Inclusion Now 58

Neither Victims nor Heroes: Promoting Disability inclusion through reading

Richard Rieser reviews ‘The Full Story’ by Mark Jennet, Published by the National Education Union in 2020.

Launched during UK Disability History Month, 2020, by the National Education Union, The Full Story, is a welcome contribution to developing a more disability inclusive curriculum through reading in nursery and primary classrooms. Mark Jennet, who previously produced the Union’s series- ‘Every Child, Every Family’ looking at LGBTQ+ identities, and ‘Breaking the Mould’ examining gender stereotypes, makes it clear that depictions of disability are still relatively rare. Where they do occur, they are often part of bullying narratives or feature people ‘overcoming’ their impairments. In the 21 titles recommended here, Disabled characters are depicted neither as victims nor heroes- but ordinary people getting on with the business of living:

“The books in this resource take a number of approaches. Some talk specifically about diversity in all its forms and can be used to ensure that disability is included in wider conversations about both our differences and the many things we have in common. Some feature Disabled protagonists (although their impairments are not what defines them) and many just include Disabled children as part of the action. All have value but, arguably, this last group are the most important. For some children, the first people they may associate with disability are Paralympians or someone like Stephen Hawking. Such high achievers are valuable in terms of how, for example, they challenge common stereotypes about disability – but their lives do not reflect those of most Disabled people.”

“Reading stories that feature familiar situations and in which disability is just one aspect of many people’s lives is one of the best ways of promoting disability inclusion…. Our suggested books also include a range of ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations and other differences since Disabled people are as diverse as everyone else, and fictional depictions should reflect those intersectional identities.”

Starting with picture books suitable for Early Years and Key Stage 1, from publisher Child’s Play (International) and Barefoot Books, the illustrations are of a diverse population with a range of impairments doing ordinary things. Jennet provides a series of ‘Asks’ to discuss with children, to focus and generalise their thinking. The books selected here are not an exhaustive list, but rather a guide to the type of books likely to be most effective at promoting inclusion.

‘What the Jackdaw Saw’ and ‘Freddie and the Fairy’ are pointed to as examples of applying ‘social model’ approaches to issues in the story. Both are about overcoming communication barriers for Deaf characters. Chapter books for Key Stage 2 readers are also covered. “A Storm of Strawberries’ is told in the first person by 12-year old Derby who has Down’s Syndrome, while ’Running on Empty’ is about 11-year old AJ who loves to run and is a carer for his parents who have learning difficulties. Both raise a whole series of issues about disability and wider diverse relationships.

‘I am Not a Label’, featuring 34 Disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists from past and present, focused more on their achievement rather than their impairment, is recommended. This book, also available on NEU website, is a welcome addition to challenging disablism in the primary curriculum but, as it says, much more needs to be done to bring this approach into all parts of the curriculum.

World of Inclusion provides many examples and ways of doing this.