For centuries, people have been labelled by mainstream society as disabled and suffered limited life opportunities and discrimination. Conditions such as Downs Syndrome, blindness, deafness and Autism have been treated with pity at best, and sometimes neglect and even abuse. Religious societies are taught to treat all people with dignity and equality, but in reality, this is seldom the case. Yet, a lot of recent research is showing a different side to this story.
There are many cases of people with Autism (a spectrum of conditions rather than a specific condition) finding it hard to engage with society whilst having extraordinary skills in other areas such as mental arithmetic, art and literacy. On the milder end of the spectrum, people with Aspergers Syndrome are often cited as having a genius ability in their admittedly narrow area of interest.
A more recent study by the University of Western Ontario in Canada (reported in Nature Neuroscience) suggests that people born deaf may develop and adjust their brains by rewiring connections to enable them to spot and track objects visually much faster than a normal person. This compensates for the lack of hearing of the person. There are other stories of people gifted with much stronger sense of smell than normal, and putting that to amazing use. Nature too shows us so many instances of creatures which appear weaker in so many senses, yet show abnormal strength in other areas. Tiny creatures can carry more than 50 times their body weight. So nature also alerts us to this balance of skills. There are some societies in Europe and North America where they are providing hope, dignity, opportunity and equality for people with a range of conditions. The United Kingdom sets a standard for treating people with ‘disabilities’ and encouraging them to participate fully in society. This should inspire other nations to do the same.
People with ‘disabilities’ actually have a lot to offer, and are often far more motivated than ‘normal’ or ‘able-bodied’ people. Even children with severe difficulties are highly valued by their families and have a unique character and charm that must not be under-valued. We still understand very little about the human mind and spirit. Referring to the earlier study about deaf people developing an enhanced spatial awareness, Dr. Stephen Lomber is quoted as saying:
“The brain wants to compensate for the lost sense (hearing) with enhancements that are beneficial. If you’re deaf, you would benefit from seeing a car coming far off in your peripheral vision, because you can’t hear that car approaching from the side; the same with being able to more accurately detect how fast something is moving.”
This is surely just one of many areas in which the brain and body learn to compensate. Look at the way people who have lost a limb are able to train themselves with prosthetics and are then able to run at great speed.
Even in the sphere of religion, Moses(as)did not have fluent speech, yet due to his conviction and piety, was able to deliver a strong and clear message to Pharaoh (Qur’an, Ch.20:Vs.28-29)
The Almighty Creator judges individuals on the basis of the rightful use of their given abilities and takes into account human weaknesses and personal disadvantage. The Holy Qur’an states:
Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity. It shall have the reward it earns, and it shall get the punishment it deserves. (Ch.2:V.287).
The fact is that humans have created a view of what is normal and what is abnormal; what it is to be able, and what it must be to be disabled. We must realise that although some people are not given abilities that we might consider normal, often they might be given other abilities which we would definitely consider abnormal and amazing.
Perhaps rather than considering them as disabled, we should class them as ‘differently able’. Indeed, in many cases, their achievements in spite of their capabilities would put the rest of us to shame.
For completeness, we must mention the verse:
But whoso is blind in this world will be blind in the Hereafter, and even more astray from the way. (Ch.17:V.73).
Here blindness refers not to the physically blind but those who are spiritually blind, who hold themselves above reckoning, who do not believe in their Creator. It is such who are blind in this world and their blindness will continue in the Hereafter.