Thoughts on Being Inclusive—In Books and Beyond

Recently a television ad for a cleaning product depicted a dad with only one hand doing household tasks and interacting with his kids. Nothing in the ad addressed his missing left hand; it was simply about the cleaning product being used by a busy family. If you saw the ad, you might have even missed the fact that this dad was “different.” Inclusivity in ads and other media is slowly becoming more common. We are beginning to see ads move beyond reflecting racial and household diversities in our communities and including people with differing abilities.

c-lisafx-dreamstime-comFor a long time, books about people with disabilities depicted them as objects of pity, living with a blight that set them apart from society. Fortunately, with legislation that better integrated differently abled students into the public school system over three decades ago, textbook publishers have since sought to depict disabled people as part of diverse groups.

Today many books are available for kids that discuss being different physically, mentally, or dealing with mental health issues. (See Suggested Resources, below.) We have new role models in society, like scientist Stephen Hawking and surfer Bethany Hamilton. News stories cover veterans returning home with disabilities, and communities rising to support them.

Even with this progress, inclusivity in an advertisement, book, magazine, movie—or any other media—that is focused on differing ability itself remains unexpected. While inclusive textbooks and books for kids about disabilities are great starting points, moving forward with inclusivity of all types in mainstream media is important. Free Spirit and other publishers of materials for the education world strive to use inclusive illustrations and stories in books on many topics. Increasingly, fiction for kids is showing more diversity in abilities.

You can find long lists of books about people with disabilities—we even share suggestions below. But we have not yet encountered a list of books that happen to be on unrelated topics while featuring inclusive illustrations and content. Perhaps that is a good thing, if it means people are accepting depiction of differing abilities as routine. But as educators, using these materials in classrooms and assignments is a way to not put inclusivity in a box, but connect it to everyday life for all students.

What books and materials do you use with your students that reflect inclusivity in daily life?

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources – Eight great kids’ books about disabilities, friends with disabilities, or being different.

Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson (ages 3–6) (hearing issues)
Russ and the Almost Perfect Day by Janet Elizabeth Rickert (ages 3–6) (Downs syndrome)
Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman (ages 5–9) (physical disability)
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman (ages 8–12) (physical disability)
The Great Quarterback Switch by Matt Christopher (ages 8–12) (physical disability)
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (ages 9–13) (ADHD)
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (a novel for teens) (learning disability)
A Different Life by Lois Keith (a novel for teens) (adjusting to life in a wheelchair)

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

Blogger for Free Spirit Publishing.
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