In the air again! Photography in Toronto

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Last summer, I traveled to Tanzania to take photographs. In February, I followed my camera to Toronto. This was my first visit to Canada. It was a wonderful experience dotted with several visits to Tim Hortons.

When I traveled to Tanzania, I took photographs for stories that had not been written. There was no way the authors I work with could know what stories I would find. This time, I had stories that were already written, so I had specific photos that I needed to take. One of the authors I work with had spent two weeks last July at the Toronto Summer Institute. This international annual event focuses on the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. While she was at the institute she discovered two wonderful stories.


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A Different Lens: Part 2

Contributed by Mary Birdsell, Photographer

Last month I wrote an article for this site, discussing my experience photographing children with special needs and my upcoming trip to photograph children in Tanzania. International travel, two words that appear exciting, exotic, and luxurious, are in reality about spending hours wedged between strangers. It is neither exciting, exotic, nor even the slightest bit luxurious. After landing in a different hemisphere, the excitement starts to build again. I’m not sure what I expected to see in Tanzania, but I was surprised to see fields of corn. As a Midwesterner, I’m well versed in fields of corn and found it very welcoming. What made it exotic was seeing palm trees growing next to the corn. Fields, mountains, plains, rainforests, and beaches met to make picture perfect views.


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Book Spotlight: This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability, Not Disability by Aaron Philip with Tonya Bolden

Contributed by Donna Bray, Vice President, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins Publishers

“How many people with disabilities work here?”

This was one of the first questions young author Aaron Philip asked our staff when he and his family arrived at the HarperCollins offices to meet us. We all looked around uncomfortably, because the answer is that we work with few to no disabled employees. Aaron went on to speak passionately about the invisibility he and other people with cerebral palsy – and many wheelchair users – often feel when they rarely see themselves represented in the workplace, in television and films, in books, in the news. Aaron is ambitious – he wants a life and a career in the world. But where are his models? This discussion inspired and has stayed with me, and has made me especially glad to be able to contribute to bringing visibility to disability with the publication of This Kid Can Fly.


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A Different Lens: Finding Diversity through Photography

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Cameras are magic. By capturing a moment in time, cameras give us the ability to explore actions and emotions in a way that we cannot in another medium. Each time I look through a lens, my perception of the world is altered. I can see and photograph something large, magnificent, like a sunset or something smaller, poignant, like a smile. Perception is a funny thing, it can change big things to become more accessible and alter smaller things to become more meaningful. In the instant a photograph is taken, a person is at their most vulnerable because a camera will show only the truth. Every emotion, from frustration to triumph, sadness to joy, is seen through the lenses of my camera.

Children in particular express each emotion clearly. I’ve photographed everything from weddings to landscapes, but working with children and their families has been the most rewarding. Through previous work, I was asked to photograph children that have special needs for a Finding My Way Books series, true stories that highlight inclusion and self-determination. I am fortunate to use my art to support diversity and literacy.


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Intersectionality and Disability | Disability in Kidlit

Disability in Kidlit has been going strong for a year (big congrats!) and to celebrate they are embracing the discussion post format once again. Check out this question that they posed to some of their contributors and their thoughtful answers:


Why is it that diversity in young adult, middle grade, and children’s literature is often represented as an either/or, without intersectionality? Characters can either be autistic or gay, for example, or a wheelchair user or Black, but rarely both. Why do you think we see so few characters who are marginalized in more than one way?

Snippets of their responses:

Marieke Nijkamp: And if you feel characters have to have a reason to be multi-dimensional, multi-diverse? I’d love to see an equally legitimate reason for characters to be white AND straight AND able-bodied AND middle class AND AND AND.

S. Jae-Jones: In my opinion, it all comes back to this mainstream idea of a “default”. The “default” is relatable. Stray too far from it, and it won’t sell.

Corinne Duyvis: It’s such a multi-faceted problem: first there’s the fact that most people don’t even see the need for these characters–as though people like me aren’t just as real and valid as the cishet-white-abled people who are often written about, and as though we don’t need representation just as much or more. 

s.e. smith: The fact is that many people have intersectional identities. Minority teens rarely get to see themselves in text at all, and those who experience multiple oppressions find it even harder to locate books that tell their stories.

Natalie Monroe: I personally think it’s because writers believe once a diverse element is added (ex: queer, ethnicity…), it’s done. Their book is now ‘diverse’ and ‘realistic’. But real life isn’t just one ball in a column, it’s a whole jumble of multicolored spheres across rows of columns.

Diversity 101: The Disabled Saint

A Caricature, Not a Compliment

Contributed to CBC Diversity by Kayla Whaley

It’s difficult to find any representations of disabled characters in any form of media. In GLAAD’s annual look at minority representation on scripted network shows, there were only eight characters with disabilities in the 2013-2014 season. That means of all the characters on network shows in primetime, a whopping 1% had a disability.

That figure measures only a very small segment of the media, but it is indicative of a larger problem: the woeful lack of representation of people with disabilities across the board. I would argue that this dearth of disabled characters makes it even more important that the ones we do get are respectful and thoughtful portrayals.

I would also argue that those characters that aren’t—those that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, clichés, and tropes—are even more dangerous than they otherwise would be given that lack.

Personal Connection

I was born with a degenerative neuromuscular disease, and have used a power wheelchair since I was two. I can distinctly remember the first time I saw a character that used a wheelchair. I was ten. I just want to emphasize that I didn’t see a single character like me for the first decade of my life. It didn’t even occur to me to ask for a wheelchair-using character.

But then there one was. Here was a movie where someone like me would not only be a character, but the main character. I was ecstatic. Until I actually watched it, and then I couldn’t figure out why I felt so utterly disappointed, almost betrayed. I didn’t understand that feeling then, but I understand it now.

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