No More ‘Special Needs’

By: Barb Griffith, President and CEO

In spring, there’s an annual ‘Clean Up Your Language’ campaign! Since March is ‘Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month’ and April is ‘Autism Awareness’ month, People First of St. Charles County*, in conjunction with the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board, uses this time to remind everyone to clean up your language – think ‘people first.’

The concept is so simple – we are all people, first and foremost! No one wants to be referred to, or be identified by a diagnosis that their doctor has written in their medical chart. No one wants to be introduced using their deficits and weaknesses. “Hi, this is Sue; she’s hard of hearing, forgetful, and late for everything.” Every person wants to be known for their gifts, talents, or achievements and treated with the respect they deserve, regardless of any differences.

George Orwell stated, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” What we say can influence what we think. So often we don’t even think about what we say; it is just a habit, or we simply repeat what we have heard. Some examples of people first language are listed on the Awareness & Education (link to A&E page) page. The differences are subtle, but powerful! Practice new ways of thinking. Practice putting the person first until people first language becomes second nature – and so does people first thinking!

And regarding “special needs,” it is a term that often evokes pity. We ALL have needs; a person’s needs are not “special” to them, they are normal and ordinary! So, let’s all think about cleaning up our language.

*People First of St. Charles County is an adult self-advocacy and self-help organization run by and for adults 18 years and older who have developmental disabilities. People First teaches, mentors, coaches, guide and prepares adults to advocate for change in their community and in state and federal laws.