What Is Disability Literature?

Disability literature is the category of writing that includes all short stories, poems, or novels written by or about disabilities. Many liberal arts colleges offer classes devoted to understanding the struggles of disabled people through the written word, and we thought we’d explore some of the poems we deem most important to this difficult facet of history. Here are a few of our favorite poems about disability.

“I Won’t Break” was written by Michael Morrell and is a testament to understanding the feelings often experienced by a disabled person who feels different from everyone else. These are individuals who have lived their lives from a wheelchair or on SSDI income, often being looked down upon for no reason at all — or at the very least no reason that’s their fault. 


The first one is always most awkward, hesitant,

a one sneaker in the store lace-up to see if it fits,

a try it on in the mall dressing room squeeze.

You will not break me, my shirt should read.

Slap a shipping sticker on me. Non-fragile.

No glass enclosed. Handle with carelessness.

Like toothpaste, laundry, salad dressing and

potato chip bags, I could come with directions.

For best results squeeze from the bottom, tumble dry,

shake well before using, grab both ends and pull apart.

And don’t forget that shampoo mantra, repeat if desired.

I need a good marketing agency. Yes, smaller than

expected, he’s our concentrated formula,

use less and wash the same amount of loads.

Environmentally-friendly packaging.

New and Different look.

“It’s For Life” was written by Barbara Crooker, a mother whose son was on the spectrum. This is a poem that says a lot with only a few words. It’s a great read for people who don’t understand the struggles of the disabled or their most cherished loved ones, for whom the disability can be just as big of a weight on their shoulders.

My autistic son listens to the oldies,

digs that old time rock ‘n roll rhythm & blues.

My husband says it’s like our teen years

are hanging out in his room, coming from the radio—

When the night is dark, and the land is far

and the moon is the only light you see—…

What misfired neurons cause him to shake

and fidget his fingers before his eyes,

call out in class when the teacher’s talking,

be out of synch with everyone else?

Up on the roof it’s peaceful

as can be, and there the world below

can’t bother me. When we’re gone, what then?

What slot will he fit into like a quarter

slipping in a jukebox for three plays,

slow songs you could dance to all night long?