As of late, the importance of representation in the media has been a popular rallying cry for minorities of all types. Women call on the Bechdel test to determine the level of female representation in movies and TV shows. Last year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite drew attention to the dearth of people of color eligible to win the prestigious acting award.
Calling for better minority representation has also extended to those with disabilities. TV shows like Degrassi and Glee have depicted young people with physical handicaps who participate in everyday life with friends who care about them, include them, and are sensitive to their limitations. Arab comedian Maysoon Zayid has performed all over the globe doing stand-up related to her life with cerebral palsy. In her TED talk, she described how she auditioned for the role of a person with cerebral palsy but was turned down in favor of an able-bodied actor. When she asked why she wasn’t chosen, the casting director told her they were worried she wouldn’t be able to perform some of the actions for which the script called. This baffled her — if she, a woman with cerebral palsy, couldn’t perform the actions of the script, maybe the script didn’t accurately portray life with cerebral palsy.
Some children’s authors and illustrators have decided to take the battle for representation upon themselves and pen books about children with special needs and disabilities to help young people learn the facts about handicaps and normalize the idea of having friends and peers who look and behave differently. Especially for cerebral palsy, which can vary in severity and symptoms, representation in children’s literature can help able-bodied children recognize and normalize the appearance of the disability in their fellow classmates.
Shaila Abdullah wrote a book in 2014 called My Friend Suhana: A Story of Friendship and Cerebral Palsy to help children understand how to be a good friend to someone living with CP. In the book, an able-bodied narrator Aanyah shows how she loves and cares for her nonverbal best friend Suhana, who lives with CP, and how Suhana has just as many abilities as disabilities. The author and her 10-year-old daughter (on whom the narrator is based) volunteer weekly at a center for children with special needs, so the two of them wanted to demonstrate in a book that love and friendship transcends disability. This heartwarming books is a must-read for any child to help foster compassion and understanding.
Aaron Philip also wrote an autobiographical story called This Kid Can Fly: It’s about Ability (NOT Disability about his own life with Cerebral Palsy. A 14-year-old African American native of the Bronx, Aaron is a disability activist and advocate for helping the general public understand the reality of living with CP and how to help others with the condition. His memoir, written with the help of Tonya Bolden, delineates his life story and how he has embraced his different life.
By including books with a healthy representation of children with disabilities in schools, libraries, and homes, we can help normalize CP and make children more open and compassionate.