Accessibility, Neurodiversity, and Disability Rights: It’s Disability Awareness Month!

March is Disability Awareness Month! Disability is a broad umbrella term, encompassing lived experiences ranging from blindness or visual impairment to post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost a quarter of the population in the United States is estimated to be living with a disability according to the CDC. This month is an opportunity to learn more about disability experiences and to contemplate how to support the disability rights movement, which seeks to expand accessibility and create equal opportunities for employment, housing, and education. The children’s and young adult books on this list feature stories about hearing loss, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and anxiety. To find more youth literature with disability representation, take a look at the winners and honorees of the Schneider Family Book Award, which “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child or adolescent audiences.” The link to the award page can be found at the end of this post.

Antrobus, Raymond
Illustrated by: Polly Dunbar
Can Bears Ski? 2020 (Picture Book).
Little Bear feels the world around him. He feels the floor shake when someone stomps to get his attention, but something is missing. Little Bear is not sure what is happening. Confusingly, his family and everyone around him seem to be consistently asking: “Can bears ski?” Then Dad Bear takes him to see an audiologist and they learn that Little Bear has been experiencing deafness. With new hearing aids, he discovers that “Can bears ski?” is actually “Can you hear me?” His new world is loud and will take some getting used to, but with the love and support of Dad Bear, Little Bear will find his way.
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Burnell, Cerrie
Illustrated by: Lauren Baldo
I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present. 2020 (Picture Book).
This book profiles 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes, and activists. Learn about how these iconic people have overcome obstacles, found pride in their identities, and paved the way for others to succeed. These short biographies tell the stories of people who have faced unique challenges which have not stopped them from becoming trailblazers, innovators, advocates, and makers. Each person is a leading figure in their field, be it sport, science, math, art, or the world of pop. The profiles include Henri Matisse, Temple Grandin, Frida Kahlo, Demi Lovato, and more. Reading this picture book anthology of disability experiences will challenge readers’ preconceptions of disability and mental health with the eye-opening tales of these remarkable people.
Q. S.305.908 B933i

