Disability Awareness Books

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Besides making sure we advocate for disability inclusion within our communities (and libraries!), we should also strive to learn and appreciate diverse perspectives.

Start with our nonfiction book list!

If you’d like to learn more, here are some websites:
Disability Impacts All of Us
Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act: July 26, 2020
7 facts about Americans with disabilities
Disability and Health Overview

Happy reading!

Disability visibility : first-person stories from the Twenty-first century / edited by Alice Wong
One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent-but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people.

From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond- this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love.

Sitting pretty : the view from my ordinary resilient disabled body / Rebekah Taussig
A memoir-in-essays from disability advocate and creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty Rebekah Taussig, processing a lifetime of memories to paint a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most.

Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Rebekah Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), inspirational (Helen Keller), or angelic (Forrest Gump). None of this felt right; and as she got older, she longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling.

Writing about the rhythms and textures of what it means to live in a body that doesn’t fit, Rebekah reflects on everything from the complications of kindness and charity, living both independently and dependently, experiencing intimacy, and how the pervasiveness of ableism in our everyday media directly translates to everyday life.

Disability affects all of us, directly or indirectly, at one point or another. By exploring this truth in poignant and lyrical essays, Taussig illustrates the need for more stories and more voices to understand the diversity of humanity. Sitting Pretty challenges us as a society to be patient and vigilant, practical and imaginative, kind and relentless, as we set to work to write an entirely different story.

The pretty one : on life, pop culture, disability, and other reasons to fall in love with me / Keah Brown
From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled–so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture–and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

Haben : the Deafblind woman who conquered Harvard Law / Haben Girma
The incredible life story of Haben Girma, the first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, and her amazing journey from isolation to the world stage.Haben grew up spending summers with her family in the enchanting Eritrean city of Asmara. There, she discovered courage as she faced off against a bull she couldn’t see, and found in herself an abiding strength as she absorbed her parents’ harrowing experiences during Eritrea’s thirty-year war with Ethiopia. Their refugee story inspired her to embark on a quest for knowledge, traveling the world in search of the secret to belonging. She explored numerous fascinating places, including Mali, where she helped build a school under the scorching Saharan sun. Her many adventures over the years range from the hair-raising to the hilarious.

Haben defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. She learned non-visual techniques for everything from dancing salsa to handling an electric saw. She developed a text-to-braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people. Haben pioneered her way through obstacles, graduated from Harvard Law, and now uses her talents to advocate for people with disabilities.

Haben takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman’s determination to find the keys to connection.

Care work : dreaming disability justice / Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
In their new, long-awaited collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centres the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all. Leah writes passionately and personally about creating spaces by and for sick and disabled queer people of colour, and creative “collective access” — access not as a chore but as a collective responsibility and pleasure — in our communities and political movements. Bringing their survival skills and knowledge from years of cultural and activist work, Piepzna-Samarasinha explores everything from the economics of queer femme emotional labour, to suicide in queer and trans communities, to the nitty-gritty of touring as a sick and disabled queer artist of colour.

Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of colour are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a toolkit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind. Powerful and passionate, Care Work is a crucial and necessary call to arms.

Beauty is a verb : the new poetry of disability / edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen
Beauty is a Verb is the first of its kind: a high-quality anthology of poetry by American poets with physical disabilities. Poems and essays alike consider how poetry, coupled with the experience of disability, speaks to the poetics of each poet included. The collection explores first the precursors whose poems had a complex (and sometimes absent) relationship with disability, such as Vassar Miller, Larry Eigner, and Josephine Miles. It continues with poets who have generated the Crip Poetics Movement, such as Petra Kuppers, Kenny Fries, and Jim Ferris. Finally, the collection explores the work of poets who don’t necessarily subscribe to the identity of “crip-poetics” and have never before been published in this exact context. These poets include Bernadette Mayer, Rusty Morrison, Cynthia Hogue, and C.S. Giscombe. The book crosses poetry movements–from narrative to language poetry–and speaks to and about a number of disabilities including cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, multiple sclerosis, and aphasia due to stroke, among others.

The collected schizophrenias : essays / Esmé Weijun Wang
An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.

What doesn’t kill you : a life with chronic illness-lessons from a body in revolt / Tessa Miller
Tessa Miller was an ambitious twentysomething writer in New York City when, on a random fall day, her stomach began to seize up. At first, she toughed it out through searing pain, taking sick days from work, unable to leave the bathroom or her bed. But when it became undeniable that something was seriously wrong, Miller gave in to family pressure and went to the hospital–beginning a years-long nightmare of procedures, misdiagnoses, and life-threatening infections. Once she was finally correctly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Miller faced another battle: accepting that she will never get better.

Today, an astonishing three in five adults in the United States suffer from a chronic disease–a percentage expected to rise post-Covid. Whether the illness is arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s, diabetes, endometriosis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, or any other incurable illness, and whether the sufferer is a colleague, a loved one, or you, these diseases have an impact on just about every one of us. Yet there remains an air of shame and isolation about the topic of chronic sickness. Millions must endure these disorders not only physically but also emotionally, balancing the stress of relationships and work amid the ever-present threat of health complications.

Miller segues seamlessly from her dramatic personal experiences into a frank look at the cultural realities (medical, occupational, social) inherent in receiving a lifetime diagnosis. She offers hard-earned wisdom, solidarity, and an ultimately surprising promise of joy for those trying to make sense of it all.

Being Heumann : an unrepentant memoir of a disability rights activist / Judith Heumann, with Kristen Joiner
One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human.
A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism–from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington–Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society.

Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy’s struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a “fire hazard” to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, Judy’s actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people.

As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples’ rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann’s memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine and make real a world in which we all belong.

Broken places & outer spaces : finding creativity in the unexpected / Nnedi Okorafor ; illustrations by Shyama Golden
Nnedi Okorafor was never supposed to be paralyzed. A college track star and budding entomologist, Nnedi’s lifelong battle with scoliosis was just a bump in her plan–something a simple operation would easily correct. But when Nnedi wakes from the surgery to find she can’t move her legs, her entire sense of self begins to waver. Confined to a hospital bed for months, unusual things begin to happen. Psychedelic bugs crawl her hospital walls; strange dreams visit her nightly. Nnedi begins to put these experiences into writing, conjuring up strange, fantastical stories. What Nnedi discovers during her confinement would prove to be the key to her life as a successful science fiction author: In science fiction, when something breaks, something greater often emerges from the cracks.

In Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Nnedi takes the reader on a journey from her hospital bed deep into her memories, from her painful first experiences with racism as a child in Chicago to her powerful visits to her parents’ hometown in Nigeria. From Frida Kahlo to Mary Shelly, she examines great artists and writers who have pushed through their limitations, using hardship to fuel their work. Through these compelling stories and her own, Nnedi reveals a universal truth: What we perceive as limitations have the potential to become our greatest strengths–far greater than when we were unbroken.

A guidebook for anyone eager to understand how their limitations might actually be used as a creative springboard, Broken Places & Outer Spaces is an inspiring look at how to open up new windows in your mind.

We are never meeting in real life : essays / Samantha Irby
This essay collection from the “bitches gotta eat” blogger, writer on Hulu’s Shrill, and “one of our country’s most fierce and foulmouthed authors” (Amber Tamblyn, Vulture) is sure to make you alternately cackle with glee and cry real tears.

Whether Samantha Irby is talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets; explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette (she’s “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”); detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes; sharing awkward sexual encounters; or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms (hang in there for the Costco loot!); she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.


The perseverance 
/ Raymond Antrobus

In the wake of his father’s death, the speaker in Raymond Antrobus’ The Perseverance travels to Barcelona. In Gaudi’s Cathedral, he meditates on the idea of silence and sound, wondering whether acoustics really can bring us closer to God. Receiving information through his hearing aid technology, he considers how deaf people are included in this idea. “Even though,” he says, “I have not heard / the golden decibel of angels, / I have been living in a noiseless / palace where the doorbell is pulsating / light and I am able to answer.”

The Perseverance is a collection of poems examining a d/Deaf experience alongside meditations on loss, grief, education, and language, both spoken and signed. It is a book about communication and connection, about cultural inheritance, about identity in a hearing world that takes everything for granted, about the dangers we may find (both individually and as a society) if we fail to understand each other.


Ask me about my uterus : a quest to make doctors believe in women’s pain 
/ Abby Norman

For any woman who has experienced illness, chronic pain, or endometriosis comes an inspiring memoir advocating for recognition of women’s health issues

In the fall of 2010, Abby Norman’s strong dancer’s body dropped forty pounds and gray hairs began to sprout from her temples. She was repeatedly hospitalized in excruciating pain, but the doctors insisted it was a urinary tract infection and sent her home with antibiotics. Unable to get out of bed, much less attend class, Norman dropped out of college and embarked on what would become a years-long journey to discover what was wrong with her. It wasn’t until she took matters into her own hands — securing a job in a hospital and educating herself over lunchtime reading in the medical library — that she found an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis.

In Ask Me About My Uterus, Norman describes what it was like to have her pain dismissed, to be told it was all in her head, only to be taken seriously when she was accompanied by a boyfriend who confirmed that her sexual performance was, indeed, compromised. Putting her own trials into a broader historical, sociocultural, and political context, Norman shows that women’s bodies have long been the battleground of a never-ending war for power, control, medical knowledge, and truth. It’s time to refute the belief that being a woman is a preexisting condition.

Golem girl : a memoir / Riva Lehrer
What do we sacrifice in the pursuit of normalcy? And what becomes possible when we embrace monstrosity? Can we envision a world that sees impossible creatures?

In 1958, amongst the children born with spina bifida is Riva Lehrer. At the time, most such children are not expected to survive. Her parents and doctors are determined to “fix” her, sending the message over and over again that she is broken. That she will never have a job, a romantic relationship, or an independent life. Enduring countless medical interventions, Riva tries her best to be a good girl and a good patient in the quest to be cured.

Everything changes when, as an adult, Riva is invited to join a group of artists, writers, and performers who are building Disability Culture. Their work is daring, edgy, funny, and dark–it rejects tropes that define disabled people as pathetic, frightening, or worthless. They insist that disability is an opportunity for creativity and resistance. Emboldened, Riva asks if she can paint their portraits–inventing an intimate and collaborative process that will transform the way she sees herself, others, and the world. Each portrait story begins to transform the myths she’s been told her whole life about her body, her sexuality, and other measures of normal.

Written with the vivid, cinematic prose of a visual artist, and the love and playfulness that defines all of Riva’s work, Golem Girl is an extraordinary story of tenacity and creativity. With the author’s magnificent portraits featured throughout, this memoir invites us to stretch ourselves toward a world where bodies flow between all possible forms of what it is to be human.

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Disfigured : on fairy tales, disability, and making space / Amanda Leduc
Fairy tales shape how we see the world, so what happens when you identify more with the Beast than Beauty?

If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behavior and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.


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