Research Paper…Inclusion Literature for and about People With Disabilities.'s the research paper...if anybody is out there reading, please proof and help out. (I was going to have a whole section on autism...but I ran out of both time and space...)

Inclusion Literature: People with Disabilities

When we consider “multicultural literature,” we look for ways to introduce students to other cultures; both far away and in our own “back yard.” We may use fiction or non-fiction or contemporary stores or stories from long ago. We may use traditional folktales or stories written for this generation of children. Our goal, always, should focus on bringing a greater understanding of the value of all people and to encourage inclusion and tolerance of people different than us.

When reading multicultural children’s literature, we should look not only at the differences in cultures, but also similarities.  We learn of cultures within cultures, groups of very similar people who share much in common, even though they might come from very different cultures. In the broader culture we live in we embrace many smaller cultures. Today’s classroom teacher bears the responsibility for creating a classroom atmosphere in which all children find acceptance.

One of “smaller cultures” that can be easily neglected is the people-group that includes people with impairments. Teaching children empathy for others who happen to be blind, deaf, or autistic should exist side-by-side with teaching them about others who happen to be African-American, or Jewish or Chinese.

The need for this type of anti-bias literature grows as the number of students in “inclusion” programs grows. In an undated article, Kira Isak Pirofski notes that

“Mainstreaming of 5.8 million disabled children, notwithstanding, disability is still not adequately presented in the two most popular children’s magazines Highlights for Children and Sesame Street Magazine sample of all Highlights for Children published from 1961 through 1990 found that only sixty-three disability articles were published during a thirty year period of time.” (Race, Gender, and Disability, no date)

The website, “Circle of Inclusion” ( offers assistance to families and educators of people with impairments, including guides to selecting literature regarding disabilities. The writers of the site point out two approaches to using children’s literature when discussing impairments or people with impairments.

The first approach addresses disabilities as a part of diversity. Highlighting life of people who happen to live with a disability, this literature teaches children about the similarities and challenges that all people share, rather than pointing out differences. “Circle of Inclusion” offers nine ways to evaluate diversity literature.

1) Check The Illustrations, looking for stereotypes, inclusion, making sure that each person is portrayed as a genuine individual with distinctive features and personalities.

2) Check The Story Line - each child, impaired or not, should be accepted as they are. The child with a disability should not have to have extraordinary qualities, such as memory or math skills, in order to be accepted. The person with the disability should not be part of the “problem”. What is the role of the person with the disability – the achievements of the person with the disability should be based on his/her own initiative and intelligence. The story should be able to have the same story line even if the main character did not have a disability.

3) Look at the Lifestyles. If the person with the disability is depicted as “different,” no negative value judgments should be implied.

4) Weigh the Relationships Between People – is there a true balance of power, or does the person with (or without) the disability possess all of the power, take all of the leadership roles, and make all of the important decisions. There should be a clear balance of roles.

5) Consider the Effects on a Child’s Self-Image - Norms should not be established which limit any child’s aspirations and self-concept. In each story, there should be at least one or more persons with whom a child with a disability can readily identify as a positive and constructive role model.

6) Consider the Author’s or Illustrator’s Background - Analyze the biographical material on the jacket flap or the back of the book. Look for qualities that the author or illustrator may have that would help them understand and contribute knowledgeably to a specific theme or topic.

7) Check Out the Author’s Perspective - No author can be entirely objective. All authors write from a cultural as well as from a personal context. Read any book in question carefully to determine whether the direction of the author’s perspective substantially weakens or strengthens the value of his/her written work.

8) Watch for Loaded Words - A word is loaded when it has offensive overtones. Examples of loaded adjectives specific to children with disabilities are “slow,” “retarded,” “lazy,” “docile,” “backwards,” “crazy,” “feeble-minded,” “cripple,” “idiot,” “deaf,” “dumb,” and sometimes “special.”

9) Look at the Copyright Date and Target Age - There are not many books written about children with disabilities. The limited number that are available are dated and use language that is not “people first” (a child with autism, instead of an autistic child) or may now be considered offensive, such as the current term “retarded.” Most newer books use “people first” language, however, make sure to check all books for people first language because some authors may not be as familiar with the importance of its use.

“Russ at the Firehouse” is a book that fits these guidelines. Russ is a “real live” boy with Down Syndrome and the author, Janet Elizabeth Rickert, is Russ’ mom. “Russ at the Firehouse”, like all of the “A Day With Russ” books, never mentions his DS:

Once upon a time, not too long ago, there was a little boy named Russ who got a job at a firehouse…” (“Russ at the Firehouse”, 1)

The other approach is using books to support disability awareness. This differs from the first approach in that the books are used to educate students about the disability and the challenges that are raised. Things to look for in this type of book include:

· Promotes empathy, not pity

· Depicts acceptance, not redicule

· Emphasizes success rather than, or in addition to, failure

· Promotes positive images of persons with disabilities

· Addresses abilities and disabilities.

· Assists children in gaining accurate understanding of the disability.

· Demonstrates respect for persons with disabilities

· Promotes an attitude of “one of us” not “one of them”.

· Depicts valued occupations for persons with disabilities.

· Uses language which stresses person first, disability second philosophy.

· Describes the person or persons with disabilities as realistic (not sub-human or super-human)

· Depicts persons with disabilities in integrated settings and/or activities

· Illustrates characters in a realistic manner.

· Uses similar art styles for persons with and without disabilities.

· Illustrates accuracy in technical detail of equipment.

“Rolling Along With Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is one book that is included in the “Circle of Inclusion” list of disability awareness books:

Once upon a time, there were three bears: a great big Papa Bear, a middle-sized Mama Bear, and a spunky little Baby Bear who used a wheelchair to get around. They lived in a forest in a house that had ramps instead of steps for Baby Bear…” (Rolling Along, np)

While “Circle in Inclusion” offers lists of books that are mostly about people with obvious disabilities, the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of Developmental Disabilities is focusing on less visible impairments. Every two years, since 2000, the Dolly Gray Award for Children’s Literature in Developmental Disabilities (sponsored by CECDDD) has recognized “authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional children's books that appropriately portray individuals with developmental disabilities.” ( Attached is a list of books that have received the Dolly Gray Award. One of the award winners is “My Brother Sammy”, about a boy with autism.

“It’s the perfect day to go to the park and feed the ducks with my big sister, Tara. Except my brother wants to come along, too.

‘Aw, Ian, why don’t you stay here?’ I say. Ian doesn’t answer me, though, because he has autism. But he raps his fingers hard against the screen and begins to whine…” (My Brother Sammy, np)

These two organizations help families and educators of both impaired and non-impaired students – and together present literature for and about people with physical and non-physical impairments.

As the number of children with disabilities rises, so does the need for literature to meet the needs – not only of the children with impairments, but also to meet the need of the students around them in the classroom. It is vital to recognize and accept the person from another continent sitting next to us…it is just as important to recognize and accept the person with an impairment in a sitting next to us…whether we can see it or not.

Circle of Inclusion,

The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Developmental Disabilities,'s_Literature_Award.html

My Brother Sammy. Lears, Laurie, illustrated by Ritz, Karen. Albert Whitman & Company, Morton Grove, IL 1998

Race, Gender, and Disability in Today’s Children’s Literature, Kira Isak Pirofski, San Jose State University. no date.

Rolling Along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Meyer, Cindy. Illustrated by Morgan, Carol. Woodbinehouse Inc., Bethesda, MD 1999

Russ at the Firehouse, Rickert, Janet Elizabeth, Illustrated by McGahan, Peter. Woodbinehouse, Inc., Bethesda, MD 2000

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