International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021

November 30, 2021 | Winona

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Every December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD). On this day, we work to increase awareness and understanding of disability issues and the importance of the dignity, rights, well-being, and integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.

IDPWD logo

International Day of Persons with Disabilities logo

For IDPWD this year, Toronto Public Library will be co-presenting an online program with the City of Toronto. We will be celebrating the stories, lived experiences, and inclusion of people with disabilities in the arts. Join us on Friday December 3rd from 9:30 to 11:30 A.M. for our International Day of Persons with Disabilities online program.

We have also created an IDPWD reading list: International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021. This is a collection of books for adult readers published in 2021 that centre and celebrate the lives and experiences of people with disabilities and people who are Deaf. It includes poetry, plays, novels, memoir, history, mystery, and humour. This post features 12 books from that list.

All of the books included in this post are also available from the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) for people with print disabilities. Learn more about CELA.

A note on language: Toronto Public Library uses people-first language ("people with disabilities") when writing about disability, however in this post I also use identity-first language ("disabled people"), depending on the authors' preference.

Being seen

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunnson.

A Deafblind writer and professor explores how the misrepresentation of disability in books, movies, and TV harms both the disabled community and everyone else. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.

For more books on Deafblind representation, check out our blog post Helen Keller and the Representation of Deafblind People.


Blind Mans Bluff

Blind Man's Bluff: A Memoir by James Hill Tate.

A writer's humorous and often heartbreaking tale of losing his sight and how he hid it from the world. At age sixteen, James Tate Hill was diagnosed with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, a condition that left him legally blind. For fifteen years, Hill hid his blindness from friends, colleagues, and lovers, even convincing himself that if he stared long enough, things would come into focus. At thirty, faced with a stalled writing career, a crumbling marriage, and a growing fear of leaving his apartment, he began to wonder if there was a better way.



Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson.

As Jenny Lawson's hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken (In the Best Possible Way), she explores her experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation with brutal honesty. But also with brutal humor: "People do different things to distract themselves during each treatment. I embroider. It feels fitting. I'm being magnetically stabbed in the head thousands of times as I'm stabbing the embroidery myself." A treat for Jenny Lawson's already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter.


The Centaurs Wife

The Centaur's Wife by Amanda Leduc.

Amanda Leduc's brilliant new novel, woven with fairy tales of her own devising and replete with both catastrophe and magic, is a vision of what happens when we ignore the natural world and the darker parts of our own natures. At times devastating, but ultimately redemptive, Leduc's fable for our uncertain times reminds us that the most important things in life aren't things at all, but rather the people we want by our side at the end of the world. Leduc is a disabled writer and disability rights advocate. 

Amanda Leduc will be featured as part of the International Persons with Disabilities online program on December 3rd.


Demystifying Disability

Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally by Emily Landau.

People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, an estimated 15 percent of the global population. But many of us—disabled and nondisabled alike—don’t know how to act, what to say, or how to be an ally to the disability community. Demystifying Disability is a friendly guide for how to be a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people, with actionable steps for what to say and do (and what not to do) and how you can help make the world a more inclusive place.


Forget Burial

Forget Burial: HIV Kinship, Disability, and Queer/Trans Narratives of Care by Marty Fink.

Queers and trans people in the 1980s and early '90s were dying of AIDS and the government failed to care. Lovers, strangers, artists, and community activists came together take care of each other in the face of state violence. In revisiting these histories alongside ongoing queer and trans movements, this book uncovers how early HIV care-giving narratives actually shape how we continue to understand our genders and our disabilities, and bridges early HIV care-giving activisms with contemporary disability movements. In refusing to bury the legacies of long-term survivors and of those we have lost, this book brings early HIV kinships together with ongoing movements for queer and trans body self-determination.


The Invention of Miracles

The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell's Quest to End Deafness by Katie Booth.

