Exploring Similarity, Embracing Difference: How to Evaluate and Identify Literature Portraying Individuals with Disabilities

Gaining empathy for characters with disabilities in different cultural settings can help readers become better global citizens by increasing their understanding of disability-related challenges worldwide. Yet, discussions on diversifying collections tend to focus on race/ethnicity, and do not always include this aspect of diversity. A novelist, librarian and educator will team up to present suggestions on ways to create a welcoming library environment for readers with disabilities; evaluating the authenticity of books with characters with disabilities; building up collections that include books featuring characters with disabilities; going beyond tropes. So the presenters will discuss:

a. Creating a welcoming library environment for individuals with disabilities
b. Some evaluation criteria for authenticity (tropes and going beyond them, etc.)
c. Suggestions on criteria to include (or think about) when building and expanding collections (intersectionality, international perspectives, graphic novels, verse novels, etc.)
d. Examples of several suggested books and resources and lists.

The session will end by presenting a list of resources that attendees can draw from in the future.

Learning Outcomes

1. Attendees will learn to create a welcoming, inclusive and accessible library environment for all patrons.
2. Attendees will effectively evaluate the authenticity of books with characters with disabilities.
3. Attendees will have concrete steps that they can take to add excellent books featuring characters with disabilities to diversify their collections.
4. Attendees will learn about resources (that go beyond the Schneider award)

Who Should Attend

Department heads, school librarians, public librarians, reading specialists, ELA and social studies teachers, all staff serving children and youth and their caregivers.


Carrie Banks has been the in charge of Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Inclusive Services (formerly known as The Child’s Place for Children and Teens with Special Needs) since 1997 and an Assistant Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute since 2013. She has been served in many positions in ALSC and ASCLA, including as the ALSC representative to ASCLA, and as a past chair of the Service to Special Population Children and their Caregivers Committee. She is currently the Designated Director for Special Populations on the ASCLA Board of Directors. She is a past chair of the Schneider Family Book Award committee and served on the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Production committee. Ms. Banks has helped draft national guidelines and toolkits for serving people with disabilities in public libraries. She has been published in Children and Libraries, and InterFace She also wrote a chapter about Inclusive Services for the book From Outreach to Equity and another on working with volunteers with disabilities in the upcoming book Volunteers in the Library, edited by Carol Smallwood. She substantially revised Inclusion Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (ALA Editions, 2014). She has conducted inclusion training for for libraries in Connecticut, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and for cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the New York Aquarium and America Reads, among others. Her extensive background in children with special needs began in high school and has included working with children with dyslexia, pediatric psychiatric diagnoses, histories of abuse, and craniofacial differences. In 2000 she received New York University’s Samuel and May Rudin Award for Community Service for her work with the disability community. In 2010 she received the Sloan Public Service Award and was named a “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal in 2012. She has twice received an Oscar from the Brooklyn Family Support Services Council for her services to people with developmental disabilities and their families. Ms. Banks received her Master of Library Science from Queens College in 1990 and her Bachelor of Science in Developmental Psychology from Oberlin College in 1982.
Dr. Sara Kersten is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Nevada, Reno where she teaches literacy courses to education majors. Prior to getting her Ph.D., Sara was a 2nd grade teacher in Tennessee. Her teaching philosophy and academic interests are rooted in the power of children's literature to capture children's imaginations, broaden their understandings, and encourage diverse view points. She has conducted research on nonfiction children's literature, graphic novels, and representation in diverse books with elementary children and undergraduate students. This research has been presented across the country as well as internationally in Croatia and Australia. Sara currently lives in Reno, Nevada.
Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the award-winning author of three critically acclaimed novels: A Time to Dance, Island’s End, and Climbing the Stairs.
All three were released to multiple starred reviews (12 total), and were Booklist Editor’s choices and ALA/Yalsa Best Books of the Year. In addition, her books have won numerous awards (such as the ASTAL RI Book of the Year, Boston Authors Club Julia Ward Howe Young Readers award, Paterson Prize, South Asia Book Award, and Singapore Children’s Choice Red Dot Award); been on several shortlists (e.g. Cybil, Crystal Kite, in more than
10 states, including ME, UT, SC, NJ, OK, NY, PA, RI, IN, CT); and received many other honors - ALA Notable, Amelia Bloomer List, Bank Street College of Education Best Book, Booklinks Best New Book, Booksense Notable, CCBC choice, Capitol Choice, CLN Top 25, CSML Best Book, IBBY Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities, IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, Kirkus Best Book, NCSS/CBC Notable, Publishers Weekly Flying Start, etc.
Before becoming a full-time author, Padma Venkatraman taught courses in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. She has taught students of all ages, from elementary school children to university professors and has conducted hands-on workshops for students with disabilities. She has served as a panelist at book festivals such as the PEN World Voices Festival and the Hong Kong Young Readers Festival; been an invited guest at Harvard and other universities; has provided commencement speeches at schools and keynote addresses at numerous conferences, including the Caribbean Beach Pen Literary Festival in Trinidad, where she was the chief guest. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally on TV and radio. Padma Venkatraman is an American and lives in Rhode Island, USA, with her family.



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Tech Requirements

computer, internet access


Kristen Figliulo
ALSC Program Officer for Continuing Education
(800) 545-2433 ext. 4026