Perspectives on Disability

By Skokie Staff Adult Services

Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture despite one in five people in the United States living with a disability. We have created a list of fiction, nonfiction, and film that are all representative of what it is like to live with various disabilities.

  • Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body

    2020 by Taussig, Rebekah

    A pull-no-punches memoir about life in a wheelchair. Taussig doesn't claim to speak for everyone with a disability: “I would be doing us all a great disservice if I led you to believe that the conversation starts and ends with bodies and experiences that look just like mine." But she does speak of her own experience and shows a glimpse into her life with “a body that doesn’t work." Recommended by Becca.

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  • Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law

    2019 by Girma, Haben

    The incredible life story of Haben Girma, the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, and her amazing journey from isolation to the world stage. I found this moving, uplifting, and inspiring memoir to be reflective of a person who champions access and dignity for all. At times I laughed, cried, reflected, and marveled not only at her many accomplishments but also her staunch advocacy for the disabled community. Recommended by Mary.

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  • Disability Visibility

    2020 by Wong, Alice (EDT)

    This collection of essays from contemporary disabled writers celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act focuses on issues such as disabled performers in the theater and the everyday lives of the community. Library Journal says, "The collection sheds insight on topics that are rarely explored in mainstream works, including the difficulties of finding adaptive clothing, the dangerous mindset of the cure mentality, and the high rates of disability among LGBTQ people. Overall, Wong urges people with disabilities to expect more and deserve more." Recommended by Becca.

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  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown

    2019 by Hibbert, Talia

    Emerging from a life-threatening illness, a fiercely organized but unfulfilled computer geek recruits a mysterious artist to help her establish meaning in her life, before finding herself engaged in reckless but thrilling activities. Hibbert was born with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, so she writes with the experience of chronic pain. This is a delightful kick-off to a wonderful romance series. Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

    2019 by Wang, Esmé Weijun

    "Penetrating and revelatory" (Publishers Weekly). In this book, Esmé Weijun Wang candidly provides us her own experience and insights of what it is like to live with one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions: schizophrenia. Recommended by Penny.

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  • The Pretty One

    2019 by Brown, Keah

    From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be Black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America. For me, the compelling aspect of these essays reflects her contemporary and relatable voice for the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance. Recommended by Mary.

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  • Good Kings Bad Kings

    2013 by Nussbaum, Susan

    In this novel, residents and staff at a Chicago facility for physically disabled teens find ways to push back against a culture of neglect. The result is hilarious and heartbreaking, wonky and righteously angry, and unironically life-affirming. The seven characters offer a range of perspectives (one is inspired by a mural that another finds extremely condescending) that will challenge any preconceptions the reader brings. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice

    2019 by Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi

    This book motivated me to challenge myself and other able-bodied and neurotypical folks on how to dismantle ableist practices and institutions so that we can expand our compassion and empathy. In this collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centers the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all. Recommended by Mary.

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  • About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times


    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 to all of us, the authors 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 is a landmark publication of the disability movement for readers of all backgrounds, communities, and abilities. Recommended by Chris.

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  • The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging

    2021 by Leavitt, Hannalora

    This book invites readers to rethink the way people with disabilities are viewed. It includes history and examines the challenges faced by people living with those disabilities. It also provides ways to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Bride Test

    2019 by Hoang, Helen

    Esme Tran wants a new life in America badly enough to consider marriage to a man she's never met; Khai Diep is mortified when his mother returns from a visit to her native Vietnam with a prospective wife for him. Esme doesn't know much about autism; Khai has let it limit the person he thinks he can be. Hoang draws on memories of her own parents to tell this funny, poignant story about people who defy stereotypes, including the ones they've internalized. Even readers who roll their eyes at the word "romance" will be won over. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

    2015 by Silberman, Steve

    Explaining society's changing understanding of autism—and autistic people's understanding of themselves—requires a nonfiction epic, encompassing everything from the experiences of individual families to pop culture milestones (the good, bad, and ugly of the movie Rain Man gets its own chapter). This book is also a triumph of journalistic storytelling—probing, compassionate, and immensely readable. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Challenger Deep

    2015 by Shusterman, Neal

    Shusterman's son Brendan was 16 when he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and told his dad that, "it feels like I'm at the bottom of the ocean screaming at the top of my lungs and no one can hear me." Seven years later, Shusterman was able to work with his son to write and illustrate this book about 14-year-old Caden Bosch and his gradual descent into schizophrenia. I lost a close family member to their struggle with schizoaffective disorder, and this is the book that helped me understand what they might have been going through. As Shusterman said, "There is a lot of despair when dealing with mental illness, but there is also a great deal of hope." Recommended by Becca.

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  • The Degenerates

    2020 by Mann, Jennifer Ann

    This young adult historical fiction book is respectful, unflinching, and eye-opening. In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life. Recommended by Mary.

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  • The Best Years of Our Lives


    William Wyler was one of the most brilliant directors of his day (I often think Spielberg is following in his footsteps) and while The Best Years of Our Lives is "deeply rooted in its time," it's a rare film to have a disabled actor (Harold Russell) play a disabled character. And he won an Oscar for the role. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Golem Girl: A Memoir

    2020 by Lehrer, Riva

    As she has done with her art, in this memoir, Riva Lehrer transparently painted a powerful personal story—one of life, love, and forgiveness. “Not your typical memoir about ‘what it’s like to be disabled in a non-disabled world’...Lehrer tells her stories about becoming the monster she was always meant to be: glorious, defiant, unbound, and voracious. Read it!” (Alice Wong) Recommended by Penny.