A revelatory revisionist biography of Alexander Graham Bell — renowned inventor of the telephone and hated enemy of the Deaf community. When Alexander Graham Bell first unveiled his telephone to the world, it was considered miraculous. But few people know that it was inspired by another supposed miracle: his work teaching the deaf to speak. The son of one deaf woman and husband to another, he was motivated by a desire to empower deaf people by integrating them into the hearing world, but he ended up becoming their most powerful enemy, waging a war against Sign Language and Deaf culture that still rages today. The Invention of Miracles tells the dual stories of Bell’s remarkable, world-changing invention and his dangerous ethnocide of Deaf culture and language. It also charts the rise of Deaf activism and tells the triumphant tale of a community reclaiming a once-forbidden language.


Nobodys Normal

Nobody's Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness by Roy Richard Grinker.

A compassionate and eye-opening examination of evolving attitudes toward mental illness throughout history and the fight to end the stigma. In Nobody's Normal, anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker argues that stigma is a social process that can be explained through cultural history, a process that began the moment we defined mental illness, that we learn from within our communities, and that we ultimately have the power to change. Nobody's Normal explains how we are transforming mental illness and offers a path to end the shadow of stigma.


The Plant Hunter

The Plant Hunter: A Scientist's Quest for Nature's Next Medicines by Cassandra Leah Quave.

A leading medical ethnobotanist tells us the story of her quest to develop new ways to fight illness and disease through the healing powers of plants in this uplifting and adventure-filled memoir. Traveling by canoe, ATV, mule, airboat, and on foot, Dr. Quave has conducted field research in the flooded forests of the Amazon, the murky swamps of Florida, the rolling hills of Italy, isolated mountaintops in Albania and Kosovo, and volcanic isles arising out of the Mediterranean - all in search of natural compounds, long-known to traditional healers, that could help save us all from the looming crisis of untreatable superbugs. And as a person born with multiple congenital defects of her skeletal system, she's done it all with just one leg. Filled with grit, tragedy, triumph, awe, and scientific discovery, her story illuminates how the path forward for medical discovery may be found in nature's oldest remedies.


The Silent Suspect

The Silent Suspect by Nell Pattison.

A fire. A murder. A silent suspect. On a quiet street, one house is burning to the ground. By the time sign language interpreter Paige Northwood arrives, flames have engulfed her client's home. Though Lukas is safe, his wife is still inside. But she was dead before the fire started. Lukas signs to Paige that he knows who killed his wife, but then he goes silent – even when the police charge him with murder. Is he guilty, or afraid? Only Paige can help him now… Third in a mystery series by Nell Pattison, a teacher in the Deaf community who lives with progressive hearing loss.

Nell Pattison's first book in this series was included in our blog post Sign Language and Deaf Culture in Books and Film.


There Plant Eyes

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin.

From Homer to Helen Keller, from Dune to Stevie Wonder, from the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight. Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten — illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it over the course of generations. She combines an analysis of blindness in art and culture (from King Lear to Star Wars) with a study of the science of blindness and key developments in accessibility (the white cane, embossed printing, digital technology) to paint a vivid personal and cultural history.


What Doesnt Kill You

What Doesn't Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness - Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller.

Tessa Miller was an ambitious twentysomething writer in New York City when, on a random fall day, her stomach began to seize up. At first, she toughed it out through searing pain, taking sick days from work, unable to leave the bathroom or her bed. But when it became undeniable that something was seriously wrong, Miller gave in to family pressure and went to the hospital - beginning a years-long nightmare of procedures, misdiagnoses, and life-threatening infections. Once she was finally correctly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Miller faced another battle: accepting that she will never get better. Miller segues seamlessly from her dramatic personal experiences into a frank look at the cultural realities (medical, occupational, social) inherent in receiving a lifetime diagnosis. She offers hard-earned wisdom, solidarity, and an ultimately surprising promise of joy for those trying to make sense of it all.


Related Reading Lists

Disability: Read Up On It! Books for kids with positive disability representation.

Diverse Abilities. Books for teens that explore a broad spectrum of Deaf and disability experiences.


Accessibility at Toronto Public Library

Find more resources and information about accessibility at Toronto Public Library at