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Blindness & Vision Disabilities
This is only like 1/3 done. Will come back and add to it later. – Ashia (2/1/20)
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- All books should be blind-inclusive, but particularly ones that profit off Blind characters! Look for: tactile sensory elements and/or great text that kids can enjoy without illustrations. It’s always seemed weird to me that authors will make books ABOUT Blind people without centering their experience.
- In the Deaf community, there is a term – ‘deaf gain‘ as an anti-ableist alternative to ‘hearing loss.’ I’ve been keeping an eye out to see if there is a similar thing in the Blind community, but haven’t found anything yet.
- Not all Blind folks use white canes and ‘look’ Blind. Many use instagram and phone screens, etc. Most people are not full-Blind, but partially (the same way you can be culturally Deaf, but still use limited hearing). So that makes representing Blind folks in illustrations tricky – many don’t look like stereotypes. For these books, I’m only including characters who are explicity Blind or have vision disabilities or present with recongizable signifiers, such as white canes.
- January 2020: Now that I’m doing research into stories featuring older adults, I’m finding more issues regarding ableism on visual disabilities intersecting with ageism. So that’s a thing we should explore more going forward.
- I want a book about Barbara Beskind, Blind product designer. That would be so cool.
- Some libraries host a multisensory story time. I really want to boost those when we get the Radical Cartographer project up and running.
- From BFL member Maribelle Holland:
“My mom is a blind preschool teacher to sighted kids in Boston. She was a sighted individual for most of her life but has been blind for about 8 years. She has tons of children’s Braille books that she reads to her children. I’ll ask her for suggestions. Also, locally The Carroll Center for the Blind may be a good resource for discovering how to acquire good Braille for sighted children’s books. They host school age children for a camp-like experience every year. So according to my mom, if you are looking for braille learning books availability is limited. You are better off buying a slate (the non electronic device used to write in braille) and picking up braille writing lessons. Locally, they are available at the Carroll Center and you do not need to be blind to learn. Braille learning books exist in form of touch and feel board books intended for young learners, and often cases they are more like trace and feel versus actually having useful braille. But, if you are looking to add a combination of braille/print books to your rotation of books there are extensive libraries that offer book lending and/or free books that are print/braille and many are popular titles. Perkins School for Blind runs a website: wonderbaby.org where she borrows books from the most. Additionally, The Braille Institute has a quarterly book sharing program called Dots to Tots that sends your family 4-6 books quarterly that are print/braille. They also offer lending services with no limitation of books you can borrow per quarter for free. She likes The Braille Institute because they also have the ability to adapt books in-house to braille format, and all their books are multi-sensory for all abilities. The National Braille Press is another website she browses for books on. Most of their books are also popular titles made available in print/braille. She has also purchased books from The Braille Bookstore which offers many formats and doesn’t only focus on visually disabled readers but varying abilities readers. Lastly, she mentioned the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults has awesome braille/print magazines that her preschoolers enjoy. They provide Highlights!, National Geographic Kids, etc. She thinks you have to either have blind children or be blind yourself to benefit from the Action Fund though. Most others anyone can utilize the resources to acquire braille and multi-sensory books.”
Quick & Messy Book List:
- Jacob’s Eye Patch (Kobliner Shaw)- this is the single best book I’ve found to teach kids about microaggressions, author is #OwnVoices with amblyopia. i particularly love that this shows kids how annoying micro-aggressions with the same question over and over can get annoying (and even cause people to miss out), but those same questions are fine in the right situation, suggesting that aggressors read the fucking room first. The LE totally felt the annoyance of this. Eyepatch users, ages 4.5+
- Seeing Stick (Yolen) – good for showing how listening to and learning from #ActuallyDisabled adults can help disabled kids. The illustrations are GORGEOUS and the pages include coated textures, which isn’t super inclusive for blind readers, but it’s a nice touch, given that most books featuring Blind characters don’t bother to include textile sensory experiences.
- Melanie (Carrick)- Melanie’s father assumes she’s incompetent but she kicks ass and saves the day.
- My Travelin’ Eye (Jenny Sue) #OwnVoices amblyopia, great for introducing social model of disability – the author doesn’t MIND her lazy eye, and is actually quite fond of it. I kind of wish the author had been allowed to keep it – imagine the ways she could have used her perception to inspire her art!
- I Am Helen Keller (Meltzer) – The author’s other books are spotty on quality and often problematic, but we do love this one. The braille has an error (the ‘H’ I think) which speaks to the importance of getting #ActuallyDisabled editors & readers before publishing. Despite that, it’s one of the few books that focuses on Helen’s abilities, not her teacher as a savior. Caveat in that Keller is already well known and was a eugenicist against folks born with disabilities.
- Yuko Chan and the Daruma Doll – #OwnVoices Japanese author – but not for disability. This author has a run of spectacular books and his disabled characters have agency. I don’t think I could love this book more. Yuko kicks ass, she’s tough, tenacious, innovative, and clever. Also the book is bilingual.
