People with disabilities have been connected to traditional literature by the schools and teachers responsible for our education. Adaptive equipment has extended the reach of traditional literature. People with disabilities have an opportunity to understand a wealth of experiences that are different from our own.
Since the Americans with Disabilities became law in 1990, physical access to public libraries was guaranteed for people with disabilities. Perhaps more importantly, the voices of people with disabilities began to be clearly heard. The ADA has transformed the cultural zeitgeist and created access to publishers for people with distinct identities.
An important body of literature has developed in the wake of the ADA. The voices of people with disabilities now tell their own stories in sensitive but unsentimental words. In Blind Rage (Galludet University,2006) Georgina Kleege deconstructs the saintliness of Helen Keller, revealing a flawed person who is both more human and more approachable. Kleege, who is blind, had been encouraged as a child to emulate a saintly Helen Keller who did not exist.
Writers who are concerned with the experience of disability now have easier access to mainstream publishers. When Susan Nussbaum received a $25,000 prize as the 2013 winner of the Penn/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, she also received a contract for publication by Algonquin Press. Nussbaum’s first novel examines the complexities of freedom and tyranny within a residential center for youngsters with disabilities.
Books are instruments of personal expression, interpersonal communication, and participation in realities that may otherwise remain inaccessible. Literature reflects and expresses our identities, and through our experience of literature, our identities grow more complex. The voices of people with disabilities can be heard telling the stories of our individual and communal experience.
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