While every disabled person is unique, I suspect at some point, we all share loneliness. Isolation has absolutely been the hardest part of becoming chronically ill. Yet, I’m not alone.
A former student started using a wheelchair at age twelve and moved shortly thereafter. This kid full of macabre humor suddenly felt shy. They didn’t make many friends. Or fit in.
A neurodiverse elder recently told me, they’d felt “different” their whole life. They longed for connection, but got beaten up as a kid, and still feel left out.
Sometimes disability itself isolates us.
Too often, inaccessibility and prejudice do, too. And no wonder. Most of us grew up without affirming disability stories. Instead - we got infantilizing or villainous or gas-lighting images of disabled people. Or inspiration porn (a term coined by Stella Young) created for able people.
But unlike many of our disabilities, loneliness is curable.
As book makers, we can dream a less lonely world into being. Imagine what authentic disability stories would have meant to my elder. My student. Their peers and teachers. When I was first cut off with illness, I was lost. Some of your books were lifelines.
Authentic stories can reassure disabled kids: they aren't alone. Model that it's okay to ask for what you need, to draw boundaries, and care for yourself. They can normalize hanging with the new kid who uses a wheelchair or noise-cancelling headphones.
There is no cure for my illness. But sometimes the smallest help is life-changing.
Likewise, one book can’t solve everything. But authentic books can affirm kids, model friendship, and dismantle ableism - page by page.
Little cures can change lives.
Curing Loneliness Together
How do we make little cures?
For me, disability makes writing harder. Beyond physical and mental limits, I've struggled most with the loss of contact: school visits, conferences, agent and editor talks, critique groups, and social support. To cure kids' loneliness, disabled artists need accessible community themselves. This requires flexibility and cooperation from able allies.
Second, all of us (with limits) can create disability representation. For that, able people need us!
We do this together:
- Disability Groups
My peers are invaluable! They remind me our stories matter. Gently correct my mistakes. Model how to survive, strategize, and confront ableism. And rest. They teach me to keep learning. To keep writing cures for loneliness.
- Able Allies - invaluable, too!
- Illustrators, continue portraying more diverse disabilities and bodies. Yet push beyond defaults, like old manual wheelchairs. (Resources below)
- Writers, avoid ableist tropes (see below). Consider whether you should write a disabled main character. Involve and compensate us in research, even if you have disabled family. (My perspective can differ from that of even loving caregivers.)
- Community leaders, reach out. Ask us what barriers remain. Center us in every discussion on disability.
Boost disability books, especially with intersectional representation.
by lessening the loneliness of disabled creators,
we can create for kids
bookshelves full of cures for loneliness.
Rare moment with friends! The author is being wheeled through the woods, over grass, in a reclining manual wheelchair with elevated foot rests, which I affectionately call The Franken-Chair. I have a big, silly, open-mouthed grin on my face. I've a blonde bob, blue hoodie, gray pants and rainbow socks. A smiling friend in a baseball cap and beard is pushing the chair; another man walks along side.
- A few disabled authors/ illustrators who are unable to do school visits are brainstorming how to bridge that gap. If you'd like to join our conversation, contact me via my website.
- Disabled KidLit Writers (Private Facebook Group), moderated by Lillie Owens Lainoff
- Writers with Disabilities (Public Facebook Group)
- Disabled, Deaf, neurodivergent and chronically ill Australian writers (Private Facebook Group)
- "Initiatives for Disabled Artists You Should Know" - Art Connect (UK and international: organizations, publications, online spaces, resources, how to create accessible exhibits)
Illustrating More Diverse Aids/ Disabilities (Please!) and Manual Wheelchairs
- "9 Unhelpful disability tropes in kids' books" - The Catchpoles (What Happened to You?), 2021
- "9 Ableist Tropes in Fiction I Could Do Without" - Margaret Kingsbury, 2022
- "6 ableist tropes that are all-too-common in children's books" - Rebekah Gienapp
- "Thoughts on Disability Representation in Books" - Kit @ Metaphors and Moonlight, 2022
An especially nuanced conversation on ableist tropes, leaving room for complexity, and not forcing authors to self-identify.
- Stella Young: "I Am Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much" Ted Talk, 2014
Young challenges society's tendency to objectify and exceptionalize disabled people. She coined the term "inspiration porn."
Author Charlotte Sullivan Wild (light skin with long, honey-colored hair, glasses, violet shirt, smiling) sitting/ leaning in a window corner, holding up the picture book Love, Violet (illus. Charlene Chua, FSG), which features Violet with short, red hair in her cowgirl hat, peach skin, holding a valentine and smiling at Mira, who smiles back, with thick curly dark hair and brown skin, running into the snowy sunset.
Picture book cover of The Amazing Idea of You (illus. Mary Lundquist, Bloomsbury). Blue watercolor around edges, red script for title in an arc over a circle of vines. Inside the circle, an Asian girl kneels, smiling, eyes closed, with straight, bobbed hair, arms extended up and out in a peaceful, open gesture; beside her are a curious yellow gosling and apple with a bite out of it.