Why did “special needs” become an insult

special needs

Our latest podcast episode talks about how the words we use can really affect people with disabilities.

A client told us about something that happened at a youth conference that made them think differently about the language we use every day.

The term “special needs” is one many of us say without thinking too much about it. But as we discussed in the podcast, this term can be really stigmatizing for people with disabilities. “Special needs” isn’t a medical or legal term – it came from informal language on the streets or in classrooms. It often makes people with disabilities seem “other” or abnormal, promoting unfair stereotypes.

Thinking back to our school days, the competitive education system sometimes led students to misunderstand or be biased against kids with disabilities. From hurtful nicknames to dismissive attitudes, students with disabilities can have it really rough and feel isolated. Schools often don’t provide enough diversity training, which makes this worse and leads to marginalization.

Given how powerful words are, diversity training in schools is crucial. It can help students be more empathetic and challenge their biases, making schools more inclusive. But this doesn’t just apply to schools. The language we use daily also significantly impacts people with disabilities. 

“Special needs” isn’t just about the people it refers to – it’s also about the prejudiced attitudes it promotes. If we’re careful with our words and work on empathy, we can fight those harmful stereotypes and make society more inclusive.

Language is really powerful. It can marginalize or empower, isolate or include. Being mindful of our words and their impact can help foster a more inclusive, understanding society. We hope you’ll join this ongoing discussion and reflect on the language you use each day.

Inclusivity isn’t just accepting differences – it’s understanding and celebrating them. Rethinking our language use can greatly improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Let’s use words to empower, include, and promote understanding. Let’s challenge our biases and be careful with our language. Please join this conversation and help us build a more inclusive society.

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