October is the month especially set aside to celebrate and recognize various disabilities, including Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month.
My brother uses a communication device to speak, so this month is dear to my heart. I don’t just celebrate because of him and his friends, but because communities are much richer when everyone is part of them. We raise awareness because people don’t always realize whose voices are missing.
Here I share a few ways to celebrate, from my perspective as a children’s librarian at the Oak Park Public Library:
The library offers inclusive programming all year long, but especially in October. On Sunday, Oct. 17, we’re hosting a viewing of the animated storybook Calvin Can’t Fly, which features voiceover, American Sign Language, enhanced text, music, and sound effects to make it accessible to a full audience of children. It’s followed by fun, interactive theater games with sign language. This program has something for all children. Register at oppl.org/calendar.
Every October, we refresh our Disability Reads bibliography for kids. The books selected for this list feature disabled kids telling their stories and experiences, in ways that acknowledge that disabled children are part of reading audiences. Many of them were written by disabled creators.
My favorite new book this year is We Move Together by Kelly Fritsch. It’s an accessible and engaging story for kids, with and without disabilities, that celebrates disability culture and also calls out societal barriers and how everyone can push back on them.
We also have a handout to use together to determine if a book about a disabled character features good representation, or if it is harmful to a disabled reader and perpetuates stereotypes. The handout is for families, caregivers, and teachers, and children as young as preschool have successfully used it to analyze books.
You can find both of these resources, plus articles and videos I share, at https://bit.ly/OctDisability.
So often, people limit themselves to reading about “others” during special months or, perhaps, only reading books with disabled characters when they or their child will interact with a disabled child. These books are most often about a disabled character, without being from their perspective.
This does everyone a disservice, disabled or not. The best awareness is to meet and know disabled people, in real life and in books. To understand that everyone can be a hero, it’s important to read books where people who do not look or live like you are the heroes.
Shelley Harris is a children’s librarian at the Oak Park Public Library. She also holds a B.S. in Speech and Hearing Science.