July is Disability Pride Month and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Despite the challenges of representation in the past, recently published books and films have managed to portray the nuances of ableism and highlight the vibrancy of the disability community. Beyond film and media brands such as Chromat continue to provide significant representation for the disabled community, celebrating disabled pride in their seasonal collections.
Within the past decade, books and films have been more apt than ever before to portray members of the disabled community in more significant, featured roles. Here are 8 stories which shed light on the experiences of disabled persons and celebrate disability (listed in alphabetical order).
Any One of Us directed by Fernando Villena
From 2019, this documentary follows the experiences of just one individual: Paul Basagoitia. If his name sounds familiar, this may be due to the fact that Basagoitia was a champion BMX rider for several years and he endured a spinal cord injury in the midst of one of his competitions. The film shows his journey from hospitalization to home, from anguish to acceptance, and ultimately, the filmmaker reflects on a variety of experiences from those with SCI (spinal cord injuries). The narrative also includes other brief, first-hand accounts from adults in the SCI community. Any One of Us is currently streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
Crip Camp directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
One of the most recent films on this list is this 2020 documentary which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is illustratively crafted and follows the lives of a few of the key early members of the disability rights movement. The film particularly focuses on a group of young people who attended a camp for individuals with mental and physical disabilities in New York state called, Camp Jened. The documentary follows these impressive individuals from their days as teenage activists to men and women who fought for disability rights including Provision 504 in 1973. People like Judith Heumann are rightly highlighted in this film which ultimately espouses disability pride. Crip Camp is currently streaming on Netflix.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published in 2013, this novel follows Cath, a college student with both social anxiety and a bipolar father as she tries to navigate her young adult life. As the titular fangirl, Cath participates in fan culture as a way to cope with her mental illness. Through her fandom, she fosters the social connections necessary to overcome her disorder. This is a noticeably clear and accurate portrayal of social anxiety disorder and learning disability that is easily relatable to teens and young adults. Fangirl can be found wherever books are sold, or online on Amazon.
How to Train Your Dragon directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Released in 2010, this animated children’s film (and its subsequent sequels) follows Hiccup, a Viking whose village is beset by Dragons. But when he cannot bring himself to kill a dragon – as his culture’s rite of passage – he instead forms an unlikely bond with the dragon. This is one of the few children’s films that shows amputees and the assistive technology they create to live their lives. Those with missing limbs are not shunned or exiled; instead, they are viewed as thriving members of the community. How to Train Your Dragon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
Published in 2011, this is a coming of age story centered around the budding romance between Ben Bancroft, a high school sophomore with Cerebral Palsy, and a high school “degenerate” Colleen Minou. Tackling the sensitive subject of disability and relationships, this is a story about how “social outcasts” can find solace in each other. Koertge’s depiction of disability is without flare or pity, acknowledging the mindset and fortitude a person needs to love those who are labeled “deviant.” Stoner and Spaz can be found wherever books are sold.
Such A Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment, and Disability Pride by Nadina LaSpina.
Published in 2019, this memoir does not simply portray a young girl coming to terms with her physical disability as she becomes a woman, but the book also reflects on the growth of the disability rights movement from the 1970s through the early 1990s when the Americans with Disabilities Act was eventually passed. LaSpina’s work captures the spirit of the movement as she grows to embrace her own body and becomes a leading activist for the disabled community. Such A Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment, and Disability Pride can be found wherever books are sold and is also available on Audible.
The Peanut Butter Falcon directed by Tyler Nelson and Michael Schwartz
Released in 2019, this film features Zak, a Down Syndrome man who escapes from a nursing home in order to go to a pro-wrestling camp taught by his idol. Along the way he meets Tyler, a small-time outlaw running from trouble. Zak and Tyler travel down a river in North Carolina creating a long-lasting bond of friendship that echoes the works of Mark Twain. The directors met actor Zach Gottsagen (Zak) at a camp for disabled actors where he convinced them to write this movie with him in mind. The Peanut Butter Falcon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The Upside directed by Neil Burger
A cast of impressive actors come together in this 2017 motion picture based on the true story of a wayward man who befriends a quadriplegic man when he becomes his caretaker. Starring Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, and Nicole Kidman, the story follows the relationship in which Hart’s character, Dell, develops with Cranston’s (Philip) who is a wealthy art collector in need of daily assistance. Dell serves as the eyes of the audience as he witnesses the experiences of a person with a spinal cord injury. Simultaneously, Philip finds self-acceptance in what is both a comedic and dramatic plot. The Upside is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
As we celebrate disability today and into the future, it is imperative that more roles are played by disabled actors and the diversity of the disabled community is increasingly portrayed both on film and in books. Let’s all celebrate Disability Pride and put these books and films on our summer read and stream lists!
Artwork by Jude Brzozowski @brzartski
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