Cotterill, Samantha
This Beach Is Loud! 2019 (Picture Book).
Patience, understanding, and an anxiety-reducing exercise save the day at the beach when a young child’s excitement turns into sensory overload. Going to the beach is thrilling, but it can also be busy and loud. Sand can feel hot, itchy, or sticky, and it gets everywhere! In this sweet picture book, a sensitive boy gets overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and sensations at the beach. Luckily, this kiddo’s dad has a trick up his sleeve to help his son face these unexpected obstacles. Combining accessible storytelling and playful design, this story gently offers practical advice for coping with experiences that are new to sensitive children on and off the autism spectrum.
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Hughes, Alison
Fly. 2022 (Young Adult Fiction).
In this powerful novel in free verse, Felix Landon Yarrow (with the initials F.L.Y., resulting in the nickname “Fly”), a fourteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, is captivated by the noble, chivalrous ideals of knighthood inspired by Don Quixote. When he fears that a school villain, Carter, poses a danger to his lady love, Daria, he knows rescuing her must be his quest. Using his wits and his own unique powers, he constructs an elaborate plot meant to culminate with him on his “trusty steed” (his wheelchair) triumphantly conquering his enemy and saving his “damsel in distress.” Alas, for this brave knight, as for most teenagers, plans often have a way of going awry. This is a moving story of courage, connection and self-discovery. In the spare first-person narrative, Felix’s sarcastic and self-aware voice explores how it feels to be constrained by the world’s preconceptions.
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Kapit, Sarah
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! 2020 (Middle Grade Fiction).
In this epistolary middle grade novel, eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen will not let anything stop her from playing baseball, not when she has a major-league pitcher as her pen pal. Ever since her hero, star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she has been perfecting her pitch. Now she knows she is ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to be a pitcher, and how her mom says she can’t because she is a girl and because she is autistic. Then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team and VJ starts writing back.
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LeZotte, Ann Clare
Illustrated by: Julie Morstad
Show Me a Sign. 2020 (Middle Grade Fiction).
The year is 1805 and eleven-year-old Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there, including Mary, are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated, but recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. A cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Mary’s endeavor to save herself is at the core of this novel. An author’s note shares more details about sign language and deaf education.
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McGovern, Kate
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Eleven-year-old Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a secret: she can’t read very well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder (especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like Maple herself), but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her. Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher notices, and now Maple has to repeat fifth grade. Maple is devastated. What will her friends think? Will they forget about her? She uses her storytelling skills to convince her classmates that she’s staying back as a special teacher’s assistant (because of budget cuts, you know). As Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself (and her brain) just the way she is? Readers who have faced their own trials with school, friendships, or the experience of dyslexia or other learning disabilities will enjoy this heartwarming story and its bright, creative heroine.
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McNicoll, Elle
Show Us Who You Are. 2022 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Twelve-year-old Cora is autistic, but because she gets bullied by her classmates and patronized by her teacher, she often tries to imitate neurotypical behaviors. When Cora’s brother drags her along to his boss’s house, she doesn’t expect to strike up a friendship with Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies. Adrien has ADHD and the two find refreshing companionship in their shared indifference towards social norms and expectations. As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious technological projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them: Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in the form of a hologram after their death. As she digs deeper, however, she uncovers even darker secrets. Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, without losing her sense of self?
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Pimentel, Annette Bay
Illustrated by: Nabi H. Ali
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything. 2020 (Picture Book).
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Jennifer Keelan grew up facing the limitations others set for her. From a lack of cutaway curbs and bus lifts to being denied enrollment at her neighborhood school, Jennifer was continually excluded from living the life she wanted. After discovering the world of disability rights activism, she knew she had to use her voice to change things. When Jennifer was just eight years old, she participated in the Capitol Crawl: an act of defiance in which disability advocates who used wheelchairs crawled up the stairs of the United States Capitol. The image of young Jennifer crawling up the steps went viral and contributed to the pressure that coaxed Congress into passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1989. This powerfully illustrated biography of Jennifer’s life is a celebration of youth activism and will show all children that they have the power to make a difference.
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Reynolds, Jason
Illustrated by: Raul the Third
Stuntboy, in the Meantime. 2021 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes, like his parents and two best friends, stay super safe. He does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s a superhero called Stuntboy! He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle, even though his mom calls it an apartment building. Behind all the many doors in the building live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy frequently saves. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives. All this is great except for Portico’s other secret: his parents are fighting all the time. They try to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime,” but Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are entering the Mean Time and they’re about to start yelling at each other. It’s Portico’s superhero responsibility to save them, once he figures out how. All these secrets give Portico the “frets,” which his mom calls anxiety. Will Portico be able to move beyond his arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all?
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Resources / References

The Schneider Family Book Award

This award, administered yearly by the American Library Association, recognizes authors and illustrators for their artistic representation of the disability experience in youth literature.


Books for and about the Vision-Impaired

Some people read with their eyes, but other people read with their hands. The SSHEL S-Collection has books for all types of readers. These books are great for anyone who likes to read—or would like to learn to read—in braille. There are also plenty of information books about the experience of being blind or vision impaired as well as biographies of famous blind individuals. Children with visual disabilities can find themselves in their pages, and visually-typical children can learn about someone who lives life a little differently than they do. Books in braille and books about blindness are perfect for classroom lessons about disabilities or for anyone eager to learn.

When searching for books in braille, try keywords “books in braille” or “braille books.”
When searching for print books about blind individuals or blindness in general, try a subject search of “juvenile literature” combined with keywords “vision impaired,”, “blind,” or “visual disability.”

Books in Braille

Andreae, Giles.
Giraffes Can’t Dance. 2013.
Gerald the giraffe just wants to dance—but his body won’t cooperate! His legs are too long and gangly, and he just feels silly until he finds the perfect music.

Armstrong, Nancy M.
Navajo Long Walk. 2014.
This is the story of a Navajo boy named Kee who must travel a long distance with his family and livestock to an internment camp, where he and his family are forced to live for four years before they can return to their reservation.

Carmi, Rebecca.
Amazing Magnetism: Magic School Bus #12. 2013.
Miss Frizzle’s class challenges another second grade class to a science contest. Miss Frizzle’s class was falling behind, but when your school bus is magic, anything can happen!
[SSHEL S COLLECTION Q. S. 538 C21a2013

Cowley, Joy.
Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey. 2015.
Miguel becomes friends with the turkey his Papa sends home for Thanksgiving Dinner and names him Gracias. But Gracias isn’t a pet–he’s supposed to be a meal! With a little help from his family, will Miguel be able to keep Gracias off the menu?

