Disability in Uganda

When you talk of disability in Uganda, people usually conjure the image of the “lame”. And indeed, this is a common sight. Not a day goes past without seeing the hand peddled tricycle of an individual crippled by polio, untreated clubfoot, unmanaged cerebral palsy. People are often ready to share their stories of the girl at the high school in town who writes with her feet or so-and-so’s cousin who walks on their hands but is teacher/doctor/local government leader.


Gorgeous girls: Gloria and Sakira both have Down’s syndrome. Due to their similar appearance, the community assumed they had the same father.
Dig a little deeper and you get to the deaf. People know about the deaf, yes. There are schools and a language. There is even a deaf culture beginning to thrive these days. The blind? Yes, we know about that too. Difficulties persist: insensitivity fuelled by ignorance and unfortunate stereotypes; lack of resources or proximity to support; isolation in a community where even the most able struggle to survive. But still, people know what it is.


Winnie has cerebral palsy. Her father used to lock her inside, out of sight, all day while he went to work until he finally abandoned her with a local grandmother.
But learning disability, what it that?


It meets with a lot of surprise, interest and confusion, sometimes sadly, even from those who claim to be trained in special needs. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve explained learning disability, possible causes, effects and difficulties and possibilities to a lively, receptive and seemingly intuitive crown,  only to later present a child as an example and be meet with “Him, oh, he’s mentally disturbed, you can’t do anything thing with him.”


Sadi has communication, social and behavioural problems. The community believe he has the devil in him.

Learning disability is profoundly misunderstood in Uganda, as indeed it is the world over. Daemon’s, witchcraft, the sins of the father, staring at the light too long as a baby, retribution for wrong doing, bearing witness to the wicked – all these explanation have been offered to me as the source of learning disability in the children with which I work. God’s will is a more welcome, though still hopelessly shallow, explanation for parents who struggle to understand their burden.

Nasabu and Oliva were both left with developmental delay after early childhood sickness.  With support from the Small Steps Foundation Special Educational Needs Nursery Class they are now catching up and have been integrated back into mainstream classes.



But as I will continue to demonstrate in this blog, almost everyone I have met has been open-minded , willing to learn and to allow and embrace the change and development in the children they had once thought of as useless or hopeless….