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Since this is a press dedicated to focusing on inclusion of various abilities, it is important to look at books already out in the market. For this review, I examine eight books with a character in a wheelchair. Some of this feedback is based on my own personal experience as someone in a wheelchair, and the other is focused on the story and publishing aspects of these books.

A Very Special Critter (Look-Look) by Mercer Mayer (1993) 4/5 stars.

A Very Special Critter book coverAside from the title really bothering me and not having anything to do with the story, I liked it. But in the beginning, dad gives advice, which wasn’t the best solution. It would have been better if the main character, who said he’d never met anyone in a wheelchair before, came to the conclusion himself that the new critter wasn’t any different than him. Instead, the dad says on page 5: “’Just because he’s in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean he’s any different than the rest of you. He probably just needs some special help once in awhile.’ I thought that made sense.” Other than that, I liked the perspective angle of another student interacting with the character in the wheelchair, even though he’s the main story, he’s not the main character. I think this shift in storytelling from an able-bodied kid works and it really felt like a kid was experiencing first time interacting with someone in a wheelchair.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1342103.A_Very_Special_Critter.

Arnie and the New Kid (Arnie) by Nancy Carlson (1992) 2/5 stars.

Arnie and the New Kid book coverThe feel of this story felt boring and sad. Really, it was more about the ability status and not the relationship/friendship aspect, and read like a lesson rather than a story for kids. The thing that bothered me the most was that someone can only be friends/understand someone in a wheelchair, only if you experience the same issues as the person in a wheelchair, and only include them after they know what it’s like being in a wheelchair. I prefer A Very Special Critter by Mayer over this one any day. This was so 90’s attitude of showing the interactions/world perspective of inclusion.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1949988.Arnie_and_the_New_Kid.

Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher (1995) 5/5 stars.

Mama Zooms book coverThis was so fun and sweet and exciting to read. It was filled with fun stories that made me smile and inspire me to play with a kid. And the ending/overall message was super adorable! I’d probably get this for my kid when the time comes and then we’d create our own Mama zooms story. This is a cute family bonding time of a book.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/78999.Mama_Zooms.

Dad Has a Wheelchair by Ken Jasch (2014) 5/5 stars.

Dad has a Wheelchair book coverTold from a kid perspective and has an educational aspect to it, since it is ASL themed, but in a sweet way from the daughter’s eyes. It goes on to share all the things she does with her dad with rhymes that are cute. Definitely a family creation. I do like the disability aspect and not pushing it away but rather having the kid talk about it in her own way and how she loves the dad bond more than anything. This was just a sweet aspect of goodness.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23136207-dad-has-a-wheelchair.

Zoom! By Robert Munsch (2004) 3/5 stars.

Zoom! book coverThis was a bit too passive for me and the mom seemed to do all of the action and leading the story forward, it would have been so much funner if the main character did all the action like, sorta  in Goldilocks. For example, on page 10: Then Lauretta’s mother said, “Well, how about this? Look at this! A nice new 15-speed wheelchair. It’s fantastic. It’s purple, green, yellow. It costs lots and lots of money.” Even though the text was super weak, the illustrations are the best and made the book hilarious. I liked the concept because it is pretty relatable. The brother bothered me and just thrown in there for something to happen. The ending was not that satisfying and not fully developed; the main character should have led the story.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/285749.Zoom_.

A Rainbow Of Friends by P.K. Hallinan (2005) 4/5 stars.

A Rainbow of Friends book coverI really enjoyed this book and it had a fun rhyme book feel to it with a sweet story element to it with great inclusion aspects and diversity in friends that didn’t feel forced. My favorite part was the theme of friendship and illustrations that showed a great lesson of being a friend to anyone.

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21044.A_Rainbow_Of_Friends.

Don’t Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability by Pat Thomas (2002) 2/5 stars.

