I Hate “Special Needs”

Of course I don’t hate so called people with “special needs”; I hate the label “special needs”.  I’m no fan of other forms of “politically correct” language (for example, visually impaired, partially sighted, or people with disabilities).  But at least I can understand the motivations behind employing these terms.  The word blind (to the uninformed) connotes the complete absence of sight.  I would rather expand the widely-accepted meaning of the word blind, but I get the motivation behind introducing a term that suggests an inability to see very well without being completely blind.  Similarly, I understand the desire to want to emphasize that the physical variation isn’t the entire person.  I don’t like the way the phrase “people with disabilities” implies that the person possesses the disability rather than it being imposed by social factors, but we do wrong if we fail to acknowledge anything more about a person than the physical variation that results in disability, and “people first language” is trying to address that wrong.

That said, I can’t find worthwhile motivations behind the use of the term “special needs”, and I strongly reject the sentiment expressed by the term.  What it implies is that there is a group of people who possess a set of needs that differ from… differ from whom? From those who are normal I suppose.  What is overlooked by this attitude is the ways in which social factors (e.g., power and status) can shape needs and determine which ones get marked off as “special”.

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