Validating Books for kids who wear glasses
- Ava’s spectacular spectacles – Rex – fairytale characters do better with glasses and avoid tragedy. Very cute, short book reassuring kids who are hesitant to wear glasses that they are more powerful and wwll have an easier time with them on, but in a cute and fun way. more of glasses as a tool than an obligation. Validating only – not for us since our kids don’t wear glasses.
- Douglas, you need glasses – ged adamson – cute and funny, not really necessary for kids to read unless they are about to get glasses. douglas is a dog, sees things blurry. both 3.5 & 5.5 laughed for a read or two.
Recommended with Caveats
- Cakes and Miracles (Goldin) – disclosure: I got a free copy of this from PJ library. The boy’s mother presumes he’s incompetent and it turns out his blindness is what allows him to innovate and create something even better. The caveat is because they harp on blindness being something bad, and while the story suggests otherwise, they never really spell it out that he’s just fine the way he is.
- Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: (Mosca) – I like this for Black history month and women’s STEAM history, and Bath did great things, but it does center a seeing person so it probably wouldn’t work if we’re going for Blindness & Vision disabilities.
- My Three Best Friends And Me, Zulay – they sent this to press to early. The overall message is great, I love that they center a Blind character, but the story is kind of boring and somehow goes all over the place. Cute illustrations though.
- Helen’s Big World (Rappaport) – the interior illustrations are way more gorgeous than the cover, which is a bit bland. equal in awesomeness to Meltzer’s bio, but it lacks the silly gags that pull kids in like the ordinary people change the world version.
- Six Dots: Fine bio, but more of a library book than a keep forever story. It’s such a shame that the primary version does NOT come with braille – it’s just flat paper designed for sighted people ::headslap::
- Ming goes to school (sullivan) normalizes girls of color, asian girls – and she presents as multiracial/ transracially adopted, as her white dad brings her to school. the scenes are nice and simple and cute, good for preparing kids for preschool. could be average preschool or waldorf – visuals feel very waldorfy. very cute and sweet. would read for preschooler getting ready for first day of school, but too simple for k+. looking through the pictures, there’s an emphasis on ming’s hands touching things. this could be a sensory waldorf issue – or she could be blind. nothing in this book contradicts the idea that Ming might be blind and whenever she is playing and reading, her eyes are closed, her face is down, and her hands are doing the work. Caveat: there is a scene where she’s a pirate walking the plank with an eye patch. Although it’s not a villain position, we need to cut out that eye patch/pirate nonsense.
- The Last Place You Look – This is a great book for normalizing Blind characters, because the blind character speaks and engages in the story just like the non-Blind characters, the dog is included and it’s just normal, and there are some neat braille bracelets. (disclosure, Flamingo Rampant send me a free digital verson to review). The caveat is there is a touch of ageism in the story, which I go into detail on over here in our youth savior post.
- The pirate of kindergarten – lyon – both me and Q (5.5) enjoyed this. she sees things in double, and we see how that makes it hard to read, use scissors, and navigate around clutter. we see basic microaggressions, like kids laughing at her, and her teacher telling her to back away from the page, stop squinting. nurse (a man!) comes to school and tests her vision, discovers that she has double vision. when he tells her most kids only see on of each thing, she cries (in a validating way, not a way that implies she should be ashamed – this was handled nicely). Black optometrist, glasses, eye patch. there is zero reservation, worry, or shame, she’s excited to be a kindergarten pirate and immegiately things of all the things she’ll be able to do now that she’s got focused vision. this was really cute. Only caveat is the tired pirate = eyepatch thing.
- DK Braille board books (series) – I like the idea of this, incorporating touch & feel. But the braille isn’t ‘real’ braille with raised plastic dots – just slightly raised bumps pressed into the paper. It won’t work for teaching kids to read braille, as the dots aren’t defined enough and won’t withstand pressure over time. LFBC sent me a new copy from Amazon to review and it already had the black ink from the dots rubbed off and the dots have already been compressed simply from the pages being closed. That said, I don’t think anyone who is serious about learning braille would rely on just this book anyway, it’s more of an introduction to the concept for sighted families.
- Specific for the ‘counting’ book – there isn’t a legend for kids who are already familiar with visible letters, but it’s hard to complain that this isn’t accessible for visual readers, both because every other book on the planet already caters to us, and also because the under-3 crowd is already wiggly in letter recognition and reading anyway. the back cover uses the text “for readers with sight loss” which is both untrue and ableist. This book is clearly made for sighted readers, not Blind kids, given the quality of braille, and other hints – such as the fact that text for visual reading isn’t raised. The use of ‘loss’ suggests that the authors chose to center sighted readers as the norm, and Blind and kids with low vision as somehow lacking.
The Funny Alphabet – This will be basically impossible to get a copy of from local libraries, but if you have the time and tenacity to make your own, this is amazing. If you are Blind, it *might* still be possible to request a free copy from the Xavier society. It’s a tactile book, intended for Blind readers, and it introduces kids to the concept of braille.
