What do people think of the term "special needs" to mean disabilities? I don't like it. I know it's in common use. Disabled children in UK schools who need them are allotted (often after a fight from their parents against intransigent education authorities) statements of special educational needs
. When I lived in outer London, we used a toy library and went to a fantastic playgroup at the Project for Children with Special Needs
. In fact, in my old Borough (Richmond Upon Thames) there are a whole load of services with the "special needs" label.
It strikes me however as an anachronistic term. I don't know of any disabled person who would describe themselves as having special needs, sort of like normal
people but with extra, special
additional needs. It is a term I think, only parents and professionals would use and usually only when referring to young children. It has a very infantilising ring to it, to my ears anyway.
I am asking these questions now as I recently learned (via jypsy
and then on Dave Hingsburger's blog
)of a Facebook group created to tackle the hundreds of other Facebook groups and pages whose aim/title mocks disabled people, groups started by people with a droll wit of almost Wildean proportions with titles like "Hott Retardz" (that's humour to test one's pelvic floor right there).
The group aiming to tackle the disablism and hate these groups engender is called, FACEBOOK: STOP ALLOWING HATEFUL GROUPS THAT MOCK PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
I have exchanged a few messages with the group's creator about the title and asking if she would consider changing it, while acknowledging the laudable aims of the group and her right to utterly discount anything I
would have to say.
In a reply she explained that special needs is the expression she always uses when referring to her daughter and that she has asked "many friends with siblings and children with various issues and they prefer special needs."
I have to highlight here the expression, "nothing about us, without us
It is not good enough to just ask parents and siblings. Disabled people themselves must be central to the issue and effort. There are plenty of disabled people who are happy to take part and explain their concerns on this Facebook group, but these people have not been treated well. I have witnessed 3 different disabled people come in to discussions on this group who have all been told that their thinking is amiss and that they
need to learn from parents what the right way to talk about themselves
I have also seen many people (all parents as far as I can see) complain about the discussion on words and terms as distracting from action. This makes no sense to me when the point of the group is to tackle the use of words like "retard" used in offending ways.
I'm was also surprised to read her view that to, "many people we asked, disability had a more negative connotation than special needs."
Andrea Shettle posted publicly to the group
, asking the same question politely and gently. She was attacked by one group member and told that she was being condescending and stuck in the seventies for preferring the expression "disabled people" or even "people with disabilities."
When I questioned this person's dismissal of Andrea's questions and meanings and pointed out that it might be worth listening to and learning from disabled adults, he told me that I must be happy to be spoken down to.Amanda Baggs
then stepped in with a detailed and powerful series of posts explaining all the issues about how parents have too often ignored and marginalised the efforts of self advocates, about the important role we have as allies
, and how damaging it is (with several eye-opening examples) to claim that we parents are at the "heart of the disability community." She explained that her posts were lengthy as she has difficulties in summarising her thoughts and that she wanted to be as clear as possible on an important and complicated issue.
The same poster who had earlier been rude to Andrea now claimed untruthfully that Amanda was attacking him, he put words into her mouth (that she wanted to let people insult his child!) and he rudely called her long winded, but did not engage with a single thing of substance that she wrote.
Wanting to tackle disablist practices and injustice on Facebook is great, but it has to start in this group before I can be part of it or invite my friends to join. Nor can I be part of a group that thinks the very word "disability" has negative connotations.