Straight off the Shelf: Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

“If the disability community wants a world that’s accessible to us, then we must make ideas and experiences of disability accessible to the world.”

I hope all of our dedicated readers are well as the days get crisper, the nights grow longer, and the holidays come upon us! I am excited to start a new blog series titled “Straight off the Shelf,” in which I will feature a nonfiction book straight from our new shelves here at the library and pair it up with similar titles in our collection. This first selection comes from our social sciences section and is titled Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally  by Emily Ladau.

First, a little bit of background about the author. A disability rights activist, writer, and speaker, Emily Ladau began her activism at just the young age of ten when she starred on Sesame Street to teach children about what it is like to live with a physical disability. She continues her advocacy today by providing consulting and editorial services to several disability-focused organizations, as well as by managing a blog (Rooted in Rights) focused on sharing and amplifying disability experiences and co-hosting a podcast (The Accessible Stall) that considers important issues within the disability community. She has also received several honors, including being named a “10 Under 10 Young Alumni” at her alma matter of Adelphi University and being selected as the recipient of the American Association of People With Disabilities’ Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award in 2018.

In Ladau’s words, “[a]ll of my activism is driven by my belief that it is by sharing our stories and making the disability experience accessible to the world that we will reach a world that is accessible to the disability community.” One of the very first statistics presented in this book is that an estimated 15% of the global population, or more than one billion people, lives with a disability, making up the world’s largest minority. With this in mind, Ladau describes this book as a 101 guide or handbook for anyone and everyone looking to better understand various aspects of disability, as well as how to become a stronger ally and advocate. Broken down into six primary parts, it delves into what a disability actually is, how to understand disability as part of a whole person, an overview of disability history, ableism and accessibility,  disability etiquette, and how disability is portrayed in the media. Ladau also includes several additional resources for further reading, including books, films, online videos, and hashtags to follow on social media; a complete list of resources from this title can also be found here: https://emilyladau.com/demystifying-disability-bibliography/

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this new title! If it piqued your interest and/or you would like to continue demystifying disability, here are some similar books housed in our library collection:

About Us: Essays for the Disability Series of the New York Times edited by Peter Catapano

This title compiles several significant and powerful essays and reflections that have been featured in a column entitled “Disability” in the New York Times since its inception in 2016. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Boldly claiming a space where people with disabilities tell the stories of their own lives―not other’s stories about them―About Us captures the voices of a community that has for too long been stereotyped and misrepresented. Speaking not only to people with disabilities and their support networks, but to all of us, the authors in About Us offer intimate stories of how they navigate a world not built for them. Echoing the refrain of the disability rights movement, ‘nothing about us without us,’ this collection, with a foreword by Andrew Solomon, is a landmark publication of the disability movement for readers of all backgrounds, communities, and abilities.”

I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir by Jan Grue

This memoir provides a searing and insightful look into what it is like to live with a disability and the journey of coming to accept the limitations a disability poses while also loving life. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Jan Grue was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of three. Shifting between specific periods of his life—his youth with his parents and sister in Norway; his years of study in Berkeley, St. Petersburg, and Amsterdam; and his current life as a professor, husband, and father—he intersperses these histories with elegant, astonishingly wise reflections on the world, social structures, disability, loss, relationships, and the body: in short, on what it means to be human. Along the way, Grue moves effortlessly between his own story and those of others, incorporating reflections on philosophy, film, art, and the work of writers from Joan Didion to Michael Foucault. He revives the cold, clinical language of his childhood, drawing from a stack of medical records that first forced the boy who thought of himself as “just Jan” to perceive that his body, and therefore his self, was defined by its defects.

I Live a Life Like Yours is a love story. It is rich with loss, sorrow, and joy, and with the details of one life: a girlfriend pushing Grue through the airport and forgetting him next to the baggage claim; schoolmates forming a chain behind his wheelchair on the ice one winter day; his parents writing desperate letters in search of proper treatment for their son; his own young son climbing into his lap as he sits in his wheelchair, only to leap down and run away too quickly to catch. It is a story about accepting one’s own body and limitations, and learning to love life as it is while remaining open to hope and discovery.”

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson

This autobiography provides an acute analysis on living with a disability in an ableist world and considers how ableism is deeply embedded in our culture. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“As a Deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

As a media studies professor, she’s also seen the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes through horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.”

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