The best books on disability and related inclusive movements

Who am I?

There have always been disabled people shaping my worldview and understanding, however, I am an expert only about my own disabilities. Disabled storytellers, including Helen Keller, sometimes utilize tactical silence to scream… I value that! However, barriers confronting the disabled require broad and sometimes loud collective action from many people in many communities and not just a marginalized few. Disability activism is a complex, tactical fight over time for self-determination that touches all of us at some point. COVID, world events, and experiencing some barriers disabled and marginalized groups face all the time have compelled me to share a few of my favorite reads related to disability and inclusion.


I wrote...

Helen Keller: A Life in American History

By Meredith Eliassen,

Book cover of Helen Keller: A Life in American History

What is my book about?

As a special collections librarian at San Francisco State University, I wrote this book as a library reference source for ABC-CLIO’s “Women Making History” series. Helen Keller never viewed herself as a “SuperCrip,” but she allowed herself to cast her as one who overcame obstacles to lobby for governmental disability support. This disability history chronicles Keller and other Deafblind people through tremendous change. I use this book to do reference, but I read it for the dramatic story arcs of Keller’s life moving through the world of ideas. Those closest to her were caught in the web of her struggles to be an independent and engaged citizen. The power dynamics of the Helen Keller-Anne Sullivan Macy relationship can be understood within emerging social reform movements.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability

Meredith Eliassen Why did I love this book?

As a student at San Francisco State University, I took Paul Longmore’s HIST 490 “Disability in America” course and it quite simply changed how I interpret United States history. The autobiographical title essay in Why I Burned My Book presents foundational logic for understanding legal and cultural barriers impacting the disabled, and how capitalism impacts minority groups. Nobody speaks better on disability than the disabled. Longmore creates a model built upon the work of earlier disability scholars-activist in presenting “Catch-22” paradigms in oppressive laws related to race and gender impacting minority groups. When I read Longmore’s ideas, I can again look into his insightful eyes flashing sparks of humor, defiance, anger, and joy. My book about Helen Keller simply would not exist without Longmore’s passionate investment in students.

By Paul K. Longmore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Personal inclination made me a historian. Personal encounter with public policy made me an activist."


Book cover of Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

Meredith Eliassen Why did I love this book?

We do not know the toll that the COVID pandemic will have in the future, we collectively only know the trauma it has wrought. Most of the disabled people I have known, including Paul Longmore, became disabled from poliovirus attacking child populations. Polio was a vector for societal transformation as the disabled constructed new lives abruptly altered by the disease. This book focuses on polio survivors. Wilson surveyed over 150 polio narratives focusing on the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers (1930-1960) to learn about experiences over lifetimes. While some experienced temporary paralysis, others faced lifetime disability dealing with the disability industry, public relations campaigns, and rehabilitation programs. Survivors fought for accessibility and the ability to work in mainstream occupations. This book offers layered experiences still relevant today.

By Daniel J. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Living with Polio as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Polio was the most dreaded disease of twentieth-century America. Whenever and wherever it struck, hospitals filled with victims of the virus. Many experienced only temporary paralysis, but others faced a lifetime of disability. "Living with Polio" is the first book to focus primarily on the personal stories of the men and women who had acute polio and lived with its crippling consequences. Writing from his own experience as a polio survivor, Daniel J. Wilson shapes this impassioned book with the testimonials of numerous polio victims, focusing on the years between 1930 and 1960. He traces entire life experiences of the…


Book cover of Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard

Meredith Eliassen Why did I love this book?

Paul Longmore assigned Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language for the “Disability in America” course I took. As a folklorist this book hooked me. It is totally unique, combining science (genetics), history, maritime culture, and community. It consolidates sign language “oral histories” documenting a Deaf community’s cultural heritage in Martha’s Vineyard passed through generations. Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language offers an essential message from this tight-knit community where deafness was more a trait than a disability. Understanding how Helen Keller had a Deafblind destiny shaped by her times (as earlier were Deafblind woman should be women Julia Brace and Laura Bridgman), I sometimes wonder if Keller would have been less stressed if she had not been pressured by proponents of auralism like Alexander Graham Bell to learn to speak aloud.

By Nora Ellen Groce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the seventeenth century to the early years of the twentieth, the population of Martha's Vineyard manifested an extremely high rate of profound hereditary deafness. In stark contrast to the experience of most Deaf people in our own society, the Vineyarders who were born Deaf were so thoroughly integrated into the daily life of the community that they were not seen-and did not see themselves-as handicapped or as a group apart. Deaf people were included in all aspects of life, such as town politics, jobs, church affairs, and social life. How was this possible?

On the Vineyard, hearing and Deaf…


Book cover of Disability and Theatre: A Practical Manual for Inclusion in the Arts

Meredith Eliassen Why did I love this book?

My personal creativity is not tidy… I believe nobody creates in a vacuum. The disabled contribute intelligence, perspective, and expression to all modes of creative production. Understanding how to utilize talent from any historically marginalized group means learning how to communicate with folks with diverse abilities and backgrounds. Utilizing respectful language and practices with diverse communities will draw and engage audiences with more vibrant storytelling in today’s world. This practical guide includes case studies designed to guide theater companies to create inclusive productions with the disabled in central and creative roles. Disability and Theatre illustrates how in the theater, where “all the world is a stage”, as in our own lives, creative processes emerge when people with different abilities work together… that is just good living.

By Stephanie Barton-Farcas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Disability and Theatre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Disability and Theatre: A Practical Manual for Inclusion in the Arts is a step-by step manual on how to create inclusive theatre, including how and where to find actors, how to publicize productions, run rehearsals, act intricate scenes like fights and battles, work with unions, contracts, and agents, and deal with technical issues. This practical information was born from the author's 16 years of running the first inclusive theatre company in New York City, and is applicable to any performance level: children's theatre, community theatre, regional theatre, touring companies, Broadway, and academic theatre. This book features anecdotal case studies that…


Book cover of We Move Together

Meredith Eliassen Why did I love this book?

I believe a society’s resilience does not happen by coddling, oppressing, or marginalizing the disabled (or any minority group), but by fostering holistic, inclusive communities that move in cinque. We Move Together is a picture book about disability justice designed for intergenerational sharing. It is appropriate for all ages as it simply states we as a society move best together no matter of disability, race, gender, or age. The brilliance of this straightforward assertion is its universal intersectionality. The book contains helpful explanations of statements in the verses along with resources for learning more in the back. I love this message! Removing barriers to access, communication, work, relationships, and living independent and self-determined lives helps everyone and fosters healthy democracy.

By Kelly Fritsch, Anne McGuire, Eduardo Trejos (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Move Together as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold and colorful exploration of all the ways that people navigate through the spaces around them and a celebration of the relationships we build along the way. We Move Together follows a mixed-ability group of kids as they creatively negotiate everyday barriers and find joy and connection in disability culture and community. A perfect tool for families, schools, and libraries to facilitate conversations about disability, accessibility, social justice and community building. Includes a kid-friendly glossary (for ages 3–10). This fully accessible ebook includes alt-text for image descriptions, a read aloud function, and a zoom-in function that allows readers to…


You might also like...

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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