My Friend’s Story Made Me Realise How We Mistreat People With Learning Disabilities

People with learning disabilities are treated very poorly in India, mostly due to the stigma that society has against them. If the stigma is addressed and people become more comfortable with those who have learning disabilities, their lives would become significantly better. Right now, quite a few of them live in homes for people with learning disabilities. While in these homes, they may be treated respectfully, but the problem arises when they are outside these homes. Most of the time, they are treated poorly by the public.

A student in class 11 in my school shared an experience he once had with me. He was visiting  Sadhana Village, an organisation in Pune that works with people who have learning disabilities. I had asked him to write about his experience and send it to me, and I selected this excerpt because I felt this was crucial to understanding those with learning disabilities and removing the stigma: “One person who I shared many wonderful experiences with was Chris*, a long-time resident of the centre. I will admit that Chris was a little intimidating at first, as he likes to closely observe everyone. However, as soon as he first asked me if we were friends, the intimidation was gone. A special moment I remember was when we were sitting for chai time, Chris and me together on the swing. Chris had on his lap a notebook and a pencil. He opened up the notebook. ‘My friends,’ he said to me. The open page was covered in sentences written with a multitude of inks and otherwise. On each line, a person had written something about their friend Chris. ‘You write,’ he said to me. This brief experience allowed me to understand the special friends in a way I hadn’t before.” The most important responsibility for neurotypical people, when it comes to those with learning disabilities, is that you have to allow your intimidation to fade and accept them as friends and equals. Simply spending time with them is enough for you to understand they are just normal people, like you and me. The stigma against them is actually a very prominent problem.

A paper published in the Delhi Psychiatry Journal states: “The disabled have been oppressed, marginalised […] Persons with disability are the poorest of the poor and weakest of the weak, who have been socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged; […] denied their right to self-assertion, identity and development.” These are unfortunately all true statements about how people with learning disabilities are being treated in India.

Imagine if you had a sibling or a friend with a learning disability, and everyone treated them like they were somehow lesser than other people. How do you think that would make them feel? How would it make you feel? Luckily, you can help change this. You can educate your friends on this topic and make sure that whenever you come across someone with a learning disability, you treat them with equal respect as you would someone without such a disability. Always make sure that they are given the respect they deserve. If you ever see someone treating a person with a learning disability poorly, or even making jokes at their expense, make sure you approach them and stand up for what is right. You might not think it’ll make a big difference, but it will. If everyone starts standing up for those with learning disabilities, eventually the stigma will fade, and they will be treated as equals like they deserve.

*Name changed for reasons of privacy.