Disability Awareness Day: how children's books can 'up the ante'
Published on: 11 July 2014 Author: Alex Strick
For over ten years now, Disability Awareness Day has taken place every July (this year it's on 13 July) and involved local authorities and charities across the UK in sharing information about the services and resources which support disabled people in living independent, discrimination-free lives.
This is one of many official calendar opportunities to 'up the ante' in raising awareness of disability issues and encouraging us all to consider how we can play our part. And as we all know, children's books can provide an ideal way of doing this from a young age.
Children's understanding and awareness of disability
It might be argued that children are already more aware of disability than they might have been a few decades ago. It's true many more disabled children are educated in mainstream settings and disabled people are perhaps more 'visible' (in society and in the media) than they were in previous times.
However, the risks of intolerance, misunderstanding and discrimination are arguably higher than ever before. Admittedly, the Paralympics played a key role in heightening public awareness of disability sport. Lord Coe said that the games had had a seismic effect on public attitudes towards disability sport and disabled people, declaring 'I don't think the public will ever see disability in the same way again.' However, alongside the media headlines praising the 'Superhumans' of 2012 were the numerous accusations of 'disability benefit cheats' and newspaper campaigns urging people to seek out fraudsters.
The risk is that by highlighting the extremes, disability does not become 'normal' but rather something polarised in nature, and children remain unaware of the reality of what it is like to live a normal life as someone who just happens to be disabled.
Sharing books featuring disabled characters
So sharing books featuring disabled characters is important not just in terms of exposing children to disability, but also actively working towards a world where disabled people don't face prejudice, discrimination and injustice.
Exposing children to the right books can help raise awareness of the vast range of impairments, highlight lesser known conditions, foster acceptance and generally 'usualise' disability.
Thankfully there are many books out there which can help. Our booklists 'Books relevant to disability' and 'Books to develop understanding of disability' feature just a few particularly good examples of books for exploring disability in the classroom or at home.