In September 2021, a core group of four disabled and neurodivergent people in publishing formed the nonprofit network Disability in Publishing. They opened membership to anyone in the industry who identifies as disabled or neurodivergent, and launched with a livestreamed town hall in July 2022. The organization shares information on disability rights and workplace best practices, hosts a Slack channel, and provides directories and job ads on its website.

Erin Madison, a marketing manager at Penguin Random House, is a founding member and currently serves as president. “One of our original goals was to become a 501(c)(3) so we could fundraise and pay our presenters and ASL interpreters,” she says. The organization achieved that status in November 2022.

Still, there’s plenty of progress to be made. Madison would love to rewrite entry-level expectations that, for instance, “a person should be able to lift 50 pounds,” she says. “If you’re a marketing assistant or editorial assistant, you have to move ARCs around for 5% of your job, but that creates a real barrier for people to start in those roles.”

Hybrid and remote workplaces are part of the conversation. “It’s a little disappointing to see so many companies requiring people to be back in the office” because some people remain immunocompromised or have built ergonomic home offices, Madison notes, but she cites positive changes in her eight years in publishing, too. “When I started, our discrimination trainings did not address ableism at all,” and now disability and mental health are topics of discussion.

Publishers and individuals have been consulting with Disability in Publishing around hiring and accommodations, Madison says. This is, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction. Some publishers and imprints, meanwhile, have disability representation in their DNA.

A new lexicon

In the introduction to Soul Jar: 31 Fantastical Tales by Disabled Authors, an October release from Forest Avenue Press, Nebula Award winner Nicola Griffith addresses a lack of visibility for disabled people in publishing and the rise of a disability-aware movement. Griffith, who has multiple sclerosis, also discusses the need to combat ableist assumptions about what disabled people desire and require. “What disables a person in our culture is not impairment but society’s attitude to that impairment,” she writes, and Soul Jar functions as a rejoinder to this ableism.

Forest Avenue Press publisher Laura Stanfill, who is neurodivergent, worked with the book’s editor, Annie Carl, an author and bookseller who was born with a rare spinal birth defect, to gather submissions. “We were clear that we were asking authors to self-identify as disabled,” Stanfill says. “This allowed folks to participate without having to share personal information” unless they wished to do so.

The selections include new works and four previously published tales including one by Griffith and another by Nisi Shawl, who has fibromyalgia and is the author of Everfair and its forthcoming sequel, Kinning (Tor, Jan. 2024).

“I see my authors speaking more openly about their disabilities and neurodivergences,” Stanfill says. “Thinking back on our catalog, I previously didn’t have the language for speaking publicly about disability, chronic pain, or all types of neuro-spicy conditions.” Her 2023 list includes, in addition to Soul Jar, the recently released memoir Plums for Months by Zaji Cox. (“Cox paints a beautiful portrait of growing up in Portland, Ore., as a low-income child with Asperger’s in this one-of-a-kind debut,” per PW’s starred review.)

Stanfill is working on a writer’s guide to indie publishing, supported by a $5,000 grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, Ore. Her goals for the “outsider’s guide to the inside of the industry” include reassuring neurodivergent thinkers on anxiety and time management, advising the disability community on centering personal wishes over traditional models for success, and “unpacking myths about having a routine” for those whose circumstances mean they can’t write at the same time each day.

Radical resources

“Neurodiversity literally means you process thought differently,” says Joe Biel, CEO of Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Ore., and author of the memoir Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Autism. “People had interpreted neurodiversity as hiding the fact that you think differently, and the stigma started to lift in the last five years,” Biel adds. “There’s now a radical social movement that I don’t think existed 10 years ago, and people come to me because of that.”

At Microcosm, Biel publishes a Neurodivergent Pride zine series, Chronic Illness Support Group books and zines, and various disability-advocacy resources. “We’ve been part of contributing to a pride movement,” he says. “The number one piece of feedback we get is that our publications make people feel useful, not ashamed of something they feel like they can’t conceal.”

Forthcoming Microcosm titles include chronically ill author Caroline Moore’s Burnout and the Cult of Busy (2024), about “the pressures of social culture and how she feels like she needs to be productive,” Biel notes. In October, Microcosm will publish Do Not Pet #4, part of a graphic narrative series about the history of service dogs, inspired by the life of Biel’s service animal, Ruby.

Engaging narratives

At Minneapolis’s Milkweed Editions, editor-at-large Chris Martin heads up the Multiverse series, which spotlights neurodivergent writing. Martin, who identifies as chronically ill and neurodivergent, says the series name highlights its focus on verse, neurodiversity, and an “inherent multiplicity and abundance.” Martin is the author of May Tomorrow Be Awake: On Poetry, Autism, and Our Neurodiverse Future, and he believes “there are other universes of knowing and perceiving and writing that are all here already; other ways of engaging with the world are available.”

The Multiverse series developed from Martin’s experiences teaching at and publishing chapbooks with the creative writing organization Unrestricted Interest, a space to celebrate neurodivergent learning and language, which he and poet Brian Laidlaw founded in 2015. “I’ve always experienced this amazing reciprocity between autism and poetry,” Martin says. In 2019, the chapbooks that Unrestricted Interest published “started to get some real notice,” and Milkweed publisher and CEO Daniel Slager expressed interest in a book series. Multiverse launched in 2022 with nonspeaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson’s The Kissing of Kissing, which PW’s review described as “propelled by an imperative mood and voice.”

In October, Multiverse will publish JJJJJerome Ellis’s Aster of Ceremonies, which harmonizes words, musical notation, and aster-purple flourishes, Martin says. “Ellis, a proud stutterer, sees himself as part of a family of disfluency. The nonspeaking apraxia that many autistic people experience is akin to stuttering.”

Titles forthcoming in 2024 include Tressing Motions at the Edge of Mistakes by Imane Boukaila, a nonspeaking autistic poet, and a collection by Lauren Russell, whose Descent won the Poetry Society of America’s 2021 Anna Rabinowitz Award.

“What can seem to some people an incredibly niche way of moving through the world, in fact has an immense vitality and diversity,” Martin says of the poets he’s come to know. At Milkweed, he wants to “totally explode paradigms of what a book can be, to see what trends and predilections and habits will emerge.”

This article has been updated.

Read more from our Disability Representation in Publishing Feature:

Bringing Books Within Reach
Booksellers are measuring aisles, adjusting shelves, and rethinking their sensory spaces to improve accessibility.

Access for All
Public libraries connect with disabled patrons in many ways.

How the National Braille Press Brings Books to Blind Readers
The Boston-based publisher—the only organization in the U.S. that publishes its own books by blind authors for blind readers—has been leading the way in improving access in the book business for nearly a century.

Disabled Authors Deserve, and Demand, More
Author and activist Alice Wong reflects on disability representation in publishing.

Living Dangerously: PW Talks with Eddie Ndopu
In Sipping Dom Pérignon Through a Straw (Legacy Lit, Aug.), Ndopu, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy, recalls attending Oxford University as a wheelchair-bound graduate student.

10 New Books with Disability Representation for Adults
These works of fiction and nonfiction confront ableist ideas through their depictions of disability.

10 New Children’s and YA Books with Disability Representation
These books for young readers explore a variety of disabilities and chronic illnesses, showing characters adapting to their differences and thriving.