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3 Ways Book Publishing Is Becoming More Inclusive of Disability and Mental Illness

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As a bibliotherapist – someone who utilizes the healing power of literature in their therapeutic practices – I am constantly working to keep up with the book industry and educate myself on books as they are released. I also focus on keeping up with publishers, both indie and traditional. Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book event entitled “BookTalk” that focused mainly on diversity in the book community, and authors who identify as LGBTQIA+, POC, nonbinary, genderqueer, and/or mentally/physically disabled. As someone with various mental illnesses and disabilities, I was incredibly excited to see how positively authors with mental and physical disabilities were represented throughout the event.

I have found that when disability is discussed in the book community, it is often seen as a footnote of an author or character’s identity. And while it is praised as being “representation” for this community, discussion of disability and the importance of representation is limited. BookTalk turned this aspect of the book industry on its head by showing that disability representation is extremely important in fighting the stigma that surrounds disability, while ensuring that disability is accurately portrayed. Physical and mental disabilities were equally represented, and while the challenges of disability were discussed and validated, the importance of portraying them as diverse traits was highlighted.

I came away from this event feeling empowered, validated, and important – while also feeling incredibly inspired regarding my fiction writing. BookTalk showed me that disability is an important aspect of diversity, and representation matters. I cannot thank the creators of the event and the authors and publishers who were featured enough. They are changing the book industry as we speak.

The following three takeaways were the most impactful for me following the event, and I hope they will help you feel validated and inspired just like they did for me.

1) INCLUDAS, a publisher that focuses on authors and characters with mental and/or physical disabilities was a sponsor of the event, while also being featured in the disability panel.

INCLUDAS Publishing is an indie publisher that focuses on featuring authors and/or characters with disabilities. Any form of disability representation is considered and often highlighted by INCLUDAS, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to one of the representatives of the publisher speak. The amount of passion behind this publisher is phenomenal, and I am glad to see them as a pioneer in the disability diversity movement. Their motto is, “INCLUDAS Publishing will always fight for disability visibility by creating authentic books that move people one page at a time.”

2) Authors who identify as being disabled due to mental and/or physical illnesses were highlighted.

During the event, there were multiple highlighted authors who identified as being disabled or having a disability. Rather than being highlighted simply because they have disabilities, these authors had the incredible chance to speak out about the importance of disability representation in literature while sharing their experiences with writing about characters who accurately portray disability. Diversity was one of the main focuses of BookTalk, and this focus on diversity in all forms made me feel seen and opened my eyes to how we view multiplicity.

3) Entire panels were dedicated to discussing disability diversity in the book industry, and disability representation without it being a defining factor was praised.

One of my favorite parts of BookTalk was the panel that focused solely on authors with disabilities who work to highlight disability in their writing. For an hour or so the event gave these authors space to discuss their experiences with disability as well as how important it is that disability be accurate represented through characters and literature. I was excited to find that authors with both mental and physical disabilities were highlighted together rather than creating a separation, and I found that I felt seen and more inspired than I have in a long time.

The book industry is constantly changing, and BookTalk showed me that it is changing for the better. Diversity has become a large element of literature in recent years, and I am so excited to see how disability diversity was represented and praised. As an author with disabilities myself, BookTalk made me feel at home, and I am so excited to see how this event sparks further conversations on disabilities and representation.

Getty image by SPmemory.

Originally published: August 19, 2021
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