Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Special Needs"

As individuals on this planet, we’re all different from each other which makes us all the same. I know this makes sense if and when you’re able to slow your brain down enough to think about it. The people who know and care about us will generally strive to understand HOW we are different so they can be supportive of who we are. I believe everyone does this for their loved ones. It’s related to interdependence and innate survival.

I realize that I’m pretty complex, and feel fortunate that a handful of people value me enough that they’ve learned how to support and love me in spite of my differences. In turn there are a handful of people that I’ve gone out of my way to understand their differences so that they know someone “gets” them. There’s real beauty in this.

Why then, does society put the label of “special needs” on some people, when we all have individualized needs? Is it because some people have needs that society refuses to understand and accept as natural? Is it because some people are less valued by society because their differences are more obvious or blatant? Are anyone’s needs really more special than anyone else’s? I don’t believe they are.

The thought underlying what I’m writing here (in case you haven’t already figured it out) is that I believe it’s time to stop labeling people who have different needs than the vast majority as “special”. It only serves to set them apart from their peers and community, limiting and marginalizing them. I believe that true inclusion in society can only happen when we see each other as individuals who are all the same. Ya know??


Magenta said...

So, I’m thinking about commenting on the “special needs” label post, and I go to the web and google it. It’s everywhere! This seems to be giving people the impression that “special needs” is the socially correct terminology of the day. No matter what real people with disabilities – especially adults with disabilities think about such a label. All the websites I found that espouse the term are put out there by people connected with schools and medicine, as well as parents of kids with disabilities. There even seems to be a concerted effort to instruct “normal” kids on how to think about and respond to their schoolmates who have these so-called “special needs.”

The origin of the term, ie, the school system, and specifically “special education” is enough for me to be repelled by it – I mean, in my experience “there’s nothing special about special education” you know? But, I’ll dig in and examine the reason that the term evolved there. In school systems there’s a need (a “special need”?) to label kids so they will receive the services they require so that they might achieve academically. Of course, just lumping a widely disparate group of kids into a category as broad and vague as “special needs” makes you wonder if their individual needs will really be considered. The label is used just as liberally in the medical establishment, and even in adoption services, for example, where a kid who is black or even a pair of siblings will be labeled “special needs.”

The problem with “special needs” to me is that it does nothing to challenge the prevailing thinking based on opposites, in which society guarantees a safe and comfortable continuation on the basis of one group of people confirming their superiority as the opposite of the lesser “special.” In this kind of logic, different is necessarily inferior. Substituting terms such as “challenged” or “differently-abled” or “special” does nothing to shake up this status quo. We’re still comparing one to the inferior other. A kid who has heard from the beginning from his own parents, his schoolmates, his teachers and other professionals that his needs are “special” understands on a simple level that he is different, and therefore, in this culture, inferior. This way of thinking and defining culture makes me understand on a deep level that because I was born female, I’m necessarily inferior to the superior male. I don’t really have an identity as a woman, I’m just another human with certain “special needs.” The same logic would require that the overweight man who lives on my block doesn’t really shop at the Big & Tall Shop, he shops at the “Special Needs” Suit Store. I mean, really, does Shaq have a “special needs” tailor? I’m with Stokely Carmichael, who pointed out that the most effective way to directly engage and supersede the “other” role is to claim the labels and the language forcefully and to purposefully reassign value to that which is devalued. Black is beautiful. Black is natural. Disabled is natural and beautiful.

So, I’m cruising the web and find this enlightened comment in response to the question: why do people make fun of people with “special needs”? The writer actually says: “God made special needs people, in part, to show us how fortunate we are to be blessed in the way God blessed us. These people are special because they were created by God to teach the rest of us humility, compassion and the Golden Rule.” May I just say bleeeeeeeech!! News flash: “These people” were created to live their own lives without you placing them in the role of inferior “other” to help you with measuring the value to your own existence, thank you very much.

captaiN dandY said...

Magenta... the timing of this is classic. There is a blog where a story title is "Special Needs Students Take It On The Chinn" in regard to Ron Chinn's comments. I cut and pasted my emails with the MESD board in the comment section. Actually I'm going to do the same here...
Dear MESD Board Members,
While watching the morning news on KGW this morning I heard a brief report pertaining to something a Multnomah ESD board member was quoted as saying last month at a MESD board meeting. Apparently Ron Chinn stated that students requiring special education services are “a bunch of slabs - slow, low and belows”. Aside from the use of poor grammar to state his belief, Ron has come out with what he’s likely privately thought for some time. I’m writing to express the Disability Activists Work Group’s (DAWG Oregon) official position on his words and obvious mindset. I am also requesting a response from the rest of the board.
DAWG believes there is no room for such blatant bigotry toward students with developmental disabilities ANYWHERE in our community. In the last state legislature the Respectful Language bill was passed, making law what is really common sense anyway. For someone in a position of being a board member charged with oversight of programs that support these students to come out with such language is appalling, disturbing, and intolerable.
We believe that if similar derogatory words were used to describe his feelings about African Americans, Latinos, women, or the gay and lesbian communities, much more than censure would be happening.
We believe that the Multnomah ESD must take immediate measures to remove Ron from the board, effectively demonstrating a zero tolerance for bigotry among all of its administration, employees, staff, and volunteers.
Members of the Disability Activists Work Group
Dear DAWG members:
On January 16, 2007, the Board of MESD voted to censure Mr. Chinn and publicly repudiate his remarks. The Board and this agency find his views to be repugnant. Mr. Chinn is an elected official and the Board has no legal authority to force his resignation or require him to make amends for his thoughtless and cruel remarks.
In this instance the Board, MESD's unions, employees and mangement joined with the general public to express our lack of tolerance for such remarks. It is now up to Mr. Chinn to make the honorable decision to step down.
Your email dated 1/16/07 was read aloud at the Board meeting as part of the official record.
If members of your group would like an opportunity to address the Board or Mr. Chinn in person, the next board meeting is on February 20, 2007 at 7 p.m. I believe Mr. Chinn's email address is published at the MESD website.
Thank you for expressing your concerns in such a timely fashion.
Harry Ainsworth
Vice Chair MESD

Book Girl said...

Excellent post, and a very important point that I've been trying to make for some time. My version is, "We don't have `special' needs, we have the same needs as everyone else, it's just that these needs may need to be met in alternative and specific ways."

captaiN dandY said...

Around these parts, a popular bumper sticker reads "Equal Rights Are Not Special Rights". It's related to gay marriage, but seems also appropriate in the discussion about special needs.