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July is Disability Pride Month, the 34th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George Bush signed the law saying, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”  But demolition remains unfinished. These five fascinating books spotlight where we started, how far we've come and barriers that remain. Two compelling memoirs show how walls of exclusion fall and how society wins. An essay collection and a novel about a Deaf school steep you in the disability community’s complex vibrancy. And a must-read children’s book shows how we can work (and play!) to build a barrier-free world.   


Being Heumann book cover

To grasp life before disability rights and the force that led to the ADA, savor Judith Heumann’s memoir, Being Heumann. Polio that she contracted as a baby ushered her into a society with zero expectations for her future. She describes shocking discrimination, like being barred from kindergarten because her wheelchair was deemed a fire hazard. Equally shocking is that no laws protected her rights—until she and other activists fought for them. Heumann shaped disability rights in Congress, the State Department and the World Bank and co-founded a global organization. She writes: “I am who I was meant to be.”  


The momentum unleashed by Judith Heumann and other disability rights activists is a prelude to Haben, the memoir of Haben Girma, Harvard Law School’s first Deafblind graduate. She attributes the success of disabled people like her to the “hard-won power of the ADA,” and some of the book’s most gripping action happens when she wields it. But she also wields infectious zest for life as she takes you on globe-spanning adventures and introduces the people, animals, technology and training that complement her brainpower and inventiveness. Today, as a speaker, activist and consultant promoting technology access, Girma’s creating momentum for others. 

True Biz

In the unforgettable novel True Biz , a teen finally glimpses how rich her life might have been at the same time that the community that welcomes her faces extinction. Science fiction? Nope. The 22 closed Deaf schools listed at the novel's end show the threat is real. Author Sara Nović has crafted a brilliant Swiss Army knife of a novel, her sharp literary tools fashioning a highly nuanced exploration of Deaf life. I won’t risk a spoiler to explain why Charlie Serrano’s oral-only education has failed her. But when she enrolls in a Deaf school, you’re learning right along with her.  

Disability Visibility by Alice Wong 

Disability Visibility

There aren’t many books I’d call life-changing, but Disability Visibility surely is one. This revelatory sharp-edged prism of perspectives sheds color and light on worlds I’d never thought about, many at the intersection of other marginalized communities. Editor Alice Wong has compiled a fascinating and textured collection of essays full of what she calls “the wisdom of disabled people.” An epigraph by Neil Marcus sets the stage perfectly: “Disability is not a brave struggle or ‘courage in the face of adversity.' Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”  The book includes a wide selection of follow-up reading. 

We Move Together

Like other stellar children’s literature authors, Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire created the book they longed to find. The result, We Move Together, is a smart, colorful, seriously fun book, a must-read for people of any age. The inviting disability and diversity learning experience starts with the clever title— ”move” meaning both the many ways we all move physically and making positive social change. I was surprised that I lacked words for some details in the joyful illustrations. The authors, expert teachers on every page, enlightened me at the end. Explore the “fun stuff” section in the online learning guide! 

About the Author

Barbara Cornell is a Library Associate at the William O. Lockridge Bellevue Neighborhood Library. She grew up in Michigan, where the public library across the street from her house was a first taste of independence. Since then, she has lived in five countries and always finds a home in books. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Washington, DC. 

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