Monday, February 27, 2012

Well, Isn’t That Special?

On Friday, February 10, I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony marking the official name change of Special Transit to Via.

For those who don’t know, Via is a local organization that acts as our community’s full-spectrum "mobility manager." Via provides accessible on-demand transportation, individual and group travel training, and mobility options counseling (information and referral) for older adults, people with disabilities, low-income individuals and others living with mobility options.

They do great work, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Instead, I’m writing to commend them for one of the reasons behind the name change. As you can see in the video below from the name change ceremony, Via Executive Director Lenna Kottke says that one of the motivations for the name change was that the word “special” is “no longer an appealing or acceptable word for many people living with disabilities.”

Via Launch from Patti Micklin on Vimeo.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Too often in this field, the world “special” is used to describe the individuals we serve, as in “special needs individuals.” Education for people with intellectual disabilities is called “special education,” and even sporting events for people with developmental disabilities are described as “Special Olympics.”

I find the use of the term “special” in such context is patronizing and demeaning. And if you don’t think that describing something or someone as “special” can be patronizing and demeaning, here’s someone who I think would disagree:

Can't see the video? Click here.

What qualifies someone as “special?” There are people we serve at Imagine! who are fantastic artists, far more talented than me. So who’s special in that scenario? Is it the artists because they have great talent and skill. Or is it me, because I have an art disability (namely, I’m a terrible artist). If we follow the logic that leads to the use of “special” in the context of the individuals we serve at Imagine!, I think it would be me that is “special.”

None of this is to put down in any way people who work in the field of so-called special education or the good people at Special Olympics. Instead, it is to draw attention to the fact that we might be better off moving away from describing those we serve as “special” and doing our best to treat people as people, all of whom have their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. At best, I don’t think the “special” distinction helps anyone, and at worst, it reinforces stereotypes that so many of us have spent our lives working to discredit.

Then again, what do I know?

No comments:

Post a Comment