Don't Call Me Special book coverThe idea behind this is great, but the execution was too adult-driven. Definitely not a story; more like an educated blog post in a book. For example: “When you assume, you are just making a guess. Assuming things about people can hurt their feelings and make them feel very left out.” I really don’t see a kid wanting to pick this book up and interact with it. It’s great the book talks about being different and unique in your own way & explaining how to think/understand things. Like in this example: “Years ago, children with disabilities went to special schools with special teachers. Because of this people started calling them special.” But this feels like an adult jumping around talking about different things without a linear theme that connects all the pages together. A Rainbow of Friends by Hallinan has the same idea and is more exciting & fun to read.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/932980.Don_t_Call_Me_Special.

Look Up! by Jung Jin-Ho, Kim My Hyun (Translator) (2016) 3/5 stars.

Look Up! book coverThis was an interesting concept, but it sort of felt flat to me when it could have been a really powerful book with a stronger ending, but still, glad it’s out there and plays with different perspectives. Also, the journey of showing and not showing the main character and even her wheelchair was problematic to me and didn’t make this story memorable at all. But I liked the high and low illustrations to show interactions of the world with the main character.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28869881-look-up.

If you want to check out the review videos on Youtube, here are the links: INCLUDAS Review #1 | Picture Books with Characters in Wheelchairs #bookreview and INCLUDAS Review #2 | Picture Books with Characters in Wheelchairs.
You can view all reviews on this Goodreads page. Let me know your thoughts and other book suggestions! If you’d like to review one of INCLUDAS’s books, email marketing [at] includas.com and we’ll send you a free copy!
The struggle is real. I spent hours, weeks, months trying to find a way to make my tester book, What If I Fall kid’s book, digitally accessible. What does that mean exactly? (this is for all you self-publishers out there, or authors who want to make sure their publisher is on the accessible road ahead) Read on the mistakes I made, the lessons I learned, and what I wished I would have known.
  • text should be read separately and not embedded into the image.
    • I did this so wrong and it was terrible. I thought I was being creative by making text be upside down, sideways, and patterned. This, in turn, made all of my text embedded into the images (meaning that a reader or any other device is able to read it). Text and image should be separate layers (like in Amazon or iBooks, place the text after you’ve placed the image into the layout; or in Photoshop or Illustrator, have the text on top of the image, if preparing for print).
  • alt-text for images lets you give a brief description of what the image is about.
    • This was harder then I thought, there is a particular language to writing alt-text descriptions (and not software, like Amazon, have that option), so make sure you know what those are, as they are specific and should not be too long. (aside from ebooks, my entire page on this website disappeared because I made my alt-text too long one time) Also, speaking of images in websites, alt-text is different than attribution, which is the little text that pops on when a mouse is on an idea (e.g. at the top menu of this site, if you put the mouse over the HOME or BOOKS tag, the title attribution will show as, ‘home page,’ or ‘books page’). Here’s a video for InDesign on how to do make ebooks visually accessible (then exported into an ePUB).
  • audio and sound capabilities.
    • I’m all for multiple ways of learning, so I knew I wanted to have something outside of just words and images. Only iTunes came through and it was hard until it became easy. Side note on anything when a software reads text, always add periods, otherwise, the words just run together. For example, each of the sections in this blog post, like ‘audio and sound capabilities,’ has a period at the end, but you can’t see it since I changed the font color to white.
  • color scheme.
    • Now, this was something that I hadn’t thought of at the time of publishing, What If I Fall, but I recently realized that picking a color scheme can either be great or harmful for those who are colorblind. For example, on the backside of the book, the background is green and the mushroom is red. So for a red-green colorblind person, those colors will blend into one and the person would not be able to see the red mushroom. Luckily, I had outlined the mushroom in black, so the mushroom will appear, but not in a read color.
  • large and friendly text.
    • Fortunately, most kid’s books have minimal text, so making a text big and spacious is great! This was a no-brainer. Moving on to the friendly text, which I didn’t do for this book, but will for a different book, is using a font that is dyslexic friendly. Normally what that means, is the bottom of a letter is a lot heavier than the top of the letter, in a way anchoring the letters so they don’t move around town. This also includes spacing the distance between words in conjunction to each other.
  •  misc.
    • These don’t exactly have much to do with ebooks, but I wanted to point out the importance the ease of navigation for a user, maybe from page to page or where you place your audio listening buttons, and the such.
Now, you might be wondering, why didn’t I just use Adobe Illustrator, which has a feature and capability to create interactive ePubs? It’s an expensive monthly subscription and since it was only one book, it wasn’t worth it. AND, I wanted to test out the Amazon and iTunes platforms (as well as Smashwords and Draft2Digital), to understand my options.

