Reading and Bookstagram, which is an online community on Instagram that posts about books, are two of my favorite pastimes. It was through Bookstagram that I learned about the hashtag, OwnVoices, which are books written by a person whose identity or lived experience is reflected in the subject matter of the book. Given the disability community’s history with nondisabled people acting in roles where they play characters with disabilities, it’s probably not surprising that many of the books written about disability aren’t authored by disabled people.
Books that Reflect How We See Ourselves
Bookstagram was also where I first heard the concepts of “mirrors and windows.” We all need books and media that reflect who we see as ourselves. These are our mirrors. We also need windows, where we look at lives that are different from ours. As a kid with a disability, I had all sorts of windows but almost no mirrors. For my own children, I look for books that reflect them, our family and our experiences.
I’m grateful that there are a growing number of books with visibly disabled characters but there’s still room for improvement. As I scanned our shelves, I realized that out of at least 12 books we have with characters with disabilities, only 3 include a character using a power wheelchair. Here’s a quick recap of those.
When Charlie Met Emma
The book, “When Charley Met Emma” by Amy Webb is a story of a playground encounter between two young children, Emma and Charley. Emma uses a power wheelchair. I like the way the book doesn’t try to erase differences. The second in this series is disability affirmative in describing Emma’s disability as part of who she is. There’s also a helpful guide for parents and caregivers at the end. As a bonus, you can follow @ThisLittleMiggy on Instagram to learn about the author and her daughter, who inspired the book.
Dad Has a Wheelchair
The book, “Dad has a Wheelchair” by Ken Jasch is told from the perspective of Julia, whose dad uses a power wheelchair. I really love the way this book doesn’t shortcut kids on explanations of the cause of some disabilities, like genes. My husband and I have a disability caused by a genetic mutation so this was a fitting example for our kids to start understanding that our disability wasn’t an accident or injury but quite literally, how we were made. This is an #OwnVoices book as Ken is a dad with a disability.
We Move Together
The book, “We Move Together,” by Kelly Fritsch is also #OwnVoices and the kind of book I buy at least four times a year to give as gifts. It’s a must-have on every kid’s shelf. The illustrations are beautiful and nearly everyone will find their mirror and window. There are definitely power wheelchairs and mobility scooters in this book and they are far from generic. There’s even an image of a person’s wheelchair nearby as they work on an art project on the floor. With enough kids reading this maybe I won’t as frequently get the question, “Do you sleep in your wheelchair?!” The details in this book are so clear and evidence of our wheelchairs as extensions of us, that I could actually recognize well-known advocates.
I’m always looking for more books to add to our collection. Let me know @karaayers on Instagram what are your favorites! Bonus points for mirrors of people using power wheelchairs.
About Kara Ayers: Kara is a mother of three and lives in Ohio. She is an associate professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. In 2021, Kara spoke to the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Equity Taskforce about the need for people with disabilities to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here to learn more about Kara.
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