Must-read disability rights picks for your summer book list

Educate yourself and your kids during Disability Pride Month

“‘I’ll take all night if I have to,’ she vows. And she keeps heaving… hauling… dragging herself up those steps.” — All the Way to the Top (2020)

July is Disability Pride Month. It’s a tradition that started in New York City with a parade to celebrate the July 26 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

That means just over 30 years ago discriminating against someone because they had a disability was completely legal.

It’s not easy to change a law, but social and cultural change can come even slower. I know because I’m still learning how to be an ally and I’ve been intensely interested in disability rights for more than a decade.

Here are three books that I’ve found most helpful to educate myself and five of my favorite books for children. Many of them are written by disabled creators. Check them out from your local library, buy them from your local bookstore or simply follow these affiliate links to Amazon. 

Books on disability for adults:

About Us, essays by various authors, edited by Peter Catapano: Taking its name from the disability rights slogan “Nothing about us without us,” this book is a reprinting of columns from a New York Times series. The writers speak candidly about a range of disabled experiences — which are certainly helpful perspectives for parents and others raising disabled children.

Disability Visibility, essays by various authors, edited by Alice Wong: In this collection of essays, the most powerful one is Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of participating in debates on whether parents should have the right to allow the baby she had been to die. Also of note, editor Alice Wong has become one of the most prominent voices in the modern disability rights community and also has a newsletter.

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande: This is not marketed as a book about disability, however, as an able-bodied person it helped me realize that disability justice issues are nearly universal. Almost everyone will become disabled toward the end of their life or care for someone who becomes disabled. By that time, people are often too frail or discriminated against to effectively advocate for themselves. This very readable book is a wake-up call that disability rights are not only the right thing to do but also a more personal issue than most people imagine.

Books on disability for kids:

A kids book about disabilities by Kristine Napper: A Kids Book About is a publisher founded in my hometown, Portland, Ore. They publish all kinds of books about tough topics. This one is a great way to introduce kids to ways of talking to disabled people and why it’s impolite to stare.

We Move Together by Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire: This delightful book for elementary kids shows why it’s best when everyone is able to access the same things.

Not So Different by Shane Burcaw: Kids are curious and that’s OK. In this book they get the answers to many of their questions — even the ones that aren’t polite to ask.

Someone Special Just Like You by Tricia Brown: I really like this book for preschool-aged kids. The pictures and use of “special” are a little dated but it shows disabled kids in relatable environments — at home, blowing bubbles, in the park.

All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel: This book follows the journey of disability rights activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins. As a child, her iconic climb to the top of the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. helped cement the push to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.


What I’m reading this week

A round-up of news for parents of disabled children.

• From The Wall Street Journal: Brain Implant Lets Man ‘Speak’ After Being Silent for More Than a Decade

Re­searchers in Cal­i­for­nia re­ported Wednes­day that they had de­vel­oped and suc­cess­fully tested an ex­per­i­men­tal brain im­plant that trans­lates brain sig­nals into words on a com­puter screen.

The achieve­ment, de­scribed in a pa­per pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, marks a step to­ward tech­nol­ogy that may one day help peo­ple speak by think­ing. It also of­fers a glim­mer of hope for the thou­sands of peo­ple who each year lose the abil­ity to speak as a re­sult of in­jury or ill­ness.

• From a transcript from The White House: Remarks by Vice President Harris Before Meeting with Disabilities Advocates to Discuss Voting Rights

…And we are going to require the National Institute of Standards and Technology — it’s known as “NIST” — that they study barriers to voting for people with disabilities and provide recommendations.

• From Disability Scoop: Ed Department To Release Extra IDEA Funds, New Guidance

Most of the money — $2.6 billion — will go toward special education programs for those ages 3 to 21 while $200 million will be tagged for preschool offerings for children with disabilities ages 3 to 5 and $250 million will be allocated for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.


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