Here’s a video of me documenting my experience:.

On ePub3 Interactive.

If you have no idea what ePUB 3 or ePUB Interactive means, let me give you a summary. Software used to create ePUBs 3 allows ebooks to be interactive (some people call it an interactive ePUB), but most of it can be done in Adobe InDesign and then converted into the ePUB formatting for ebooks to be distributed in iBooks, Amazon, etc. Also, one of the leaders in accessible ebook management is DAISY, and they offer to test ePUBs in their ACE program for free for accessibility features, here’s a link a little bit more about this crazy process: http://www.daisy.org/daisypedia/using-adobe-indesign-create-accessible-epub-3-files (some of these are outdated, so just make sure you’re reading the most up to date info). For all ePUB InDesign tutorials and stuff, definitely start out with this video (2011) by Anne-Marie Concepción.

Accessible Ebook Formatting on Amazon.

This was the most unpleasant experience in using the Kid Creator software on Amazon for creating kid’s ebooks for Kindle. First, you have to create an account on their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) site and then install the Kid Creator software on your computer. Then, you upload an entire file as one PDF (I did this; the file I used for my print PDF file, which was a huge no-no because the formatting is just off), or you can upload separate pages–I recommend (this way you can have the best page sizes). Even though Amazon is pretty flexible on what size you upload, keep it in the range of what a normal ebook would be formatted as. There was no alt-text options for text or audio integration, but there was a Pop-Up Text option, so when someone clicked onto an image or word, a pop up of your new text would come up. I explored this option as an alternative of alt-text, but then decided to switch into the HTML page and put the alt-text coding in that way–I have no idea if that worked. Also, there is something Amazon has that allows for “Text-to-Speech,” but I have no clue how that words, so I guess Amazon automatically chose, “not enabled.” There’s a bit more, but I’ll let you check out the video above.
This choice was not a great one for creating accessible kid’s ebooks.

Accessible Ebook on iTunes.

iTunes (for iBooks), has a bit of a learning curve and requires a Mac. But, it’s got so many great features and options that I highly recommend it. Additionally, they have some great ways to create the ebook interactive with different gadgets and what not, outside of adding audio and video into the ebook. I only did the audio and video addition, but would be willing to text out their interactive options as well. They have great image description (alt-text) for pages and cover art, and a modern platform (Amazon looks a bit outdated and 90’s feeling). Remember, the text should come as a separate layer and should not be part of the page, so because I already had that, I used audio to read the text and alt-text to make up for my unawareness. I found this video to be helpful for starters.
This is the best option for creating an accessible kid’s book.

Accessible Ebook on Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

You might be wondering what about ebook distributors? I spent a few hours on Microsoft Word and Scrivener to comply with the Smashwords guidelines, but there was nothing. Best case scenario is having an image (you can’t really control how it’s positioned), and text above or below the image. No alt-text or anything else is available. Funny enough, I somehow found a magic button in Word for image description, but I was told that any accessible features in Word would be lost when converted into the ebook through a distributor, like Draft2Digital.
This is not an option at all for accessible kid’s ebooks, but if you got an ePub3, then yes, up load that file and your ebook will be everywhere!

So, is it worh it making a kid’s ebook accessible?

