Image description: A five-squares-a-side book-related bingo card with 24 items to check off (the centre square is ‘Free’), titled “Book Bingo, Adult Summer Reading for 2018.”

** Please see edit below. **

Seattle Arts & Lectures, in concert with the Seattle Public Library, has once again put together a book-related bingo card. Here are the categories:

  • recommended by a librarian
  • fiction
  • finish a book you started and put down
  • mystery or thriller
  • written by an author from another country
  • award-winning author
  • about the environment
  • by an author of color
  • recommended by an independent bookseller
  • history
  • made you cry or laugh out loud
  • graphic novel
  • author (or character) has a disability*
  • takes place in the area where you were born
  • memoir or biography
  • your best friend’s favorite book
  • a SAL speaker (past or upcoming)
  • about travel or read while traveling
  • outside your bubble
  • local author
  • LGBTQIA author or character
  • poetry or essays
  • first in a series
  • suggested by a young person

Only one of these categories, “author (or character) has a disability,” has an asterisk denoting what appears to be a qualifying statement. The qualifying statement reads “Celebrating USA Special Olympics Games – Seattle 2018 (July 1-6).” Shelf Talk, a blog run by the Seattle Public Library, elaborates: “Something special is happening in Seattle July 1 through the 6th: The USA Special Olympic Games!1 […] In honor of that event Book Bingo this year features a square for an author or character that has a disability.”2

Think about that for a bit.

First of all, look at the wording: “author (or character) has a disability.” This is the people-first language I associate with the medical model of disability in which nondisabled people are Normal and disabled people are Other.3 Much better to use identity-first language: “disabled author (or character).”

Now imagine the queer and POC squares have asterisks excusing and explaining their presence: To celebrate the Lambda Literary Awards for Pride because, wow, that’s the only time straight people think about queer people, right? Or, In honour of Martin Luther King Day, because, hey, we can afford to give you one day a year. Remember we are 20% of your community; we don’t need an excuse to be included.

A guest post by Carrie Griffin Basas for the SAL blog arguably addresses some of this, though obliquely. She challenges readers to fill 20% of the squares with books by disabled writers or featuring disabled characters, and she offers some great examples.4

Let me see that 20% and raise it. Print out the card and fill in every single square with a book by a disabled writer and/or about disabled characters. (Here’s a list to get you started.) Then send the 100% #CripLit card in. Make clear to SPL/SAL that #CripLit deserves the same attention as other literatures.

Let me use So Lucky as an example: with this one short novel you could potentially tick off nearly half the categories. At an absolute minimum you can tick off 25%:

LUCKY bingo

Image description: Book bingo card with 11 squares checked off: recommended by a librarian, fiction, mystery or thriller, written by an author from another country, award-winning author, recommended by an independent bookseller, made you laugh or cry out loud, author (or character) has a disability*, outside your bubble, local author, LGBTQIA author or character.

But the point of this exercise isn’t selling So Lucky. It’s about helping SAL and SPL remember two things:

  • Don’t put together anything mentioning disabled people without consulting disabled people: Nothing about us without us.
  • Many of us don’t read books by disabled authors and/or about disabled characters because it will make us feel good for helping those poor Special people. We don’t just read them during special events or during holidays. We read #CripLit because we love it, and we love it because it’s kick-ass, brilliant writing about fascinating characters.

Or as Xena might say, Don’t apologise, Gabrielle. Just improve.


** ETAOn Friday, I wrote to SPL and asked for a comment. I explained that I was “unhappy about the way disability is treated in both the card and accompanying blog posts,” and why. I stated that I was sure they had not meant to offend, but that nonetheless the effect was an unhappy one and they might want to look at their language.

Jared Mills responded with a very clear and handsome apology and thanked me for my feedback. “The wording of the square used was based off of our style guides and consultation with the Communications department of the Special Olympics which indicate that people-first language is the preferred consensus, but it sounds like thought on this has been evolving lately. I have forwarded your insights to our ADA Coordinator librarian so that she can assess our style guide after engaging with some of our internal and community stakeholders to look into changing our usage. This sounds like something we should be looking at system-wide to ensure we are having the positive impact intended.” 

We also discussed the Special Olympics and the wisdom of relying on an organisatioin mostly (IMO) run by and for nondisabled interests. Since then we’ve discussed a conversation with City of Seattle’s ADA Manager regarding ‘people-first’ language and starting a conversation in the community to see what the general thoughts and feelings are.

So if you have opinions I’d love to hear them!

1 About those Special Olympics. A cursory scan of their website shows a Leadership Team predominantly composed of nondisabled marketing, branding, and corporate liaison folks. There is one disabled person (who doesn’t identify as disabled but, rather, as “a person who has an intellectual disability”) on the list: the Chief Inspiration Officer (I am not kidding). This does not fill me with confidence. See also others’ criticism of the Special Olympics.
2 The vicious-after-dealing-with-yet-another-microaggression-so-not-inclined-to-be-reasonable part of me mutters, “Poor sad crips don’t know they’re disabled. Let’s not tell them. Let’s just edge around the topic delicately: They have a disability, their disability doesn’t have them! They’re Special people who inspire us and make us want to help them out a bit and give them their very own book square! Not that they read, probably, poor things, but we can read about them and feel good. But only this once, mind; only because we’re throwing them a Special money-making inspirational porn party right here in town!” ETA: As I said to Jared, I know this implication wasn’t deliberate—and his email stance confirms this—but it’s startlingly easy to draw the inference. I decided to leave it in anyway, though relegated to the footnotes, just so readers can see just how effectively microaggression can knock a usually rational human being (that would be me…) off-centre. Also, yeah, I just needed to vent my spleen a little.
3 TL;DR: It’s the crip’s fault for being impaired, not society’s fault—not the cultural and built environment that can make life very difficult for crips. SPL informs me this wording was based on their own style guide and in consultation with the Communications department of the Special Olympics. But see edits in the main body of the post: that might change.
Basas, too, uses people-first language. Perhaps this, too, is a style guide issue, or perhaps it’s Basas’ preferred terminology. Whatever the explanation, let me be very clear: my quarrel here is not with her; this is an institutional not individual issue.