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BETTER IMPACT BOOK BITES - Demystifying Disability

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This Month’s Selection: Demystifying Disability

By Emily Ladau

The eighth in a series of Better Impact Book Bites
A taste of great books worth consuming.


Book Background Information:

Emily Ladau is a speaker and writer who started advocating for disability rights at the young age of 10 years old, when she appeared on a few episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about living with a physical disability. She wrote this book to create a “safe space to learn and find answers to certain questions you might have but aren’t sure how to ask.” It is 167 pages with the last several pages full of resources to enhance your journey as you learn more about the world of disability.

Why This Book:

I chose this book because of a lesson learned the hard way. I discovered an unconscious bias that I had when I turned away a young woman who was blind who wanted to volunteer at my former organization. That was one of the most life changing experiences I ever had. You can read the full story in my blog post “Do Not Underestimate People With Disabilities…Like I Did.” Ever since that realization, I have been intentional regarding learning about how to interact with people with disabilities.

When I saw this book appear on my LinkedIn feed, I just had to have it. The title put me at ease right away because it took away that “woo woo” feeling that would sneakily rise in my chest and start my heart racing whenever the topic would come up. No one in my immediate family had a physical disability so interacting with someone who had one made me uncomfortable; not because I thought that they were less than in any way, but because I didn’t want to offend and I wasn’t sure if what I said, how I said it, etc., would be the wrong thing. So, I would just shy away.

A conference that I attended in conjunction with reading this book changed everything. Emily did indeed demystify disability, debunk some myths and open a whole new world to me.

So, in honor of National Disability Independence Day on July 26th , and celebrating the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I thought it would be fitting that this month’s Book Bite highlight this book.

You Should Read This Book:

  • If you have never worked or interacted with someone who has a disability
  • If you are thinking of making an intentional effort to include people with disabilities in your program
  • If you want to know what to say to someone who is disabled
  • If you want to be an ally or an accomplice
  • If you were ever afraid to ask questions but not sure who to ask about disability
  • If you want to learn a little bit more about the history of disability in America
  • If you are creating an inclusive volunteer environment
  • To have as a resource to refer to time and time again

Who Should You Gift This Book To:

  • Yourself
  • Volunteer engagement managers
  • Your HR team leaders
  • Your team leaders, paid and unpaid alike
  • Your boss

Important Takeaways:

This book does a brilliant job addressing just about any question you could ever have about disability in easy and manageable terms. Emily is transparent and vulnerable and really tells her story in a moving way. Let’s take a look at a few bites of knowledge she shares with us.

Introduction: Why Do We Need to Demystify Disability?

She dives right in and talks about the fact that “all of us – nondisabled and disabled people alike – have more to learn about how to make the world a better, more accessible, more inclusive place.”

Chapter 1: So, What is Disability Anyway?

She explains what disability is and, importantly, not to be afraid to use the word disability. She defines People First language and provides a chart with phrases to use and not use when speaking to someone with a disability.

Chapter 2: Understanding Disability as Part of a Whole Person

She explains different types of disabilities and reminds us that not all disabilities are visual and/or obvious to the naked eye. I spoke with Sarah Phillipe on a recent podcast episode entitled Welcoming Neurodivergent Volunteers. I encourage you to take a listen, especially as she reveals a hidden disability that she has.

Chapter 3: An (Incomplete) Overview of Disability History

She recounts the history of disability in America, how the Special Olympics originated and the significance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Chapter 4: Ableism and Accessibility

She defines both and sheds light in such a way that you think about how you design your program a bit differently.

Chapter 5: Disability Etiquette 101

By far one of my favorite chapters in the book. Literally an instruction guide of what to do and not do when interacting with someone with a disability. Listen to her advice: “Just talk to us like you would anyone else,” she explains. “You might have to wait to hear our response, but it is not that different than talking to someone who is verbal! People communicate in a variety of ways, so be open-minded to new ways of communicating and connecting with someone.” This resonated with me because it made me realize just how much we don’t really typically listen to each other, disability or not. Interacting with people with disabilities could possibly quite frankly just make you a better listener overall.

Chapter 6: Disability in the Media

She points out how the media plays a major role in shaping a lot of the attitudes that many people have today towards the disability community. I liked this chapter as it allowed me to see another point of view. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything in the chapter, but she had some really solid points. That is the beauty of hearing other points of view; to gain an understanding of why someone sees something differently than you. You may very well even change your mind!

Conclusion: Calling All Allies and Accomplices

She defines the difference between the two and how you can ensure that “disabled people are respectfully given the platforms, opportunities and space to make our messages known.”

The Last Chew

Although this book is revelatory and inspiring, it isn’t for the faint of heart; or better yet, maybe it is. It challenged me to my core, made me question what I believe and why I believe it; as any great book should. Read this book with an open heart and open mind. Regardless, after reading this book, your outlook regarding people with disabilities will never be the same again.

Other Related Links

Click here to purchase Demystifying Disability - Emily Ladau

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