That depends on your goal and what audience you’d like to reach. If you’re doing it all yourself and not looking to sell or market to a bunch of people, you can opt out. But if you want to have good inclusion practices, take the time to learn how to make your product accessible to as many people as possible. It really should be second nature and once you understand the process, it’ll be easier, and you’ll offer many ways for people to enjoy the book.
Hello! Luda here! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 Want to know more about INCLUDAS Publishing and why it was started? Well, growing up and even now, I rarely saw anyone in a wheelchair (or muscular dystrophy) play a positive role (or any role for that matter) in a movie, t.v. show, or book. I’d always wanted to pursue acting as a teen–it seemed fun to play other characters; it was my escape from the harsh realities of living with a disability in this world–but no one cared about the girl in the chair. No one listened or saw me as a person. Doors shut in my face even when I was more than qualified and a perfect fit for something. All because of my wheelchair.
Well, now I have the control to do what I want–to open my own doors. To spread the magic of diversity and inclusion; to exude the stories and characters I want to play. There is something crazy about the entertainment industry and how it’s so fabricated into reality even though so much of it is fiction. Have you ever thought of what life would be like without books, movies, songs, or plays? Would anything exist? We seem to live and breath for the entertainment industry, fueling it and having it fuel us. Such power.
So, I am going to fuel the world in my own way, the way I want to do it, and won’t let anyone shut the door in my face ever again.

In Summary:

INCLUDAS Publishing aims to bring inclusiveness and diversity into the book world by serving authors and illustrators, and fictional characters with disabilities–from children’s books to romance novels to mystery stories. The books and authors/illustrators with disabilities create a feeling of inclusion for everyone through the art of stories, power of images, and movement of design. This is not just a press that prints books, this is a press of forward thinking—books are art and can be designed upside-down, with multi-layered paper textures, or with braille embossing—it is all about the adaptability of design, while putting inclusion first.

But also:

The innovation of book reading is the second aspect—whether focused on physical, emotional, or mental engagement—different elements will be introduced, from tactile braille graphics to accessible interactive ebooks. This will allow readers to have the experience on various levels. Even if a child is not blind, braille can become a norm to start introducing inclusion into a family’s home. Additionally, focus on creating diverse ways of crafting inclusion and accessibility in how a reader interacts with a book, whether through touch, sight, sound, or shapes and colors, will matter.
The goal is to create a culture for change and seed inspiration of creativity for other people with disabilities, to build stories of themselves and not be lead by media’s narratives, which is run by able-bodied people. To use art of stories as change for social justice.

If you’re still not convinced INCLUDAS Publishing should exist:

The representation of people with disabilities throughout history and media, as well as society: helpless, worthless, sick—having a disability is a bad thing because it dehumanizes a person. In a nation that identifies one in every five people as having a disability, things need to change. “CinemAbility” is a documentary that shows how people with disabilities were portrayed in the history of film: used for comedic purposes, newly injured folks as angry, and helpless without care givers; any happy moments went to when someone walked. The “Me Before You” book shares a message that it is better to die than to live, because someone who is quadriplegic would be too much of a burden for anyone.
Because I use a wheelchair to live in this world, I get ignored, silenced, forgotten. Everyone is always trying to fix me—making me better so I’d add value to this society and be happy. What kind of world do I live in? A segregated one; an unfair one. Diversity in stories is less than 10%, according to “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results,” and disability inclusion in publishing is practically not existent. The impact, or more importantly, the need for the right inclusion is now, which is why this press is important for everyone—from stories to staff to technology. Disability should not be portrayed as something to hide, but something to be engaged in; not something to fear, but something to adapt to.

In the end:

Images and stories cater to perception, as well as thinking. So when the media and entertainment industry produces the same dehumanizing views on people with disabilities, those perceptions become realities and put an umbrella of invisibility on people with disabilities. Others that try to show positive images of people with disabilities do it in one medium, or from some medical perspective to ease the fear of “disables” for the able-bodied population. People learn through communication, and the messages coded in words is what shapes reality. So if there are no stories, there are no realities. If there is no inclusion, there is no change. If there is no access, there is no opportunity.
And this is why INCLUDAS Publishing was born. To open doors for those who have been treated unfairly.