Diversity or the lack of, in literature is a subject that is being discussed more openly than it ever has before. Social media enables people from all backgrounds to communicate with one another, to have a voice, to find a community in which their opinion is valued. There are websites dedicated to recommending books with diverse characters, or written by diverse authors. Authors and book bloggers will happily take the time to recommend books to people who are looking to expand what they read.
One part of promoting well-written diverse characters is reading a lot of books that claim to contain them. I’m on a bit of a mission to do this, specifically reading books that feature blind characters. A lot of the time I see publishers talk about how wonderful a new book is that features a disabled character, but when I pick the book up I find that the portrayal is woefully inaccurate. Part of this is to do with the lack of diversity within the publishing industry. It’s all very well saying we need to push for better representation of marginalised groups, but how can we do that when the industry itself hasn’t managed to diversify its workforce yet. It is getting better and I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am to all those who work hard to make it a better place.
One thing I hope I can do as an avid reader and book blogger is to offer an honest insight into whether the portrayal of a blind character is accurate. I will always give credit where it’s due, promoting books that I think do an excellent job of representing people with disabilities, and more specifically blind people. But my ability to do so is a relatively recent phenomenon.
As a child I owned very few books. I had one book in braille and a shelf of audio books. My parents were very good about getting me new books where this was possible, but unfortunately braille takes up a lot of space and audiobooks tend to be very expensive. A lot of the time I had to make use of library services where I could. The national library for the blind as it was then known was one of my favourite things. The children’s librarians in particular put in so much effort into helping me find new things to read. I would regularly call them and they would always be happy to talk to me and recommend new books that I might like. The books would then be mailed out to me, and once I had finished reading them we would return them. The problem with this service was that the titles were fairly limited. My older sister could walk into any shop and buy the latest book every kid wanted to read…I had to hope that it was in braille.
I was rarely able to read about blind characters because of this. It’s ironic that the marginalised community in question was actually excluded from reading books that did contain diverse characters. I couldn’t tell people that representation was bad, or that we needed more books with blind protagonists because I had such limited access to reading materials I didn’t even know it was an issue. If someone talked about a book with a blind character I could only hope that it was good.
Now I can visit Amazon and buy kindle books, I can download books on my phone, read them whenever I want. Availability of eBooks has revolutionised reading for blind people. I am able to be a book blogger because finally I have access to books at the same time as everyone else. I can’t tell you how amazing that feels. I’m so glad that blind kids who are growing up now won’t ever have to experience what I did. They can connect a braille display to their phone or pc, or read using a screen reader. They have access to kindle, and audio services like audible. There are literally millions of titles to choose from.
And finally I can raise my voice. I can praise your portrayal of blindness, or explain where it’s gone wrong. I have the opportunity to be a part of a world that by default excluded me for a long time. I can read whenever I want and even choose the format in which I do so. Its times like this when I sit and I can barely get my head around the fact that I have so much choice. I am a blind young adult who can finally read books that are written about people like me.