“Special needs children” is the all encompassing term used to describe all children that have a disability or disorder. What it implies is, and this is where people start to see “special needs” people as a burden, is that special accommodations are needed just to make life easier for “special needs” people.
An example of this is when a library spends a bunch of money to put in a ramp along side their entrance stairs so that a person in a wheelchair can get in. An architect, disability specialist/advocate, contractor, construction team and a whole host of other people and costs are all put towards getting in this ramp to help out a few out of the thousands of people that visit that library each day.
As more and more libraries get on board with his “affirmative action”, we start to see more and more libraries with this “convenient” ramp at it’s entrance and we smile to ourselves as society is finally starting to do something for these poor “special needs” people that need that little bit extra.
Let’s flip this around and look at it from another point of view.
Imagine a world where no one was considered special but instead, as people. And as the first library starts to go up, the designers and planners say to each other “well, we have blind people so there’ll be braille, we have people in wheelchairs so there’ll be ramps with stairs over here, we have people that require animal assistance so we’ll make sure the floors are safe for them…” and on and on. The second library follows suit, then the next and then the next.
No one thinks twice about it.
Then one day you’re travelling to a place you’ve never been before and you come across a library that has no ramps or braille or any of that stuff. How shocking would that be?!?! What an abomination that would be to every ounce of common sense that you were raised with in believing that libraries were just made for everyone… not to exclude anyone.
No one would question this library for it’s lack of accommodation… they would judge it, quite harshly, for it’s shutting people out. Not “special needs” people, but people. Just… people.
If only that could be how it is, right?
The library example is just one example out of billions but in the end, what it comes down to is that no one has “special needs”, we just have needs.
I have needs, you have needs, we all have needs. We all want access to the same things, we all want to read and watch and do the same things. Some people just do it differently than others but that doesn’t make it a special need. It makes it the same need that someone somewhere hadn’t thought about putting into their designs or, worse, just left out of their designs because they either didn’t care or didn’t want to spend that little extra on “accommodation.”
We can’t go back and tell those libraries to get it right the first time, although it really would be great, but we can work to fix these things so that future generations don’t have to think of anyone as needing something special done to give them special help to their special need.
One day, one generation of people will find it odd to have a movie without a subtitle option, or a library without ramp, or a debate/discussion without transcripts or sign language accompaniment, or a bus without wheelchair access or a building that doesn’t allow guide dogs or…. well, I could go on. One day, instead of finding it pleasantly surprising to find places that have all these things, people will find it disgustingly surprising to find a place that doesn’t.
That probably won’t be in my lifetime but it’s a good dream to have. I just wish everyone shared it.
Get it right in the first place and there’ll be no more “special needs”… only similar needs that people achieve differently.