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New exhibit showcases the power of literacy

“In The Picture, Revisited” analyzes the portrayal of ableism in children’s books

Sam Dunaway | News Editor

Positioned on the third floor of Hamersly library is a new and powerful exhibit titled “In The Picture, Revisited.” This gallery, created by Dr. Hank Bersani and Dr. Chloe Hughes, and updated by Hughes, analyzes the representation of ableism in children’s literature.

Ableism is a form of discrimination which favors able-bodied individuals. The exhibit investigates how characters with disabilities are portrayed in Caldecott-Medal-winning children’s books.

According to the exhibit, the examples of ableism showcased in illustration books may have a deep impact on the way children view disability in society. Characters that have a disability are often treated as weak and inferior, or they are physically separated from those without disabilities.

In the book “Rapunzel,” by Paul O. Zelinsky, the once handsome prince loses his eyesight and is considered “wretched” from then on. Language such as “dumb-struck,” “deaf as a post” and “blind as a bat” are used in children’s literature; and the illustration book “So You Want To Be President” ignores Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s paralysis entirely.

The exhibit asks important questions when defining ableism in these books; does the book ignore people with disabilities? Are characters with disabilities portrayed as three-dimensional people? Does the book promote positive self-image for people with disabilities?

Hughes is quoted in this exhibit, stating, “Literacy is agency in our society. Literacy has the power to transform who we are, what we believe and how we cope with our ever-changing world. We all need to find texts with which we can identify, and we all need to find our voice through written expression. Without authentic literacy experiences, people with disabilities will continue to be unheard, marginalized, and treated inequitably. We cannot afford to perpetuate such discrimination.”

Visit “In The Picture, Revisited” to learn tools for further investigating disability and ableism.

 

Contact the author at journalnews@wou.edu