When we talk about social justice, one of the most often overlooked populations are people with disabilities. The 2014 Disability Status Report for the United States from Cornell University reported that, “In 2014, the overall percentage (prevalence rate) of people with a disability of all ages in the US was 12.6 percent.” The National Health Institute of Mental Health reported in 2015, “Fully 20 percent—1 in 5—of children ages 13-18 currently have and/or previously had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.” These percentages are not reflected in publishing trends.
Representation of any marginalized groups accurately and sympathetically can remove some of the prejudice surrounding them, so including books and media with these characters in our collections is essential. Everyone deserves to see their experiences reflected, as well as studies have shown that reading literary fiction improves empathy. People with disabilities experience some of the highest rates of discrimination and microaggressions. Intersect being disabled with also being a person of color, First/Native Nations, LGBTQ, and/or female and the transgressions can increase. Activist and Vlogger Annie Elainey discusses here in a video Why is Disability Representation So White? #DisabilityTooWhite the many issues that people are experiencing because of lack of representation. (Also, be sure to check out her sources.)
Accurate representation can be a tricky thing, especially if it is not a story or experience that is being written by a person with a similar disability. In January, Lee & Low Books reported results of a 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey about the social makeup of the publishing and book reviewing in North America. In the industry overall, 92% identified as nondisabled, so we can assess that a good portion of the writing, editing, and reviewing books with disabled characters are being done by nondisabled folks. Alaina Leary wrote a great piece for The Establishment titled Why The Publishing Industry Can’t Get Disability Right that is also a must read.
Readers, writers, and advocates of young adult literature should be paying attention to the site Disability in Kidlit.