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'Inclusive classrooms need inclusive literature': a qualitative content analysis of primary age children's literature about disability

Angharad Beckett, University of Leeds
Co-author(s): Nick Ellison, Sam Barrett, Sonali Shah (all University of Leeds)


Inclusive classrooms need inclusive literature - fiction or non-fiction material that is either about disability, includes characters who are disabled or makes reference to disability in some other positive way. This is the core tenet of this paper. It has been claimed by a number of authors that providing children with inclusive reading material (known as inclusion literature) is important because it reflects the increasing social diversity of their classrooms, promotes positive attitudes towards peers of all 'abilities' and, in the case of children who have impairments, supports their development of a positive self-image/identity. Equally importantly however, a number of authors also emphasise the usefulness of inclusion literature as part of a strategy to increase disability awareness more generally. Such strategies are concerned, above all, with providing children with accurate information about the lives of disabled people and promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people who are members of wider society not just of 'our classrooms'.

Despite this support for the use of inclusion literature very few studies have been undertaken of this material from a Social Model of Disability perspective and of those studies that have been undertaken most have been only partial, for example examining only fiction texts or focusing predominantly upon US children's literature, and most substantial studies predate 1990 and so do not consider more recent texts. Following a brief overview of existing research relating to inclusion literature, its nature and degree of usefulness, this paper outlines the findings of qualitative content analysis of over 100 books for the primary school age group (fiction and non-fiction, published post-1990) that claim to be about disability or to have a disability related theme/dimension and which might therefore be considered to be examples of inclusion literature. This content analysis was undertaken from a Social Model of Disability perspective and the findings reveal that although excellent examples of inclusion literature do exist, there is also a significant number of texts that are, to a greater or lesser extent, flawed. To simplify the analysis somewhat, such flaws range from a failure to address the issue of the disabling society, to arguably reinforcing disablist attitudes/barriers.

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