More than a wheelchair in the background: a study of portrayals of disabilities in children's picture books

Publication Year:
2016
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Repository URL:
https://scholar.utc.edu/honors-theses/49
Author(s):
Crawford, Sarah Caroline
Publisher(s):
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Tags:
People with disabilities in literature; People with disabilites -- Pictorial works; Picture books for children; People with disabilities in literature; People with disabilites -- Pictorial works; Picture books for children
thesis / dissertation description
A review of scholarly research conducted between 2004 and 2014 revealed that portrayals of disabilities in works of children’s literature were historically poor, containing stereotypical and negative characterizations. While noting some improvements, researchers still decry a lack of balance in roles of power between characters with disabilities and those without, a lack of depth in storylines and levels of character development, and disproportionate representations of disability categories, male and female characters, and cultural minorities in comparison to the true population (Altieri, 2006; Dowker, 2004; Dyches & Prater, 2005; Dyches, Prater, & Leininger, 2009; Golos & Moses, 2011; Golos, Moses, & Wolbers, 2012; Hughes, 2012; Kendrick, 2004; Koc, Koc, & Ozdemir, 2010; Konrad, Helf, & Itoi, 2007; Kunze, 2013; Leininger, Dyches, Prater, & Heath, 2010; Matthew & Clow, 2007; McGovern, 2014; Myers & Bersani, 2008; Prater, Dyches, & Johnstun, 2006; Wopperer, 2011; Worotynec, 2004). I evaluated the quality of disability portrayals in fifty-five children’s picture books originally published between 2010 and 2015. I revised a rubric by Menchetti, Plattos, and Carroll (2011) to use for my analysis. I noted continued disproportions between disability categories portrayed in books compared to those in the U.S. school population, recording particularly distinct discrepancies in the numbers of orthopedic impairments and specific learning disabilities. My findings confirm the notion developed among past researchers that the highest-quality portrayals are produced by authors and illustrators whose life experiences have given them informed perspectives from which to depict disability. I also discovered that award-winning texts including characters with disabilities do not always score highly on all measures of evaluation. I noted the ongoing tendency for stories to revolve around the disability, taking on a didactic quality. Conversely, my findings indicate a greater prevalence in the number of characters with disabilities playing prominent story roles, as well as a perceived increase in the number of characters representing cultural diversity. An annotated bibliography at the conclusion of this piece lists eleven books with high-quality portrayals according to their rubric evaluations, as well as a few texts that fell below the selected criteria but still deserve recognition for their successes in depicting characters with disabilities.