March is Disability Awareness Month, and we would like to take a moment to recognize all disabled Americans. Whether we are talking about mental or physical challenges, literature has the power to change attitudes. The role of disability in fiction has changed over the last few years, as more and more authors have sought to create stories with powerful and realistic depictions of mental and physical disabilities and characters seen as whole and real because of their challenges, not despite them.
That being said, some authors still fall into stereotypes or tropes when depicting differently abled folks that can be harmful. Ableism is not just discrimination, but it can also show up in problematic and patronizing depictions of differently abled people.
Here are some tips and recommendations for selecting fiction featuring differently abled characters that will ensure you have an insightful reading experience.
Start With Non-Fiction
The best route for learning about people’s lived experiences is to hear from the actual people living them. Fictional stories stylize and create a narrative through disability, but it’s always best to “hear from the horse’s mouth” when learning about people’s identities. Whether you choose a collection of essays like Disability Visibility by Alice Wong or a memoir from a particular perspective, like Keah Brown’s The Pretty One, which chronicles her search for normalcy while growing up with cerebral palsy, disabled people’s voices need to be front and center in your exploration.
Avoid “Inspiration Lit”
We gently recommend avoiding books that seek to capitalize on a character’s disability or their struggle for the purposes of being a tear-jerker or teaching some kind of moral lesson. This is a fine line, because a lot of stories of differently abled people – like True Biz, a novel by Sara Novic about the deaf community – are very emotional. However, savvy readers can often tell if they’re being manipulated. We’re not going to call out specific books here, but the next few tips may help you to discern things further.
Check If The Author Is Disabled
Here’s a really simple tip! Check to see if the author who is writing about the disability is differently abled themselves. We don’t mean to suggest that an author has to be disabled in order to write about disability. However, why not give them a preference? A collection of short stories like Unbroken, written about disabled and neurodiverse characters by authors who understand their experiences first-hand, seems like a great place to start. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a runaway bestseller that was turned into a Broadway show. Why not also check out Fearlessly Different by Mickey Rowe who was the first autistic actor to star in the Broadway show of The Curious Incident?
Look at the Recommendations
Don’t just take our word for it! Throughout the month of March, local libraries and disability advocacy groups put out book lists celebrating the very best in literature about disabilities. If you enjoyed reading one book by a disabled author, check out their blog or website. Often, they have plenty of recommendations to find your next pick.
As always, you know you can turn to Booksio.com for all your reading needs. Plus, you can give 10% of your purchases to the non-profit charity of your choice.