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  • Sick Kids in Love

    2019 by Moskowitz, Hannah

    They first met in the “drip room” while they were getting their treatments—Isabel for her rheumatoid arthritis and Sasha for his Gaucher disease—and what follows is a sweet, touching, funny, and honest journey of two young people falling in love. And rest assured: "They don’t die in this one" (this is not a spoiler, the cover wants you to know that, too). Recommended by Penny.

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  • Diary of a Young Naturalist

    2021 by McAnulty, Dara

    Dara McAnulty chronicles finding his voice as a writer and activist—while having struggles that will resonate with anyone who's ever been a teenager, autistic or otherwise. Readers will fall in love with Dara's neurodiverse family. And he's still only 17! Recommended by Andrew.

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  • A Quiet Place


    If you see only a few horror movies a year, this and its sequel should be two of those. In the film, Earth in 2020 is host to giant creatures that are blind; however, they have an acute sense of hearing and they hunt by tracking noise. Within three months, they destroyed most of the human race. The film focuses on the Abbott family, living in quiet, communicating by signing. Their daughter is deaf, which adds an additional level of tenseness, as well as interesting plot developments. John Krasinski directed, cowrote, and he costars with his wife, Emily Blunt. He cast Millicent Simmonds, who is a deaf actor, as their daughter. He said that he wanted to keep the movie authentic about her character, and she contributed to various scenes. Simmonds has a larger role in the second installment, which was absolutely the right way to go. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying: Essays

    2019 by Ikpi, Bassey

    Ikpi's memoir in essays will change your preconceptions as she bares her own truths and lies for us to behold with radical honesty. As Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy, stated, "We will not think or talk about mental health or normalcy the same after reading this momentous art object moonlighting as a colossal collection of essays.” Recommended by Becca.

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  • Romance in Marseille

    2020 by McKay, Claude

    Buried in the archive for almost ninety years (though it wouldn't be hard to believe it was written in 2020), this is a pioneering novel of physical disability, transatlantic travel, and Black international politics. A vital document of Black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African American tradition. Recommended by Chris.

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  • The Silent Child


    This won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. The story follows Libby, a profoundly deaf six-year-old whose life changes from one of isolation and loneliness to community and inclusion when her new tutor teaches her sign language (BSL). However, Libby’s mother is reluctant and uncomfortable for Libby to continue on such a course. True to the task, young actor Maisie Sly, who is profoundly deaf, turns in a beautiful, impactful performance. While this is a British film, it is global in its theme, calling for more education and awareness. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • A List of Cages

    2017 by Roe, Robin

    Raw, moving, and beautiful. Publishers Weekly says it best: “Roe gives a close-up view of two teens with disabilities (Julian has dyslexia, Adam has been diagnosed with ADHD) while building a sharp contrast between their views of the world and sense of normalcy. Written with honesty and compassion, this book will resonate with a wide range of readers.” Recommended by Penny.

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  • There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

    2021 by Godin, M. Leona

    M. Leona Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight. “[Godin] traces two ideas: that being unable to see brings deep insight and that the blind can show how little the sighted truly see. Godin counters these stereotypes with her own experiences and with surprising details from the lives of blind activists such as Helen Keller, to argue that 'there are as many ways of being blind as there are of being sighted.’” (The New Yorker) Recommended by Chris.

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  • Keep the Change


    This is a landmark motion picture—a movie about people living with autism in which all of the characters who have autism are portrayed by nonprofessional performers who also have it. "....Keep the Change is not a seamlessly crafted movie, but it’s awfully tenderhearted and thoroughly disarming. It deserves to be widely seen." (Glenn Kenny review via the New York Times) Recommended by Chris.

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  • Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens


    Full of "compassionate, engaging, and masterfully written stories" (Booklist), this anthology features central characters, all who are disabled, in a variety of settings and circumstances. There is something for everyone in this book, and since the authors of each story are also disabled, there is a level a nuance and depth that is powerfully genuine. Recommended by Paul.

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  • Cost of Living

    2018 by Majok, Martyna

    Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Cost of Living deftly challenges the typical perceptions of those living with disabilities and delves deep into the ways class, race, nationality, and wealth can create gulfs between people, even as they long for the ability to connect. Recommended by Chris.

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  • The Perseverance

    2021 by Antrobus, Raymond

    An unforgettably beautiful and eye-opening collection of poems about the deaf experience. "The Perseverance is an insightful, frank and intimate rumination on language, identity, heritage, loss and the art of communication…These are courageous autobiographical poems of praise, difficulties, testimony and love." (Malika Booker) Recommended by Penny.

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  • Traveling with Service Animals

    2019 by Kisor, Henry

    The boom in trained service animal use and access has transformed the lives of travelers with disabilities. As a result, tens of thousands of people in the United States and Canada enjoy travel options that were difficult or impossible just a few years ago. Henry Kisor and Christine Goodier provide a narrative guidebook full of essential information and salted with personal, hands-on stories of life on the road with service dogs and miniature horses. Recommended by Chris.

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