7 Authors Who Have Openly Spoken on Their Disabilities

How much do you know about disabilities? Here are some astounding books from authors who share their own story.

Author's Corner Diverse Voices Fiction Non-Fiction Recommendations

Approximately 1.3 billion people — or one in six people — worldwide have a disability. Yet they have more obstacles than able bodied people due to society’s refusal to accommodate different bodies. They have to fight for rights, constantly speak out against ableism, and educate others about disabilities to try and make progress in disability rights. In this article, we will dive into a handful of authors with their own stories to share. Read on to learn more.

Nicola Griffith

Griffith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993, though she’d had symptoms long before then. She started using a cane in 1999, then elbow crutches in 2004, and a manual wheelchair in 2016. She has written essays, op-eds, and more about disability, focusing on multiple sclerosis, and is a disability rights activist. She also writes about being disabled and other parts of her life on her website.

A black and whitephoto of Nicola Griffith smiling while standing in front of a microphone.

So Lucky, one of her novels, discusses being disabled in America. It follows Mara Tagarelli as her life suddenly starts falling apart. She loses her job, her wife leaves her, and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And on top of that, she has to defend herself from those who now seek to hurt her. The story may be fictional, but much of it is drawn from real life. So Lucky story is one to remember.

Elle McNicoll

Elle McNicoll smiling while sitting in a pink ruffled dress.

McNicoll was diagnosed with dyspraxia and autism as a child. She had never fit in with the other school kids who teased that something was “wrong” with her. She was always different from her classmates. While nobody was cruel, she internalized this idea that she was “botched” or “weird.”

But these feelings and experiences are also why she wrote about autistic characters. A Kind of Spark is one such book, following eleven-year-old Addie Darrow as she seeks to petition for a memorial after learning that her small Scottish village, Juniper, used to burn witches. Their stories were untold and their voices unheard, just as hers was. Through her writing, McNicoll seeks to show that autistic people are not a monolith.

Cece Bell

When Bell was four years old, she suffered from meningitis. This left her “severely to profoundly deaf.” She struggled to adapt to the sudden loss. It was traumatic for her, and she felt a lot of embarrassment when she had to adjust her hearing aid in school. She’s at a point where she can talk about it openly, as she does in some of her books.

Cece Bell smiling with a brightly colored bush in the background.

El Deafo is a graphic novel about a young student named Cece who feels alienated by her classmates because of her Phonic Ear. She soon realizes that with this device, she can hear things people can’t, and it’s like a superpower. But all she wants is a true friend. This graphic novel is somewhat based on Bell’s life — though she unfortunately didn’t have such a cool superpower — and her experiences as a deaf person.

Rebekah Taussig

Taussig received cancer treatment as a toddler, and this caused her to become paralyzed. She has been in a wheelchair since she was in first grade, and she said it taught her how capable she was and how others assumed she was helpless. She has written essays and run podcasts and workshops on disability representation, community, and identity.

Rebekah Taussig sitting in her wheelchair in front of a wall with painted strawberries.

Her first book, Sitting Pretty, where she talks about growing up paralyzed in the 90s and 2000s. Disabilities only fit in a few boxes, such as monstrous or inspiring, and she longed to see them as ordinary. She reflects on how kindness toward disabilities can be genuine but also patronizing and demeaning, ableism in media, intimacy, and more. She challenges the world to see and treat disabilities differently, to create a more accepting society.

Keah Brown

Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Growing up, her deepest desire was to be normal and escape from the constant self-hate that society forced into her. But as she grew and met others in her community, as she spent time reflecting, she reclaimed herself and altered her perspective.

Keah Brown smiling while sitting on a bench outdoors.

The Pretty One is a collection of essays where Brown gives a voice to the disabled community, who are so often silenced and pushed to the side. The book goes into her relationship with her able-bodied twin, who was often called “the pretty one,” romance, her love of pop culture, her immense disappointment with how media portrays disability, and her hashtag #DisabledAndCute as a declaration of self-love.

Judith Heumann

Heumann contracted polio when she was a toddler, and she started using a wheelchair. She couldn’t attend school at five years old because she was deemed a “fire hazard,” and that same district later denied her teaching license. She was often called “the mother” of disability rights because of her fierce advocacy. She died on March 4, 2023, but her legacy lives on.

Judith Heumann smiling while sitting in her wheelchair and holding up her books 'Being Heumann' and 'Rolling Warrior.'

In Being Heumann, she talks about her fight to have an education, get a job, and just live as a human. She talks about her struggles growing up, her leadership in the Section 504 Sit-In, and how she and 150 disabled activists and allies pressured the Carter administration to protect disabled people’s rights, which eventually led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This straightforward and personal memoir about activism and persistence invites us all to think of and create a world that includes everyone.

Haben Girma

Girma was born deafblind. Her parents inspired her to always fight for equality and a way forward, which is part of what inspired her to apply to Harvard Law School where she became the first blindeaf woman to graduate from there. She is now a successful disability rights lawyer, and she works to change society to include disabled people and proactively think of them in technology, the workplace, schools, etc. You can read more on her website.

Haben Girma holding her book 'Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law' and sitting with her seeing eye dog Mylo.

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law starts with Girma spending summers with her family in Eritrean, a city in Asmara. Her parents’ refugee story inspired her to travel to search for the secret to belonging. She had many journeys that taught her much, including non-visual techniques such as using an electric saw, and she created a text-to-braille communication system to help communicate with others. She burst through obstacles placed before her by an ableist society to graduate from Harvard and advocate for others with disabilities.

This is only a starting list for authors who speak about their disabilities, as well as books that include disabilities.

For an article on a book that challenges ableist narratives, click here.

Check out the Bookstr Team’s Recommendations shelf on Bookstr’s Bookshop page.