Our reaction to disability is often marked by our inability to comprehend — and, therefore, irrationally, ridicule — anything that is different from ourselves. The other end of the spectrum, however, is also no less troubling, marked as it is by a hypersensitivity that singles out those with special needs as deserving of an outpouring of such sympathy that it makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps, the only way to strike a balance is to look at disability as yet another way of life, deserving our empathy and support, but also our sensitivity. Here’s a selection of books that can help kickstart the conversation around disability early in life:
Clumsy, messy, butterfingers, slowcoach, careless — the many names that a little girl with less-than-perfect motor skills is called pulls down her spirits and her zeal to be more. The words come to define who she is, drowning the efforts she is making and the person she really is, till her grandmother hands her over a box of paints. As she lets her imagination run wild and free, it changes her world and rescues herself from her mundane existence. Accompanied by Manjari Chakravarti’s watercolours, Australian author Ken Spillman’s delightful book Clumsy (2016, Tulika Books, appropriate for 5+, multilingual) is a nuanced take on learning disabilities and how our casual contempt dents the confidence of the person suffering from it.
CHENNAI-BASED The Chetana Charitable Trust Accessible Books Library works as a resource centre to make commercially accessible storybooks available in formats friendly for children with impairments. It’s a labour of love and effort and the result is a range of books designed keeping in mind the learning needs of young people up to the age of 10. Line and Circle by Radhika Menon is a primer that teaches children shapes through lines and circles and prompts them to identify those forms in the world outside. The two shapes come together to create various images and help progress the interesting storyline of the narrative. Available in audio, Braille and printed formats, this is a unique bilingual resource book, appropriate for a readership of 4+ years.
THERE’S ALWAYS a stir when a new student joins class, but, in Payal Dhar’s book, A Helping Hand (2018, Pratham Books, appropriate for 6+), a young girl writes a letter to the new girl she is supposed to be mentoring, explaining why everyone has been staring at her, even though they all know it’s rude to. The reason is that they have never seen a prosthetic hand before. A remarkably frank story in which the mentor asks direct questions of her new friend — as is the won’t with young children — about living with a disability and how, sometimes, simply talking about things openly puts them in perspective.