I was sick to my stomach, that night I just cried – that’s all that I did. It was entirely unfair. We couldn’t even enter the front door of the restaurant, there was no way. They may as well have had a sign in the door that said: “You are not welcome here.” Because that is how it felt. I am not a wheelchair user, but hundreds of thousands of our fellow humans are. And for them, lack of accessibility in the community is life-altering. We, humans, need social interaction and community engagement, we crave it, our quality of life, our mental health depends on it. It is still entirely true that individuals with disabilities cannot access and use the environment to its fullest extent.
I came to this realization after our professor asked us to use wheelchairs to navigate from our school in Nashville to surrounding local businesses. My classmate navigated a power wheelchair from the third floor of our school building to a local restaurant. We couldn’t get in. It wasn’t possible. This day will always hold great significance in my life. It was the day I found my passion – advocating for a more inclusive world. I wasn’t yet aware of how I would advocate for inclusion, but I knew it would be my future!
Let’s leap forward one year. I was sitting at a local coffee shop, studying for my occupational therapy boards. I never planned to write a book, let alone a whole children’s picture book series, but this poem kept replaying itself in my head, over and over. I took a pencil to my journal, and rhythmic words just kept flowing onto the paper. I wrote about a young bear eager to join in and play soccer with his peers at recess. He was a power wheelchair user and knew he could find a way to adapt, modify, and join in the fun.
Tears, again. Each time I read this poem I had tears, but the best kind. Each time I read the poem I was taken back to that day, the day we couldn’t get through the door at the restaurant. That day, that poem – both reminders of the need for social change, a more inclusive world. This triggered a light bulb moment. What if I wrote an entire inclusive children’s picture book series that gave back to build a more inclusive world?
The next day I found myself at the same coffee shop, with the same journal, writing another book. The words continued to flow, that’s how I knew it was meant to be. This time I wrote about a young giraffe (Gary) getting evaluated for his very first manual wheelchair. After receiving his chair, Gary discovers newfound independence, zest for life, and a gigantic dream of his own – to become a storyteller of ABILITY to prove to the world that we are all able!
I continued to write… Another and then another! I named the series The Able Fables® – what better name for a rhyming series that tells fables and celebrates ability!? The Able Fables® is a series that shouts the worth of all children, a series that represents diversity in the earliest form of media. Twenty percent of profits from The Able Fables® series donated to help build inclusive playgrounds around the United States and beyond. Inclusive playgrounds are thoughtfully designed outdoor play spaces created for children of all abilities. Providing sensory-rich experiences and cultivating diverse friendships.
On November 22nd, 2019 I released the first book of The Able Fables® series, Gary’s Gigantic Dream. Two years after the story was born. For two years, I worked to build an inclusive community at @theablefables on Instagram and designed and sold inclusive t-shirts to raise money for the self-publication of my first book. Every time I catch a glance of the front cover of my book – Gary in his wheelchair, wide-eyed and dreaming his gigantic dream – I cannot help but beam with joy overflowing. Every time I flip through the vibrant pages and catch a glimpse of my favorite line – “Whoever you are, wherever you go, it is this I truly need you to know: You’re able to learn, to play and to grow” – my eyes well with tears of hope, hope that my stories empower every child, disability or not, to celebrate their own, unique, incredible abilities.
Today, I am working on publishing my second book. We’ve just started the illustrations, and I am all sorts of giddy. Book two of The Able Fables®, Lia’s Kind Mind, is the story of a young gymnast born with a facial birthmark. When her coach requires her and her teammates to master a new skill on the balance beam, Lia doubts her abilities and thinks about quitting the sport altogether. Encouraged by her teammates, she harnesses the power of a kind mind and rises to the challenge, embracing the balance beam as she does her birthmark. I cannot wait to represent children with facial birthmarks, and teach children about the power of a kind mind!
I am eager to release all of my stories and watch the series fulfill its purposes: Increase children’s sense of self-worth, understanding their value in the world. To decrease the stigma of mental, psychosocial, physical disabilities, and differences, reducing bullying. To allow those with disabilities to see themselves as main characters alongside their peers in the earliest form of media. To cultivate friendships that value and flourish off differences. And last, but not least, to facilitate conversation about acceptance, self-worth, and inclusion between parents and their children.
I hope to publish a total of at least 10 books. Book three is on deck to be released in February, shouting worth of kiddos with congenital heart defects (CHDs). I also have plans to celebrate dwarfism, visual impairment, limb differences, lymphatic malformation, and many more in books to come!
Thank you – Thank you to the 42,000+ lovely humans who are an integral part of our inclusive community on Instagram @theablefables. You have been my cheerleaders. Thank you for every heartfelt review such as these:
“This book is wonderfully inspiring, my daughter who is non-verbal and has significant delays loves hearing this story, she opens her eyes really big to see the pictures and the joy on her face is pure gold!” – Connie
“This book needs to be in every home, school, clinic, and library across the country! Such an amazing way to introduce children to differences and show that we’re all able. Inclusive books are so, so important, and Gary’s Gigantic Dream is one of the best!” – Riley
Thank you to the thousands of families that have added my book to their bookshelves. I hope The Able Fables® finds a home in your hearts. I hope it empowers you to celebrate yourself, and your neighbors. I hope it teaches you and your children to embrace inclusion as a mindset for the rest of your lives.
We’re All Able,
Dr. Nicole Julia