Disability and literature: why aren’t we better represented?

I don’t think anyone would argue that disabled people aren’t properly represented enough, especially in literature. Wanja Maina believes this is even more the case for disabled women, particularly African disabled women. But an autobiography by Anne-Wafula Strike brings a welcome perspective on it all.

As a young disabled girl, an activist on human rights and disability inclusion, and most of all an avid reader of African and European literature, I have always noticed that there is a missing link – there isn’t enough literature written by women with disabilities.

In my quest to find some, I came across Paralympian and writer Anne-Wafula Strike. Born In rural Kenya, but now living in the UK, I was immediately drawn to Anne. Having campaigned for inclusion, she has withstood huge challenges and faced extreme adversity to shine and be a role model to millions of girls with disabilities in the world.

She has documented her life in her autobiography, In my Dreams I Dance, which explores her journey, right from the time she was born to where she is now, an adorable mother, irreplaceable wife and Paralympic champion. Some of the themes that come out strongly in her pace-setting autobiography are ones I believe should be spoken about more.

African perception towards disability

Anne acquired her disability at a very tender age of 2 when she contracted polio. None of the family members really knew what it was all about, so arranged for a witchdoctor called Solomon to ‘cure’ her.

He declared that her illness was caused by ‘black magic’. The neighbours shunned them and considered her family to be “struck by a curse from God.” Others thought that she should die completely. Later, as she was growing up, especially in high school, many students took instant dislike to her, in their mind because of her disability, but in reality it was because of their ignorance.

Adversity and overcoming it

While adversity is part of everyone’s life, her life has been compounded by huge adversity. At the age of 9 she lost her mother, who was also her main care-giver – a major blow to this young disabled girl’s life. At the time, falling into deep grief, she contemplated quitting her school life completely, which would have left her with the prospect of a bleak future.

She’s since faced numerous adversities, including getting caught up in the infamous 1st August 1982 coup that happened in Kenya, a failed attempt to overthrow the President at the time and being wrongly classified in her career as a Paralympian, without a fair hearing.

But ironically this and many other tragedies have not put her down. They have constantly made her a stronger woman.

Education as a disabled woman

She started her education at Joyland Kisumu, a special institution for people with disabilities in Nyanza. She was an outstanding student, both in academics and in leadership roles. She later attended Kereri Girls for her A-levels, but the transition didn’t come easily.

This was partly due to the socialisation in a special institution, which was vastly different from Kereri Girls, where people weren’t particularly friendly to those with disabilities. The wash facilities were minimally adapted too, but she managed to cope anyway.

She believes it made her a friendly person after winning people over and gaining friendships – she describes how her friends took turns to carry her to the dormitory. She later attended the prestigious MOI university where she pursued her degree. Her father, being a modest man, really believed in education and Anne grow up the same. Her story highlights the importance of education for everyone.

Role of a support system

Throughout the book, her father is very evident, a man that stood by her through thick and thin. Anne’s friends have also been a strong pillar in her life, and she owes unto them where she is today.

This is not forgetting her brothers and sisters, who viewed her just as their lovely sister. She states that; “when you have a disability, knowing that you are not defined by it is the sweetest feeling.”

The right to a family

Like any other woman, a woman with a disability has the same desire to have a family of her own. She met a man who she calls Norman at a party. He approaches her and grinning he asked: “Did you break your leg skiing?” Coldly she replies: “I had polio as a child.”

Though they had a few uncomfortable minutes, they later chatted more and discovered that just like her, Norman has swum against the tide to achieve his goals. What happened between them is an amazing story of love that was culminated into a great wedding and later a beautiful son.


Anne Wafula has achieved what people said was impossible. She has overcome the prejudice rife in her Kenyan village to become an award winning Paralympian. She is the first East African to compete in her sport at the highest level.

Indeed, her story resonates with the experiences of many people with disabilities, no matter what their background is or where they come from.

Talk to Anne via email on and visit her great website too

Why not get a copy?

This book in a must read for all people. It is easy to understand and will keep you thrilled from cover to cover – so visit Amazon to buy it. Happy reading.

By Wanja Maina

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One Comment

  1. Adding this to my to-read list. Breaking out into writing about disabilities seems to be even more difficult than breaking out as a female sci-fi writer (I’m getting far more attention for the latter than the former and even that’s proving a challenge). Congratulations to Anne for getting her story out there – and I hope for many more voices from the world of disability to come!

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