- Just enough to know better – a braille primer (Curran)- Written by sighted parents for sighted parents of blind children. From the book: “Joe and I concentrated our efforts on her abilities and on trying to understand what would be the same and what would be different for her.” – Not trying to change their daughter, focusing on abilities. SO MUCH LOVE! This is for older kids starting to rad. A great primer for early elementary. This book is where I found out about ‘A Funny Alphabet’ and the NBP bookstore, which makes popular kids books available in braille at the same cost as non-braille books (at a financial loss, they take donations to cover the cost)
Problematic Tropes to watch out for
Using Blind characters (or language) as an allegory for ignorance
Using ‘blind’ as a slur, as denigrating language equivalent to ‘ignorant,’ or to code a character as incompetant.
- Silly Tilly’s Thanksgiving Dinner – I unpack this at length in the ageism post about presuming incompetence in older adults.
Silencing Blind characters
Centering dog narrators and sighted peers over Blind humans. One book – okay, I get that authors are trying to be smart. But there are WAY MORE books narrated by DOGS than narrated by actually Blind protagonists.
PLOT TWIST! Surprise disability as a shocker
OMG it turns out this person who we thought was normal was blind the whole time! Uggghghh. Also see: Silencing Blind characters (many books lead the reader to believe the person is narrating when SURPRISE – it’s the dog, and it turns out th human is blind! Which somehow makes them incapable of narrating a book?)
Dehumanizing Disabled folks
Stories that use Blind folks as learning props to further the abled protagonist. Blind protagonists aren’t allowed to exist unless their disability is symbollic of something else, or to further a sighted-protagonists journey, which is totally barfy. Also see: wise blind sage trope, tokenism.
Magic Cure = Happily Ever After
When blind people become sighted as a happily ever after. Exception for ‘My Travelin’ Eye’ since that ends on a note of acceptance, rather than happily ever after
- Saltypie – tingle – Grandmother is a victim of racist violence (rock thrown in her face), alluding to pain of colonialism. how they have to just accept it and live with it, say ‘saltypie’ and keep going (for the taste of blood). The book goes all over the place. End notes allude to the Indigenous curtain from Deb Reese, common secret of discussing how much they should tell outsiders before they trigger fragility and whitelash. Okay, cool – but his grandmother is Blind, then has an eye transplant (?!) and can suddenly see, and suddenly things are not saltypie anymore. The fuck? That ruins the whole book and basically, whatever the moral of the story is – the author tells us to fuggedaboutit now that she’s cured! Keywords: #OwnVoices Chocktaw makers, racism, violence, hate crimes, generational trauma, family narratives, resilience, tenacity, indigenous curtain
- Walking through a world of aromas – to wordy (as in, the writer actively loves to hear herself speak – level of wordy, even reading it to myself as a grownup.) The girl is rescued by a boy (barf) and keeps her eyes closed the entire book except the end when she realizes they are in love (MORE BARF). Not really about the benefits of being blind and navigating by sense of smell so much as the author is just using blindness as a plot device. Also the illustrations are nightmare fodder, the creepiest so far by this illustrator.
- The Blind boy & the loon – baril – author’s intro on this on how they tried to stay true to original folktake, and what that means for an indigenous story is interesting, but the actual story is hot garbage. Picture book format is confusing – it’s not written for kids (and we’re partially immune to the horror-story darkness of First Nations stories). Single mom hates her son, and blinds him. he gets revenge on her by gaining his eyesight back (with the help of a loon), then tricks her into drowning. holy shit. this is awful. the mom turns into a narwhal and now the narwhal is a reminder that revenge solves nothing. problematic on a disability level – his blindness is cured, ‘blinded by revenge’ lingo, and we understand he’s pathetic and helpless now that he’s blind. Originally started as a film short (decent), then made into a book with less text and the story does not hold up in the leap between mediums. Keywords: indigenous, revenge, indigenous (tribe unspecified?) makers (also a woman), problematic trope against single mothers, macabre, violence, nightmare fodder
Inactive, silent folks with dark shades and white canes in the background with no agency, there to provide the illusion of inclusion. (exception: Reflection Press books, since no one speaks at all and there is no singular protagonist.)
Wise Blind Sage Trope
They can’t see, but they are so smart! WHAAAAT?! The only folks who think this is a witty literary device are those who consider disability and blindness incongruent with intelligence and value.
- French Toast – I hate this book for about 30 reasons, and the wise blind sage trope is one of them. This is one of the worst books on the planet.
Basic Bro Stigmatizing Language
Using ‘Blind’ to mean ‘ignorant’
Passive-Aggressive Tolerating Language
Saying shit like “It’s okay to be blind!” is gross and implies being sighted is ideal. Blind folks don’t need your permission to be.
Evil Crip Trope
Villains with unexplained eye patches, creepy Blind villains with cloudy eyes, you get the idea. Examples:
- Bad guys – barnaby – kid imagines himself a villain, but wears an eye patch as a costume which he doesn’t even need. otherwise the book is kind of cute. single mother background story could have been better – seems to imply that mom is a bank robber, but the visuals aren’t clear enough. AAPI illustrator, kids present as multiracial White/Asian