This year is the 20th anniversary of International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), a United Nations sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being. The day seeks to increase awareness of the benefits of the integration of people with disability in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. This morning on the radio I listened to a fascinating interview with Kurt Fearnley, an Australian athlete who has achieved amazing success despite being born without the lower part of his spine. His speed in a wheelchair led me to think of picture books which depict children in wheelchairs who are experiencing success at what they choose to do. Three that came to mind are:
• Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman. This is the story about a boy, Ben and his grandfather who witness the birth of a baby seal. The boy loves surfing and feels very comfortable in the water swimming with the seals. One day when he gets into trouble in a rough surf, the baby seal comes to his assistance. The text in the story does not tell you about the boy's disability. You know only from observing a wheelchair in the illustrations.
• Arabella by Wendy Orr and Kim Gamble. This too is a story about a boy and his grandfather. Matthew is staying with his grandfather who is a keen sailor. Matthew wants to prove to himself that he can sail by himself but unfortunately chooses a time when a storm is brewing. Once again the illustrations hold the key to learning about Matthew's disability.
• Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. In this story the reader observes Susan taking part in a variety of activities. She appears to be having fun swimming, riding a horse, playing at the park and then right at the end the reader sees her wheelchair.
These three stories are easy to share with a class or group of children. They focus attention on the similarities between these children and all children and they provide readers with a lot to discuss.