Destroying the term “special needs”

uwe-quote-jpg“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.

Yuck.

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.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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5 Responses to Destroying the term “special needs”

  1. Kathy March 24, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this! So true.

  2. Elizabeth March 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    “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.”

    Have faith – that time is coming because of the work of people like you.

  3. Ex March 28, 2014 at 4:49 am #

    I appreciate the thought at work here, but this is a little silly. Yes, all people are people, but the idea that special needs don’t exist is simply an attempt to ignore reality. The human standard is a functional body and brain. Deviations from this standard are a superminority. And since time and money are finite resources, making accommodations for these minorities is not and can not be automatic.

    If you expect human beings to assume that the exceptional cases are the standard, you’re only choosing a view of reality that will disappoint you. Forever.

  4. VMGillen March 28, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    @ Ex- rethink your use of “superminority” – fact of the matter is, EVERYONE will experience impairment at some point – either through aging or traumatic injury or congenitally. Impairment is not the same as disability – which occurs as a result of social response to impairment.

    • Jane March 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      I agree with what you say. Our expectations should be so much higher.

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