10 Non-Fiction Books on Disability

“Over one billion people – about 15% of the global population – live with some form of disability and this number is increasing.”

World Health Organisation (WHO)

This month’s #BelonggReadingChallenge2021 prompt is to read a non-fiction book on disability. Over the years, definition and perceptions of disability have undergone major transformation. This is a direct result of people from the community demanding and creating those changes. However, disability rights movement, like any other social movement faces challenges even today. As readers, we can contribute in this journey by demystifying disability and listening to the voices who live this everyday reality. The following list is in no way comprehensive, and is supposed to only be the beginning nudge for what we hope to be a longer journey of introspection and understanding.

1. Disability Studies in India: Global Discourses, Local Realities

Edited by Renu Addlakha

This volume of essays collates some of the most pioneering work on disability studies from across the country. The essays presented here engage with the concept of disability from a variety of disciplinary positions, sociocultural contexts and subjective experiences within the overarching framework of the Indian reality. The contributors — including some with disabilities themselves — provide a well-rounded perspective, in shifting focus from disability as a medical condition only needing clinical intervention to giving it due social and academic legitimacy.

Image credit: Routledge India

2. Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner

Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy Heumann began her struggle for equality early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a “fire hazard” to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license, to leading the section 504 sit-in that led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Judy’s actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people around the globe. Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann’s memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine a world in which we all belong.

3. Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

Edited by Alice Wong

Close to the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong collated this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people. From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond: this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community.

Image credits: Amazon.in

4. One Little Finger

Malini Chib

One Little Finger is the autobiography of Malini Chib. Malini has Cerebral Palsy, a neurological condition which makes body movement and speech extremely difficult. She recounts her experiences from childhood to adulthood, her struggles with motor skills and speech, managing day-to-day activities, and the apathy and indifference of people towards her and others who are disabled. She educates herself, learns to type with her little finger and speak through the Lightwriter. Finally, she works through unfavourable social systems and attitudes to get a career as an event manager.

5. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

Amanda Leduc

If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.

6. Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body

Rebekah Taussig

Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Rebekah Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), inspirational (Helen Keller), or angelic (Forrest Gump). None of this felt right; and as she got older, she longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling.

A memoir-in-essays from disability advocate and creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty Rebekah Taussig, processing a lifetime of memories to paint a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most.

Image Credits: HarperCollins

7. Interrogating Disability in India
Theory and Practice

Edited by Nandini Ghosh

This book discusses the multifaceted concept of disability in the context of India. The papers herein represent multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives from architects, lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, economists and linguists to social work practitioners from the grassroots level. This range of insights from different disciplines allows for the exploration of a wide range of issues around disability and the lives of disabled people, moving from theoretical assumptions to exploring structural and infrastructural barriers, to problematizing different aspects of the lives of disabled people, and from objective realms to more subjective domains.

8. Thicker Than Water: Essays by Adult Siblings of People with Disabilities

Edited by Don Meyer

Edited by Don Meyer, creator of Sibshops and an expert on sibling issues, these compelling essays express a diverse range of sibling experiences and attitudes. Contributors range in age from 20 to 70 and have siblings whose disabilities include Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, seizures, visual impairment, fragile-X syndrome, intellectual disability, or mental illness.

9. The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me

Keah Brown

From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, this collection of essays explores what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America. Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to 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; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

Image Credit: Amazon

10. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Steve Silberman

What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more—and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. Wired reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Note: This list is not collated by someone who represents the community and is a result of crowdsourcing on social media.

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