As a child, I used to spend many weekends and big chunks of my summer vacations at my grandparents’ house in a tiny village in Central Europe. One of their neighbors had a child like I’d never seen before. He couldn’t walk, he always sat in a stroller even though he was around my age, and his limbs looked kind of twisted. We rarely ever saw this family leave their house and there was always an air of secrecy surrounding them. My cousin and I used to peek through the fence to get a glimpse of the little boy soaking up some sun in the yard, mumbling to himself. The father was an alcoholic, and somehow everyone seemed to know the reason. Once they had a second child, the mother would bring her out to play with the other kids, but the boy was always left behind the fence. I remember feeling sad for him and wishing he could come out to join us.
I don’t remember seeing many special needs people in my environment growing up, and it is similar in India. The same sense of shame and secrecy seems to permeate people with disability here today. Society still has a long way to go to accept differently abled people as valuable human beings. According to many people’s opinions and beliefs, disability could be a curse on the family for something they have done or a result of karma, showing that the individual did something punishable in their previous life. This way of thinking leads people to blame the parents and the child, instead of offering help and support.