Cunningham, Ann.
Sadie Can Count: A Multisensory Book. 2006.
This book has both large print and braille for readers of all ability; similarly, it contains full-color illustrations along with other, more tactile details to be enjoyed by all.

Gidwitz, Adam.
A Tale Dark and Grimm. 2015.
Hansel and Gretel find their way into a few other stories and meet the characters living there as they try to learn to live happily ever after.

Keene, Carolyn.
The Pumpkin Patch Puzzle: Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew #33. 2015.
Nancy and her Clue Crew have an autumn mystery to solve—someone has smashed all the pumpkins for the big pumpkin decorating contest!

Koster, Gloria.
The Peanut-Free Café. 2006.
What will a peanut-butter-loving school do when a new student with a nut allergy enrolls? Should the food be banned? How could an entire school ever give up peanut butter? Simon has a clever idea—a Peanut-Free Café!

Osborne, Mary Pope.
Ghost Town at Sundown. 2014.
Jack and Annie are at it again in their Magic Tree House—this time, they are sent back to the Old West to solve a mystery and meet cowboys and ghosts along the way.

Penn, Audrey.
The Kissing Hand. 2005.
Chester the raccoon feels a little apprehensive about starting Kindergarten, so his mother shows him a special trick to help him bring her love with him wherever he goes.

Rylant, Cynthia.
Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Perfect Pet: The Twentieth Book of their Adventures. 2013.
Henry’s cousin Annie likes Mudge the dog, but wants to decide what kind of pet would be just right for her. A bird? A kitty? Or something else?

Yousafzai, Malala.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. 2015.
Malala Yousafzai tells the story of her courage when she demanded her right for education and was shot by the Taliban at age 15. She survived and became one of the most inspiring figures of the decade.

Books about Braille, Blindness, and Blind Individuals

Non-fiction Books and Biographies for Beginning Readers

Alexander, Sally Hobart.
Do You Remember the Color Blue? 2000.
The author, who lost her sight at age 27, recounts the questions children have asked her, including, “How can you read?” and “Is it scary?”
[CCB and SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 305.908161 Al 27d]

Edwards, Nicola.
My Friend is Blind. 2005.
This book is an introduction to blindness for children who may have never encountered an individual with the disability. It includes color pictures and a glossary for additional learning.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 617.7 Ed976m]

Moore, Eva.
Buddy, the First Seeing Eye Dog. 1996.
Readers follow Buddy the German shepherd as he trains to become America’s first seeing eye dog.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 362.4183 M782b]

O’Connor, Barbara.
The World at His Fingertips: A Story about Louis Braille. 1997.
A short biography of Louis Braille, who invented the reading system of the same name after he was blinded as a child.

Rappaport, Doreen.
Helen Keller’s Big World. 2012.
Easily accessible for young readers, this biography of Helen Keller introduces children to her unique life.

Troupe, Quincy.
Little Stevie Wonder. 2005.
Learn all about blind musician Stevie Wonder’s life from his birth in Detroit to his worldwide success as a recording artist. This book includes a CD for additional sensory fun.

Non-fiction Books and Biographies for Intermediate to Advanced Readers

Alexander, Sally Hobart.
She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer. 2008.
Many people know of Helen Keller, but not as many are familiar with Laura Bridgman. Bridgman lost her sight, hearing, and some of her smell and taste as a child. She went on to study at the first school for the blind and later became a beloved teacher.

Dash, Joan.
The World at Her Fingertips: The Story of Helen Keller. 2001.
This in-depth biography of the famous Helen Keller provides curious readers with more details than ever before, including her college years and eventual involvement in the political world.

Jeffrey, Laura.
All about Braille: Reading by Touch. 2004.
An introduction to the braille system with a full explanation of its history and invention by Louis Braille.

Kent, Deborah.
Extraordinary People with Disabilities. 1996.
This book profiles famous individuals with disabilities—some visual—and emphasizes the continuing struggle for equal rights for the differently abled.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 363.40922 K414e]

A New Free Resource
The U.S. government offers free, video-on-demand children’s television programming for thousands of students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing. For more information, see the news release and link.