“Special needs,” “Differently-Abled,” or “Handicapable.”

not a labelA constant topic that comes up in the realm of disabilities is how to talk about it. What to say, what not to say, what is politically correct and what is preferred. Should we use “people first language” like a person with a disability as opposed to a disabled person or does that have an underlying negative connotation like the disability is something they have or need to be removed from?  Is Special Needs a less aggressive and more respectful term or is it implying that the person in front of you requires something so unique that their needs require their own category? At the end of the day air to breathe, food to eat, shelter, education, healthcare, love, respect, and acceptance are needs that we all have.

So how do we talk about it? What is the correct way to view or speak about a person with a disability?

The answer: As just that. A person.

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month This month instead of informing you of all the types of disabilities there are. We want you to focus on being aware of the person behind the label.  What if we come together to disable the label and create a world of inclusion, respect, and acceptance. Together we can change the way the world defines and views disability.

How can we all get involved? Good question!

Start at the foundation.
Let’s teach our children. Children are naturally curious, so it is important to be prepared to address their questions about disabilities as openly and honestly as we can. Here are just a few tips to get started:

  1. Let them know it is okay to notice that someone is different because they will. But also inform them that differences are nothing to be ashamed of and that it doesn’t mean there is something wrong. The kid in their class is just like them they just may do things a little differently. It’s like riding their bike down two different paths to get to the same destination.
  2. Teach them to use respectful terminology as best they can. Make sure our children know that terms are not to be used as a joke and the way they say things can be hurtful. A great rule of thumb to remember is that in most cases a description is not needed. Simply using someone’s name is enough and preferred.
  3. Add bullying and differences to your conversations at dinner. Is there someone at school that they see getting bullied or made fun of? Someone that doesn’t have many friends because they are different? Talk to them about how they can speak up and show kindness. Encourage them to be a leader through example.
  4. Most importantly emphasize similarities. We all have traits that make us unique, but we have more in common than we know.

Click here for more tips on teaching children about disabilities or check out this list of recommendations for Children’s Books on Disabilities.

Practice What We Teach
It is important to teach our children these things, but it is even more important to practice what we preach. We are our child’s first and most important teacher and advocate. They are sponges and follow our leads.  Two great ways to help redefine disability and act as an example are:

  1. Focus less on labels and more on the person in front of you. Describing people by their disability sets limitations that are not for you to set. It is better to see people for what they’re able to do. It is about empowering someone to be who they are and live to their full potential.
  2. Speak up. It is unrealistic to pretend that those with disabilities don’t have needs. We all require certain resources and services to thrive but too often children and adults with disabilities lack access to the resources they need, whether through funding cuts or lack of empathy. It is up to us to speak up for one another and for those whose main disability is living in a society that marginalizes them or leaves them out altogether.

Easterseals North Georgia recognizes and respects the whole child. We focus on providing opportunities for children and their families from different backgrounds and with a range of abilities to achieve their full potential. If you would like to learn more about us and how we serve children and families in your community check out our website at www.eastersealsnorthgeorgia.org or give us a call at 404-943-1070.

boy with drum and therapist

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