Sarah used fishing line to suspend mirror pieces. Fishing line helps convey the idea that disabilities aren’t always visible, particularly with respect to vision impairment. She stamped the mirror pieces with the most frequent ableist term from each book with acrylic paint. She used washers to mark the ends of the fishing line. The position of the washer/length of fishing line helps indicate how many total ableist terms were used in each text. There are “inspirational” words on each washer, representing one of the stereotypes we see in literature with disabled characters (as inspirational for overcoming or just living with their disability.)
She added more weight to the right side of the wind chime to reiterate the idea that these authors aren’t writing about their own disability, and to emphasize the weight that words carry (since the most ableist terms were used in the books on this side of the windchime).
Courses of Action
Knowing that ableist language is prevalent in YA literature, librarians can evaluate their collections and seek out counter-narratives written by disabled people. Ensure that books that feature disabled characters are accessible to patrons. Librarians can act against ablism through using universal design principles in programming and following web accessibility guidelines. Additionally, librarians can remove ableist language from their own speech and speak up when they hear others using it. Librarians should also listen to youth with disabilities and ask them about their needs.
Learn about ableist language and examine its use in your writing. What may seem like a harmless word to describe a character could be a term rooted in historic violence. When writing about a disability you do not have, make sure to speak to others who have this disability. Seek out sensitivity readers and incorporate their feedback. Elevate the works of disabled authors.
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