Changing the narrative on disability: is representation in books getting better?

As Amazon meets campaigners’ demands for a ‘disability fiction’ section, adult literature still has much work to do

Are we finally getting some good disability representation in fiction? Certainly, the publishing industry seems to have belatedly recognised the need to get disabled writers through the door. After a successful social media campaign, Amazon has recently introduced a “disability fiction” section. The Society of Authors now has a dedicated peer network for disabled and chronically ill writers. And in 2020, the Barbellion prize was set up to reward brilliant work by disabled authors. But does any of this mean that disabled people are finally seeing themselves and their experiences in the novels they pick up in Waterstones? It depends where you look.

Children’s literature is definitely getting better at representation. Indeed, when I asked disabled friends and acquaintances to name their favourite disabled character, almost all of them highlighted books aimed at younger readers, like Elle McNicoll’s A Kind of Spark. Lizzie Huxley-Jones, who is disabled themself, says that through their work as a children’s author and sensitivity reader they are seeing signs of progress. “Even just in the last three years in the UK – probably five if I’m being extremely generous – I feel like there has been a big push around securing autistic talent, publishing autistic stories, which I think is great because, historically, autistic people really didn’t get to tell our own stories.”

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