On ABA's Disability Meetup: "If You're Out There, We Need You!"

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In this guest post for Bookselling This Week, Sarah Hollenbeck of Women & Children First in Chicago, Illinois, and Annie Carl of The Neverending Bookshop in Edmonds, Washington, share information about ABA's Disability Meetup, which is a space for those who identify as disabled to gather and discuss the bookselling industry. This piece was co-written by Hollenbeck and Carl. 

The next Disability Meetup will take place on January 18 at 7:00 pm ET. Sign up at the bottom of the ABA Meetups page to join the Disability Community Meetups mailing list.

(Note: To ensure that this space belongs to the attendees, ABA staff will not be in attendance and another attendee will act as the host. This meetup is for people who identify or think they may identify as a person with a disability. Allies are asked not to attend.)

Launching the Zoom for our first Disability Meetup, I (Sarah Hollenbeck of Women & Children First in Chicago) was excited to connect with other disabled booksellers. This space was something I’d advocated for since joining the ABA’s DEI committee years ago. I was thrilled to hear the familiar ding of another participant joining the room and see Annie Carl (owner of the Neverending Bookshop in Edmonds, WA) appear on the screen. We introduced ourselves, chatted about our stores, and waited. And we waited. Eventually, the two of us shared the details of our disabilities and how we’d come to identify with the label of disabled. We talked about our experience within the industry, and working with the ABA. By the time we logged off an hour later, we remained the only two booksellers in the Zoom room.

We tried again, and again. We changed the language of who was welcome to join the meetup, but turnout never climbed higher than three.

We get it. We both came to identify as disabled late in life and we still occasionally wrestle with this label—what it means to us and how it is understood or rather misunderstood by an ableist world. We get that there may be some confusion and anxiety around who is welcome at a “Disability Meetup."

So, we wanted to take a moment to clarify some things:

  • If you have an invisible disability, you are welcome!
  • If  you have ever thought that you’re not “disabled enough” to join an affinity group like this one, you are welcome!
  • If you are tired of the word “disability” being tossed about as a catch-all phrase without nuance, discussion, or understanding, you are welcome!

Even as we type up these words, we’re wondering: is it us or is it the industry?

While the term intersectionality has become increasingly popular over the last few years, too often disability is the identity left out of the conversation. The pandemic has been an opportunity to center the most vulnerable and prioritize disabled folks in a way that doesn't make a monolith of us but honors our range of voices and experiences.

Breaking into the book and bookselling industries can be more than a challenge for many of us who are disabled, either visibly or invisibly. The physicality and energy needs can be preclusive for someone with non-functioning social anxiety (a disability), someone in a wheelchair (a disability), or someone with chronic fatigue syndrome (a disability) trying to gain a foothold in our industry.

So how do we as an independent industry create bookselling jobs that are more inclusive? How do we make our bookstores more accessible for all kinds of disabled people? How do we support this minority that is too often overlooked? By having booksellers of all types show up and lend their voices to our industry! If you’re out there, we need you.