The Torah view on disabilities acknowledges 2 vital facts:
- Disabled people come into the world for a reason (to rectify their own souls & ours); they are MEANT to exist.
- Disabled people come to help US; they teach us kindness, compassion, and gratitude.
When parents first realize they have a special-needs child, it's normal for them to pass through stages of grief until they arrive at loving acceptance of their child.
No one should condemn them for their initial negative feelings.
Furthermore, families with special-needs children generally also need extra financial, practical, and emotional support. So we should give them that too.
But these challenges don't mean a disabled person has no right to exist.
They do have every right to exist.
God WANTS them here.
Gratitude & Appreciation
Of course we should not stare or be less than perfectly courteous toward the disabled.
But in our minds, we should realize what could have been and feel grateful it's not.
More Gratitude & Appreciation
(Note: If you are new to this blog, Nechumelle Jacobs is an inspiring frum poetess living in England. She is disabled in one hand and both legs due to cerebral palsy. But she has a bright mind, a dynamic personality, and real gift for writing poetry. For more, please start here:
No matter what, Nechumelle needs to wait for the special staff members to come at their regular time to lift her from her wheelchair and place her in bed.
"Sometimes," she said with a laugh, "I'm falling asleep in my chair and there's just nothing else to do about it."
I thought about that.
Usually, their appointed time is early enough so Nechumelle isn't falling asleep.
But just like anyone else, she occasionally feels the need to go to bed earlier.
Only she can't.
While familiar with the appreciation of walking, running, seeing, reading, hearing, listening to music, etc., this inability never occurred to me.
The vast majority of physically challenged people can do this—included those with no legs or arms—but not everyone can. And I never thought about that.
So after hearing this, I went to my bed and flopped down on my back, just to enjoy the fact that I could.
Then I heaved myself up.
Then I flopped down again.
Then I pushed myself out of bed again.
I repeated this until I started suffering motion sickness (too much of a good thing).
And this was very beneficial for me, both spiritually and emotionally.
Yet without the existence of a person who CANNOT do this, it never would occur to me to appreciate the fact that I CAN.
(This story used with permission; thanks Nechumelle!)
Enabling the Disabled: Good for Who? (For All of Us!)
Yes, we're doing the wheelchair-bound a favor.
But we are doing ourselves an even bigger favor by doing chessed (which earns a larger portion in the fabulous World to Come) and by stepping outside ourselves to take the very different needs of others into consideration.
Doing so builds us both in This World and the Next.
Be Sensitive, Yet Normal. Or Normal, Yet Sensitive?
People often forgot they were speaking to a blind man.
So it frequently happened they would say something like, "Oh, my! Look at that beautiful sunset!" And then they would stop short upon realizing they were asking him to see something he couldn't, then quickly change the subject.
"But I wish they wouldn't do that," said the blind man. "Because every time this happens, I always want to say, 'Really? That sounds so awesome! Could you describe it to me?' Because I really want to 'see' it too!"
However, he rarely says this to anyone for fear of making them feel uncomfortable or asking them to do something they find difficult. (Some people aren't good at describing things.)
So while people think they are being insensitive by exclaiming over something of visual beauty and believe they're being sensitive by quickly correcting the situation by changing the subject, it's the opposite of what they think...for this man, anyway.
And this brings us to another aspect of disabled people, which is so good for us: sensitivity.
Disabled people are people first.
They have different levels of sensitivities and different kinds of needs—just like everyone else.
Sure, common threads exist.
People with obvious physical equipment or disabilities (wheelchairs, limps, missing appendages, etc.) do not enjoy being stared at, pointed at, spoken about as if they can't hear, or laughed at.
Blind people with seeing-eye dogs do not want you distracting their dog in any way.
And so on.
On the other hand, they know they're disabled and especially those disabled since birth, they're quite aware of how the world normally runs and aren't oversensitive to it.
Unfortunately, televised shows promote disabled people who call attention to their disabilities in a comedic way to encourage others to be sensitive toward the disabled.
So you'll see a blind man saying things like, "And so me and this guy were talking and at one point, he said to me, 'Do you see what I mean?' And I'm like, 'Dude. I'm BLIND. I don't see ANYTHING!'"
And the audience laughs.
Yet these routines make it seem like disabled people will constantly interrupt you to correct you & remind you of their disability.
But they don't!
They enjoy having normal conversations and relationships.
Yes, you need to be sensitive to their disabilities WHEN that comes up.
For example, you should not ask them to do things they cannot, like ask a wheelchair-bound person to jump up and get you that fragile crystal goblet from a shelf near the ceiling.
Nor should you ask a blind person what color something is or a deaf person what's the name of the song playing right now.
When speaking in a group situation, you should make sure the deaf person can see your lips at all times. No one needs to be weird or exaggerated about facing the deaf person, but just casually considerate.
There are probably other things I'm forgetting, but basically, other than that, you can be normal.
Just be normal with a bit of extra sensitivity toward their disability, and that's it.
For example, unless someone is recently wheelchair-bound and still struggling with the new reality, a lot of wheelchair-bound people will not get upset if you mention how you "ran" out to the store or twisted your ankle while roller skating.
Usually, you can even mention superficial annoyances like, "I couldn't find just the right shade of lipstick to go with my bridesmaid gown."
And they don't normally respond with, "Oh YEAH??!! You think THAT'S annoying? Well, try not having any functioning LEGS!!!"
(Even if they're thinking that, they usually won't say it. And they may not be thinking that. It depends.)
In fact, they can also get annoyed over stupid things just like anyone else, like if their favorite pizza delivery ran out of black olives or whatever.
