Friday, November 07, 2014
Why We Need Disability in Fiction
Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper
Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen
Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
Dangerous, by Shannon Hale
The Schwa was Here, by Neal Shusterman
All of these books have one thing in common: characters with disabilities. In some cases it is the driving force of the story. In others, the disability plays a role, but it isn't the main point. But in all of these books a specific truth surfaces: a person's disability--no matter how severe--does not diminish his or her value as a person.
In Petey and Out of My Mind, we learn that a person can lead a life with meaning despite not having the ability to walk, speak, or even control their own muscles.
In Wonder, we learn that a person's facial deformity doesn't define them, and that the suffering caused by such a disability doesn't make life less worth living.
In Gathering Blue, the main character proves that her life is valuable despite having a twisted leg that hinders her ability to walk.
In Dangerous, the heroine doesn't let her missing arm prevent her from saving the world.
And in The Schwa was Here, the main character befriends a blind girl, who doesn't let her lack of vision define who she is.
This is an important issue in the world today because people--especially kids--need to understand the humanity of those with disabilities and be able to empathize with them. But also, there seems to be a growing number of people who see the severely disabled as a drain on society, or who see their lives as so tragic as to not be worth living. Consider the amount of abortions performed because of disability and the rising acceptance of euthenasia and assisted suicide. Do these statistics reflect the value we place on life? Do they show that a person is worth more than his or her disability?
The books I've listed here, and others like them, have a powerful message for their readers. Every person has a place in this world. Every life, no matter how painful or difficult, can be a full life that has a profound impact on the world around it. The severely disabled baby that lives for only a few hours after birth. The brain-damaged boy who never learns to walk or speak. The young woman with Down's Syndrome who smiles at everyone she meets. They are why we need books about people with disabilities, to show our children that all life is valuable and beautiful and worthy of protection.