Did you know that over 12% of Americans live with disability?
That 5-9% of the population has a learning disability?
That the prevalence of autism is 1 in 59?
That 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness, and 1 in 25 experiences serious mental illness?
I’m not surprised if you didn’t know. Look around: we don’t see these numbers reflected in our television shows, our books… We don’t even see them reflected in our classrooms, our schools, or our communities — because we still so often separate those with disabilities.
When we do read about people with disabilities, it is often tokenized or a plot device. The characters often fall into specific roles: those that “inspire”, those that help showcase someone else’s gifts (never their own), and often even books that further reinforce harmful stereotypes or prejudices.
We read these books, and we are never challenged to think about our world differently. We never question segregation. We never question the things we’ve said or the ways we’ve interacted. We never question a world where ableism is so pervasive that some families literally use bleach in an attempt to “eliminate” autism.
Think about what books could do, instead.
Books can show another way — another world.
Imagine growing up immersed in literature that reflects the world around you. Imagine a classroom library that highlighted the humanity in us all – the messy, the mistakes, the beautiful, the talented, all of it — rather than dehumanizing and stripping agency from those with disabilities.
How would we see the segregation in our schools and communities differently? How would we see the potential in the employment field? How would we better understand the importance of sign language, of ramps, of universal design? How much richer would our relationships become? How many less stares would be given when in public? How many less ridiculous questions, less patronizing head pats, less ignorant assumptions?
It is also unbelievably powerful to see yourself reflected on the page. I remember the first time I read a series of essays where the authors’ experiences so closely dovetailed with my own. It was like coming home. It is knowing that you’re not alone. It is seeing a future for yourself that you may never have been shown before. It is everything.