Disability doesn’t have to be this child’s defining characteristic.
As Murphy eloquently describes in this chapter of his autobiographical account, the disabled become invisible, or because they are not, a source of tension and embarrassment. He talks about the discomfort able-bodied people feel at seeing the disabled and suggests it is due to Freud’s ideas on what is a sociological “great flaw”. While this makes sense, I believe it also has to do with a person’s discomfort at the idea of being in the same situation. For example, seeing someone in a wheelchair sometimes gives me the feeling of being claustrophobic. As a runner, the idea of being so physically confined is frightening to me. It is not that I am frightened of an individual in a wheelchair, but I guess what that person’s circumstances represent.
I think we can apply the idea of discomfort regarding the disabled to many things. For example, some people may be too uncomfortable to be around the disabled. Some disabilities may seem more “offensive” than others. Diarrheal Disease, I believe, is a good example of a disability that makes people uncomfortable. People know, or should know, that DD is the leading cause of death amongst children and quite high on the list of overall preventable mortality, however their disgust of all things related to fecal matter prevents them from further researching or getting involved. To me, yes, diarrhea is not pretty, not fun, not inherently fascinating, but the subject itself is so very important. It is such an enormous problem in the world that people must overlook the “ick factor” of the word itself and go deeper into the reasons why people are getting it, where it is occurring, who is affected most, how it can be stopped, and realize that it is a painful, debilitating disease that too many people are afflicted with. If people are uncomfortable with hearing about it, imagine the people who have it. They are going to be even less likely to want to talk about it, which makes it harder to help.
I think great strides could be taken in helping others if empathy was applied to more cases. Murphy says he was able to feel only a little empathy for the disabled people he saw in Africa because he could not relate, but I think we can all find empathy for others. All of us (unless there are extremely lucky people, I suppose) have experienced suffering. While we may not know what it is like to lose function in all of our limbs, or be affected by a life altering/ending disease, it should not be hard to find within us a connection of understanding for our fellow people.