Disabled needs are not ‘special’

Arianna Ridgeway

“Sped” is an insult frequently thrown around at Wilson to describe anyone who has made a mistake. Most students recognize this is offensive, but when courses for disabled people and their respective teachers are labeled with “special education,” no one bats an eye. Although not used as an insult there, the disabled community finds this use insulting still. Wilson’s community should stop using “special” to describe disabled people because it is infantilizing, belittling, and not a word that disabled people claim.

Euphemistic at best, harmful at worst: calling disabled people “special,” differently-abled, or any other word that is not disabled implies that there is something wrong with disability. Research also shows that people view others labeled as special needs more negatively than people labeled disabled.

Calling disabled people “special” can also insinuate that they are pure or innocent. This often results in inadequate, or no, sexual health education from schools or guardians, the assumption being that they would never need that information. When you consider that studies show disabled people are more likely to be sexually abused than their abled counterparts, a horrifying picture is painted of how the words we use can have disastrous effects.

A common narrative about disabled people is that they’re a burden on our society. “Special needs” perpetuates that narrative by insinuating that the needs of disabled people are something extra, and not necessities. Values of productivity and efficiency are the current way we define disability. “Special needs” comes from the same idea, that some needs are extra. When we define disabled people through this lens, there will always be people left behind.

Moreover, “special” isn’t even a word that disabled people use to describe themselves. The term is outdated and is not what many of us prefer to be called. Our language should reflect the preferences of the group it refers to.

At Wilson, we must stop using the term “special” regarding disability. Instead of saying “special needs,” just say disabled. It’s not a bad word. Additionally, disabled people have offered the term “accessible education” as a replacement for “special education.” It’s important to think critically about the language we use because there are very real consequences to the way we continue to portray disability. •