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What to Read for Disability Employment Awareness Month

Images of book covers overlay a red background with an underlying graphic of a diverse crowd of people

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, in which we celebrate the contributions of the disabled community to our workforce and the economy. As noted on the Department of Labor’s website, 2021’s theme is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” One way we can encourage more community involvement and inclusion in the workforce is to read more from self-advocates who are leading the cause in their fields. Read on for some of our recommendations of books to get better acquainted with the disability community.

This is not an exhaustive list.  If you would like more resources, please Ask A Librarian by clicking the green tab on the right hand side of the page anywhere on our website.

A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen centers the history of our nation on disabled individuals from pre-1492 to the present day. Nielsen utilizes primary source documents and social histories to give readers an opportunity to read about the disabled experience and how it shaped mass movements, labor laws, civil rights, and more. Nielsen is also the author of Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century as suggested by the title provides the reader with first-person perspectives on the modern disability experience. This anthology, edited by disability rights activist Alice Wong, highlights the diversity of disability. Read on to uncover all the challenges (from ethical to medical to social) and all the joys and passions within disability culture. For a similar read, also check out About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times.

Sincerely, Your Autistic Child: What People on the Spectrum Wish Their Parents Knew about Growing Up, Acceptance, and Identity is a collection of essays from individuals on the Autism spectrum. These authors from a wide array of backgrounds share struggles, needs, and tidbits to all parents and guardians who are parenting an Autistic child or teen. While raising a child is not a paid job, it is an important one!

Being Heumann: an Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist highlights inaccessibility in education, acquiring a job, and just living life as told by one of the most influential disability rights activists in the United States. Judith Heumann sued the Board of Education in New York in 1970 after she was denied her teaching license and became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York City. She was also instrumental in her participation in the 504 Sit-In protest of 1977 to push for meaningful regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the 2000s-2010s, she became World Bank Group’s first Advisor on Disability and Development, served as a Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department, and was a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation. Grab this memoir to learn more about Heumann’s incredible life centered on gaining the right to be human just like everyone else. For the young adult version, also check out Heumann’s Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels who Helped Spark a Revolution.

Haben : the Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law – Haben Girma is the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law. This memoir covers Girma’s life from her childhood through to her professional life as a disability rights lawyer. In addition to advocating for the disabled population, Girma also gives talks pertaining to accessible digital services. She has met with President Barack Obama to discuss accessible technology, given talks at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, and once confronted TED Conferences LLC for not providing captions on all of their online TED Talks, including her own.

If at Birth You Don’t Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny – Zach Anner was born with cerebral palsy, which he calls “the sexiest of the palsies.” This memoir contains humorous essays looks back on Anner’s first 30 years. Readers will enjoy his upbeat style as he discusses being a reality show star, driving the Mars Rover, and traveling the world.  

Shane Burcaw, founder of the nonprofit Laughing at My Nightmare Inc., has written two essay collections available at HCPL: Laughing at My Nightmare and Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse. He has also written a book for children entitled Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability. Burcaw, who has spinal muscular atrophy, writes about his life experiences with SMA and how he navigates inaccessible terrain with his motorized wheelchair as he travels the world giving talks pertaining to inclusion and disability. Through his nonprofit and the YouTube channel he hosts with his wife, Hannah, Burcaw seeks to spread awareness about disability and how the general population can provide better accommodations.

Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott by Joyce Scott covers the life of the late, renowned fabric artist Judith Scott, who had Down Syndrome. Her fraternal twin Joyce gives an account of her sister’s life and their separation at the age of 7 when Judith was sent to live in an institution. Read this book to find out more about their reunification and Judith’s uncovered talent.

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown gives a great contemporary voice pertaining to the intersectionality of race and disability. Brown, who created the viral #DisabledandCute campaign online, knows all about the struggle to find acceptance, especially with the person she views in the mirror. Brown covers a vast array of topics on beauty, the portrayal of disability in media, and her adoration of pop culture.

Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic: A Comedian’s Guide to Life on the Spectrum – Michael McCreary is a young Autistic comedian whose memoir is a wonderful amalgam of childhood and awkward teen anecdotes broken up with factual asides for readers who want to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder.

We hope you’ll check out one or more of these reads during National Disability Employment Awareness Month!  To learn more about this month, check out the Department of Labor website.

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