I was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a disorder that causes legal blindness. To some my experience is hard to imagine, but to me, this is normal. I was raised by parents who treated me like any other child. I felt like any other child. But as I got older, I began to notice something—it was nearly impossible to find books that featured characters like me.
In the books I read, no one carried magnifiers or large print texts for class. No one used a cane or needed special programs on their computers. If they did, those characters were either superheroes whose powers essentially negated their disability or they were broken characters meant to be pitied. They never mirrored my experience of being an average kid, one who just happened to be blind.
At that age, I hadn’t yet felt truly “other,” but I was an avid reader, and in the books I read, I and people like me—people with other types of disabilities—didn’t seem to exist.
As I got older and my bookshelf expanded, I found books that more closely mirrored my experience. Not all of them featured blindness. Many were about other disabilities, but I was still able to see myself in them. I was able to relate to these characters in a way I hadn’t with other books. These books meant the world to me, and I wish I had discovered them as a child.
Many of these books were winners of the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors the best children’s books that capture the disabled experience. It calls attention to books that could genuinely make a huge difference in a child’s life. These are books that don’t treat disability like a curse or a plot device. These are books like Five Flavors of Dumb and this year’s winner, Rose Under Fire, which treat their disabled characters with respect and give them exciting, interesting stories of their own.
Too often these positive depictions of disability end up ignored and unread by those who would benefit from them most. This is why the Schneider Family Book Award is so important. We need to continue calling attention to outstanding pieces of children’s literature that feature a wide range of experiences—not just those of the able bodied.
KODY KEPLINGER is the author of three young adult novels; the first, The Duff (Designated Ugly Friend), has a film adaptation in production. Her newest book, for middle-grade readers, is The Swift Boys and Me.