They're also perfectly capable of empathizing with you over your real difficulties without bringing up their disability.
Meaning, they don't generally say stuff like, "Oh, you think divorce & custody battles with your malignant narcissist spouse are bad, eh? Well, at least you can SEE, you ungrateful cretin!"
No, they'll usually respond with empathy...just like most others do.
That's general stuff.
But then, just like everyone else, disabled people have different needs.
For example, the blind man above loves to hear about beautiful sights as long as the seeing person will describe it to him.
But some don't want that.
Also, people born blind cannot even imagine colors while those blind later in life easily understand descriptions of color. So if you do describe a sunset, you need to keep that in mind. (Or maybe you can describe the colors; some blind people developed a way to "understand" different colors without being able to see them. Again, it's individual.)
A lot of people born deaf do not like to hear others enthuse over music because they cannot comprehend it (though some enjoy the vibrations when they touch the speakers), but those deaf later are wholly familiar with music and can even participate in conversations (though they won't know the sounds of specific music produced after they became deaf).
Furthermore, there are different levels of deafness and blindness. Some can see or hear certain sights or noises. The above examples refer to people completely deaf or blind.
I once read the words of a completely deaf woman who wrote that there is no such thing as total deafness. Meaning, she is considered totally deaf, but if, say, a fire cracker goes off right next to her, she'll faintly hear that...but nothing quieter than that.
I didn't read studies on it to prove it's true, but that's what she says.
A lot of disabled people even go out of their way to make others feel comfortable with them and to let them know they can just behave as they would with anyone else—while just taking basic consideration of their disability, as described above.
We could go on and on about sensitivity. There is so much to say.
The Benefit of Mental Disabilities
People with Down's syndrome, PDD, etc. force us to focus on their tzelem Elokim!
Most of them will not be materially productive members of society; they'll be dependent on others for kindness, compassion, and basic needs.
And that is good for US.
The Torah view is into producing spiritually far more than materially.
Just as a personal observation, I always noticed that people who grew up with a mentally disabled sibling possess an extra sensitivity they otherwise would lack.
It's not about personality.
Whether they're quiet and introspective or an exuberant loudmouth always looking for the next party (or anything in between), growing up with a mentally disabled sibling imbues them with an extra sensitivity.
It's so good for us to be deal with a person who demands patience, compassion, a sense of humor, and extra effort to figure out what that person needs (because, depending on the disability, mentally disabled people cannot always communicate clearly & effectively).
Interestingly, some studies revealed a "Down's syndrome advantage," which depends on certain factors, of course, but is a very real dynamic for many parents of a Down's syndrome child:
His Aunt Miriam had 3 exceptionally bright children and this Down's daughter.
They moved to Eretz Yisrael next door to my husband's family, where they were dumped into a life of poverty.
Yes, some kind of special program or school existed at that time (1968), but that was it in addition to all the other stress.
Also, Miriam couldn't read, so she had no access to any information or understanding about the situation, just whatever the special-ed people would tell her.
Furthermore, Aunt Miriam never adjusted to the idea of employment.
Back in Morocco, she was the youngest in a family of girls, so her older sister ended up doing everything, then she married young to a man who could provide her with full-time cleaning help and a cook.
So she was looked down on by others for not going out to work like all the other newly immigrated women were.
(Not that she cared. She was always one who did what she wanted and didn't see why the opinions of others should get in her way.)
And while basically religious, she wasn't the most spiritual person in the world.
(All this means she doesn't fit the demographic of the well-educated, older, higher-income mother mentioned in the above-linked article.)
Yet she LOVED her Down's daughter.
Well into her old age (Aunt Miriam lived into her 90s), she called her Down's daughter "my best friend!"
When I first met her Down's daughter (in her early 30s), I did not initially realize she had Down's because she was dressed in a lovely pink satin suit with a matching purse and shoes, and had such lovely manners.
Yes, their faces look different, but due to her lovely persona and appearance, her typical Down's facial features were not the first things I noticed about her.
She was obviously very well-brought-up and very loved.
But regardless of whether a person finds dealing with the mentally disabled less stressful or not, the benefits for our soul-refinement are very real.
Abortion & Down's Syndrome: Going Down the Wrong Path
Despite the fact these predictions so often prove wrong (both in stories and in personal experiences), society continues to encourage people to do it.
For example, in 2016, all babies except 4 were aborted in Denmark.
In 2019, only 18 babies were born with Down's syndrome.
In other words, 98% of suspected Down's pregnancies end in abortion in Denmark.
In Iceland, the abortion of suspected Down's pregnancies has reached nearly 100%. Only 1 or 2 babies are born with Down's each year in Iceland.
This is a terrible crime in and of itself.
But this disappearance of Down's people (and other disabled people) will ultimately have a terrible effect on the Danes (in addition to arousing Heavenly harshness).
I also wonder whether the babies allowed to be born with Down's in Denmark are from their growing Muslim population, which doesn't believe in abortion screening.
Who Determines a Person's REAL Value?
But the main point is this:
Disabled people are good for us.
They're good for society.
They benefit society.
Hashem wants them to exist.
We should value them for their actual God-given value and not by soulless material considerations.
“Now they threatened to abort babies like him, to detect in advance their handicapped state, to burrow through the womb and label them for death, to baffle their mothers with fear for their coming, and yet, the spastic baby would be the soul which would never kill, maim, creed falsehood or hate brotherhood. Why, then, does society fear the crippled child...and why does it hail the able-bodied child and crow over what in time may become a potential executioner?”
Under the Eye of the Clock