News from SILC – Idaho

Not “Special Needs” – Just Human Needs

Special Needs is a description created by non-disabled people to characterize the needs of disabled people as “extra” and burdensome. Access and accommodation are not ‘extras.’ Access and accommodation are not ‘burdens’. We need to stop using the term special needs. We are all at different points in our journey. Language and vernacular are constantly changing. It’s time to change Special Needs to Disabled. Or Disability. It’s ok to say the word. There’s nothing wrong with being a disabled person. We can take cues from other advocates and move on. Here are 8 reasons why:

  1. Disabled is not a dirty word. Why do we avoid using it? Calling a disabled person anything else does not make them any less disabled. Disability is a word of pride. A word reclaimed. Part of an identity. A community. It’s a part of YOU and that part is important.
  2. Disability is a normal part of human diversity. Somewhere around 25% of the population is disabled. The presence of disability enriches our humanity in ways we can’t even imagine. Being disabled is not something to be ashamed or scared of. It’s just a fact of life.
  3. Our needs are not special. We need to communicate, eat, go to school, get a job, have friends and leisure activities. These needs aren’t any different from anyone else. But how you access them is different. Disabled people need accessible transit, theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, shopping malls and anything else you can think of. The needs aren’t special, the access is. And by law, it is our right!
  4. Special needs sounds like the solution is a favor. It’s not about people with disabilities dealing with the disability, it’s people with disabilities dealing with life.
  5. The language we use mirrors how we think. By deciding what we want to call ourselves, owning it, we reclaim our power and celebrate the history and community advocacy that made it possible.
  6. Most disabled people prefer this. Not all of them, but enough of them, the majority of them identify as having a disability, not a special need.
  7. Avoiding the word disability implies negativity. Being disabled is not a tragedy! This brings to mind the term handy-capable. Just understand that disabled people are capable of doing things.
  8. Special needs is an ineffective euphemism. It doesn’t work. We don’t have special needs – we just need an adaptive world!