Are You Preparing for Disability Pride Month?

MAR 7, 2022

With this increasingly prominent celebration coming in July, publishers need to start planning ways to join in now.

It might only be March, but now is a great time for publishers and bookshops to start preparing for Disability Pride Month in July. Historically, as it originated in the US (back in 1990), Disability Pride Month hasn’t had as much coverage in the UK as over the Atlantic, but that’s changing as disabled people, their allies and companies work together to put disabled people in the spotlight as opposed to being kept behind closed doors as in the past.

The month celebrates disabled and chronically ill people (DCI) and raises awareness of outdated attitudes and stereotypes that need to change to combat ableism. It’s also a chance for disabled people to come together and be proud of who we are, remembering those who have fought for disability rights and key disabled people in history whose stories have been overlooked.

Claire Wade, co-founder of the Society of Authors’ Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses and author of The Choice, urges the publishing industry to back Disability Pride Month, saying, “Like disabled people, Disability Pride Month is often ignored and overlooked, but it’s an opportunity for the publishing industry and booksellers to celebrate disabled authors and their works. As shown by the recent interest in books by other minority groups, people want to learn about experiences different from their own and Disability Pride Month is a great way to increase reader awareness of disabled authors who are writing not just about disability but life in general, filtered through the lens of their disabled experience.”

One DCI author warned of fear of coverage featuring ‘inspo porn’, meaning “when the complexity of disabled people’s experiences are exploited in a 2D portrayal designed to elicit a specific emotion from non-disabled people”

Of course, Disability Pride Month is not just for authors. It’s also a chance for publishing companies, in an industry where disabled people are underrepresented, to recognise the sterling work of their DCI staff and foster a more diverse and inclusive culture, encouraging more disabled people to enter the profession.

I spoke to fellow authors with disabilities and chronic illnesses in the Society of Authors ADCI group to see what they’d like to see from the publishing industry in Disability Pride Month, with many commenting that they haven’t seen the industry doing anything in previous years. Online events organised by publishers and/or bookshops was a very popular reply, enabling authors who for various reasons cannot travel to showcase their work. Special sales promotions, displays of books by DCI authors and also titles showcasing disability history, disability rights, sports and memoirs by DCI people, also came up, as did DCI author lists for readers, book clubs, schools and libraries, and book subscription boxes featuring DCI authors, whether their books include disabled characters or not.

Authors talked about publishers’ marketing departments using their clout to “mainstream” DCI authors and lead readers to their books via social media, email newsletters, events, interviews, or whatever other innovative ideas they have up their sleeve.

Yet there were also a few notes of caution surrounding representation. One DCI author warned of fear of coverage featuring “inspo porn”, meaning “when the complexity of disabled people’s experiences are exploited in a 2D portrayal designed to elicit a specific emotion from non-disabled people, particularly when the disabled person is being sold as a learning experience for others”. Another writer added “I’d hate to see clueless PR teams use it (Disability Pride Month) as a way to sell bad representation there needs to be an awareness of what good representation looks like so they have some idea how to highlight that.”

The lack of fiction on the market with disabled characters also came up when talking about raising awareness in Disability Pride Month. “Part of the problem is going to be that there’s relatively little positive representation at the moment,” said one author. “Events for LGBTQ+ Pride tend to centre around positive representation in books rather than their authors. At least in fiction that’s going to be harder with disabled characters”. The authors I spoke to agreed that there’s an ongoing need for publishers to recognise the market for positive disability representation in fiction, and commission titles accordingly.

There’s also the question of whether a DCI author is comfortable being celebrated as such, with some authors concerned that there a lingering attitude in publishing that disability is negative, and being fearful that being known to be disabled could adversely affect their career. This above all shows that change is due and publishers need to be driving it.

Yet there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Publishers already have a template for celebrating Pride and Black History months, meaning they can hit the ground running. What DCI authors want, summed up by one person I spoke to, is “to be a true recognised community of writers in the publishing world -we shouldn’t have to fight to be seen’, we do that every day. This means recognising what the writer lives with and their work, whether that’s something that highlights DCI issues or not, just like other author communities. Only then will we be getting closer to true parity.”

Claire Wade agrees, saying “the publishing industry needs to start visibly supporting disabled authors, creating more opportunities and showcasing their work; it has to be an ongoing process, but Disability Pride Month in July is a good time to start.” Indeed, the SoA ADCI group itself will be leading the way by running an SoA at home week in July.

You can’t say you haven’t been warned that Disability Pride Month is coming up. So what are you going to do to celebrate it? Here’s to the publishing industry grabbing the opportunity and doing what it does best – being creative.

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