If words have power, then the people who publish, promote and sell them have the ultimate power. They, or rather you, choose who is heard and who is silenced, who is seen and who remains invisible. The choices you make don’t just impact readers, they resonate out across society. Books help us understand the world we live in and the people around us, especially those with different backgrounds to our own. We gain new insights which, intentionally or not, affect the way we treat others. Publishing more diverse voices has brought positive visibility to many marginalised communities. The same needs to be done for disabled people.
There are over 14.1 million disabled in the UK, with a spending power estimated at over £16bn, and yet it often feels like we are invisible; we’re barely represented on page and screen, our stories are untold—or worse, told by non-disabled people. This means they lack the authenticity and nuance that disabled authors can bring to their genres, a unique perspective that is currently missing, but you have the power to change this. Together we can write a new narrative around disability and the way disabled people are perceived. We can end harmful stereotypes and replace them with realistic representations of people who are more than their diagnosis or their physical challenges, people who live and love and dream of a better future. As we all do.
I was pleased to be asked to curate this special issue on behalf of Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses (ADCI), the group I co-founded, but as I write this, I too feel my own sense of responsibility. There is vast diversity within the disability community, I could never hope to cover everything that needs to be said, which is why this must only be the start of the conversation.
My aim for The Disability Issue is to raise awareness and understanding of the barriers and obstacles disabled authors face. These include physical access to buildings, events and meetings, as well as the lack of virtual alternatives for those who can’t travel, and the need for adaptability around working practices, adjustments to forms of communication and improved attitudes towards disabled people. I also wanted to offer practical solutions, simple and easy ways to make the industry more accessible to and supportive of disabled people. Some barriers will require organisational changes, while tailored solutions to specific problems will be solved by collaborations between agents, editors and publishers and their individual authors.
These discussions can only happen if the industry fosters a more inclusive, accepting environment, where people can talk openly about their access needs without fear of discrimination or prejudice.
Borrowing a metaphor from the recent Paralympics, I’m now passing the baton on to you. Read our stories, listen to the feedback and look at where you have the power to bring about positive change. If we work together we can create not only better books, but a better world.
Claire Wade is the author of The Choice (Orion, 2019); she won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and the East Anglian Book Award for Fiction. She co-founded Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses.