Helping children learn about disability

When I was a child, the typical books that were read to me depicted white middle-class families with mums at the kitchen sink, and dads coming home from the office to be greeted by their two children (a boy and a girl) and possibly a dog. Princesses were locked away by their fathers and needed rescuing and boys were braver than brave.

These stories reflected the gender inequalities within society at the time and did help nurture the feminist within me and a rebellious passionate nature to strive to be the best and to prove that I was not not just a pretty face!

As I am now a parent, I can thankfully say that things have moved on somewhat since the 70s and children’s books are definitely more diverse than they used to be. Characters come from a varied range of ethnic backgrounds, they live in differently shaped families, and there are an increasing number of strong female role models.(Yay!)

However, unfortunately, we still cling on to so many of the classic fairytales that, in this day and age, portray a goneby era and I think we need to move forward from these classic tales and forge a way forward so that children’s books become fully representative of the society in which we live. In all the children’s books I’ve read over the past few years, only a few of them have featured children or people with disabilities, either just within the illustrations or actually as part of the story, yet one in five children has some form of special educational need.

I can say from personal experience that books play a huge part in a child’s development. My son is an avid reader, even though he’s only 4. We’ve encouraged him from the moment he showed any interest in picture books and we read to him everyday. Reading to children stimulates their imagination and also expands their horizons. Books also teach children about the world around them and the people they encounter on a day to day basis.

We don’t just need more books about disability, we also need books which include disabled people as heroes and heroines alongside the rest of the book’s characters without any reference to the fact that they happen to be disabled. Books featuring disabled characters are of course important in terms of ensuring that disabled children feel included and accepted. However, I think it’s also important that we convey positive messages to non-disabled peers, to help all children develop acceptance and respect.

Just like the #ToyLikeMe campaign I blogged about a while ago, I’ve just become aware of Scope’s ‘In the Picture’ campaign which raises awareness of the need to include disabled children in the books they read. Scope points to the fact that story books don’t necessarily need to focus on disabled characters in order to raise awareness about disability and instead called for books to include images of disabled children casually or incidentally – the aim being to see disabled children represented in the same way that images of different ethnicities are now the norm.

In the Picture encourages publishers, illustrators and writers to embrace diversity, so that disabled children are included alongside others in illustrations and story lines. The idea is not to create a separate strand of children’s literature tackling disability issues, but simply to promote inclusion. My son isn’t disabled, but we live in a world where disability exists and I think it’s important to nurture a positive attitude towards and an awarenes of disability and Scope’s approach is a great step forward on that journey.

Following on from the campaign, Scope has produced a list of children’s books that feature positive models of disability on its website,

What are your thoughts?
Have you got any books that you can recommend?

Share your comments below.


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