The best books on disability and related inclusive movements

Meredith Eliassen Author Of Helen Keller: A Life in American History
By Meredith Eliassen

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.

The books I picked & why

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Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability

By Paul K. Longmore,

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

Why 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.

Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability

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."

Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

By Daniel J. Wilson,

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

Why 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.

Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

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…

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

By Nora Ellen Groce,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


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

By Stephanie Barton-Farcas,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


We Move Together

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

Book cover of We Move Together

Why 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.

We Move Together

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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in disability, people with disabilities, and Polio?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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