and the worst-case scenario for an uncontrolled Ardat-Yakshi is a Serial Killer who roams the galaxy gleefully seducing and murdering everyone she can.
  • Overwatch:
    • Tracer was displaced in time by an experimental aircraft she was test-piloting. She must wear (or at least be nearby) a device called a chronological accelerator to avoid simply fading out of existence. While this leaves her Cursed with Awesome (since it gives her the ability to teleport around or reverse time), it leaves her with a glaring weakness (as Doomfist demonstrated in his trailer when he damaged the accelerator and left Tracer to start uncontrollably shifting through time).
    • Bastion has a robotic analogue to PTSD, in that anything that reminds it of the Omnic Crisis causes it to revert to its Killer Robot programming (notably in the "The Last Bastion" short, the machine-gun like sound of a woodpecker causes it to panic and destroy a large amount of trees with its minigun). Slightly different to PTSD in humans, in that its caused by what remains of Bastion's original programming, rather than a trauma induced trigger.
  • In Runescape, the volcano-dwelling TzHaar sometimes hatch stunted "Ga'al" when their eggs become too cool: lacking TzHaar Genetic Memories, they have no caste and cannot communicate, so the TzHaar send them to die in honorable combat to speed them to their next reincarnation. One quest reveals, to some TzHaar's horror, that the Ga'al are actually very precocious learners if anyone bothers to teach them.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Maria Robotnik was dying from Neuro-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (NIDS), though her actual death was caused by being shot. NIDS weakens both the nervous and immune systems, and has similar side effects to AIDS. In Japan, NIDS is described as a "primary immunodeficiency" disorder and a "hereditary immune deficiency syndrome", which are both real diagnoses, but NIDS itself is fictional.
  • We Happy Few: Everyone is required to take Joy, a Fantastic Drug that elevates mood and suppresses memories of the Very Bad Thing that traumatized the entire city. Wastrels are immune to Joy's positive effects, and taking the drug only makes their mental issues worse.

    Visual Novels 

    Webcomics 
  • In Always Human, Austen has "Egan's Syndrome", an autoimmune condition that leaves her unable to use the Bio-Augmentation mods that are ubiquitous in the setting. Being ineligible for mods like memory boosters and physical augments forces her to put a lot of extra work into her studies and her health, and being thought of as Inspirationally Disadvantaged is a major pet peeve for her.
  • Romantically Apocalyptic: Snippy is one of the 1% of people that the neural network that controls sleep can't connect to. Instead of browsing the web during his sleep he instead gets horrifying nightmares and is chronically sleep-deprived, as he can't afford to purchase more sleep with the money from his dead-end job.
  • Slightly Damned:
    • Buwaro's birth defect, which makes him psychologically and physiologically different from normal demons. He's naturally always in a Berzerk State. His necklace is what keeps him in check.
    • Buwaro's adoptive sister Sakido is a wind demon who's wings were crippled in an angel attack that also left her an orphan, she was completely flightless until Darius gave her his Sun Pendant which repaired her wings and even made them larger.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Outside of safe settlements, the comic's world is ridden with Plague Zombie monsters. The Plague can be transmitted from breathing too close to one of said monsters, or through even the smallest skin-breaking wound. This has resulted in people who are The Immune having generally more liberty of movement between settlements and being the only ones occupying the jobs that put one at risk of getting anywhere close to said Plague Zombie monsters. In turn, lack of immunity to the The Plague sometimes gets treated like a disability in the context of keeping the settlements safe from disease or the few occasions where non-immune people spend an extended period of time outside of them, the latter situation applying to two members of the main Ensemble Cast:
    • The Dagrenning program in Iceland exists to let non-immune parents have children that are The Immune. The two perks put forward are the child not risking to get sick if another outbreak of The Plague happens and having more jobs to choose from.
    • In Tuuri's flashback to her childhood settlement that wouldn't let the non-immune come and go freely, her combination of wanderlust and lack of immunity plays out like a Dream-Crushing Handicap.
    • Tuuri and Reynir need to wear breathing masks when they venture too far from the tank, while the immune members of the crew can walk around without them.
    • Tuuri and Reynir can't be left alone without an immune person for protection, and taking that role has been outright referred to as "baby-sitting" on two separate occasions.
  • Tales of the Questor: Almost all Racconans can use magic (well, Luxcraft) to some extent. Being completely unable to manipulate Lux is considered a disability, with those afflicted wearing special symbols to alert those around them to their disability, much the same way a blind person might carry a white cane.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Roulette gets occasional burnouts, which is where the body cooks itself due to overuse of its mutant powers every once in a while, and each one changes her powers.

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Baby Doll suffers from "systemic hypoplasia"note , meaning that she can never grow up and resembles a little girl despite being well into adulthood.
  • In Milo Murphy's Law, the title character and all the men in his family suffer from a Hereditary Curse that makes them Born Unlucky and The Jinx. This is presented as if it were a sort of weird medical condition, with the whole family having Crazy-Prepared habits to deal with it.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Scootaloo is a downplayed example. She's a pegasus filly who can't fly, even though her classmates can. The show is vague about whether Scootaloo is permanently disabled or just a late bloomer, although in all episodes addressing the issue it's been clear that she cannot at present fly and that this is fairly abnormal for a pegasus her age.
    • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): Tempest Shadow has a broken horn as a result of an accident as a filly. While it doesn't negate her ability to use magic entirely, she is unable to use even basic skills such as telekinesis and can only release her magic as an uncontrolled, destructive torrent of energy.
  • Steven Universe: Gems are artificially created for specific purposes in their Hive Caste System. At times however, the circumstances of their "birth" leave them with various defects of deformities, giving them different body-types and even differences in their powers, abilities and mindsets. These types of gems are referred to as "Off-Color". Due to the gems' strict caste system, these are usually discarded, persecuted and even exterminated:
    • Amethysts are quartz gems designed to be tall, buff intimidating soldiers. Amethyst from the Crystal Gems however did not finishing forming until long after the others (she was "overcooked", in Jasper's words), coming out just barely half the height of what an amethyst should be. Additionally, while a gem will typically be Born as an Adult both physically and mentally (even having knowledge of their Homeworld and specific purpose), Amethyst was a Blank Slate who had to learn things like an infant would
    • Because Earth's beta Kindergarten was made under lax conditions in a hurry due to an ongoing war, most of the quartzes made there likewise deviate from their intended build. Carnelian has a figure similar to Amethyst, while Skinny Jasper is very thin.
    • Peridot is an Era 2 peridot created under an environment where resources in creating gems on Homeworld have dwindled. This why Peridot lacks many of the powers associated with gems (shapeshifting, super strength etc.) and may account for her short stature. To compensate, era 2 peridots are equipped with technological limb enhancers. Although it turns out that Peridot, at least, also has ferrokinetic powers.
    • Sapphires are short aristocratic gems with the power to see ahead into the future (or at least a probable future). Padparadscha is an off-color sapphire who possesses retrocognition, blurting out events that have already happened. She lives on the run with the other Off-Colors in the long abandoned Homeworld kindergarten.
    • The Rutile twins' gemstone started developing into two different directions, giving them a torso that springs into two prongs, each with a head on it. Unlike human Conjoined Twins, this seems to make them literally Single-Minded Twins.

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