Disability 101: The prison of ‘special’
November 29, 2009
People with disabilities are sometimes referred to as having “special needs.” It’s a term I despise. Being referred to as “special” has created a prison for those of us with disabilities.
The term was first used by parents of young children with disabilities. These parents wanted the world to see that their children, despite their disabilities, were special as well, just like every other child.
These parents wanted the world to know that children with disabilities (intellectual, physical, blindness or deafness) brought love and joy into the world, just like every other child.
Finally the world saw the gifts of love and joy the child with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy brings to the world.
The only problem is that those children grow up. Society still has the expectation that adults with disabilities will have the same loving and joyful spirits they had as young children.
Society expects that all people with disabilities will be loving and joyful and cooperative and that our very presence will bring inspiration and hope. That is our role. Everyone around us can feel good because of our loving presence.
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Bull hockey. It is our prison.
We are not allowed to be contrary. We are not allowed to formulate an opinion that might be controversial. We are not allowed to protest. We are not allowed to complain.
In fact, we are not allowed to have an opinion at all. We are simply supposed to fulfill our role of providing inspiration, hope, love and joy. If we do not properly fulfill that role, one of three things can happen.
Some able-bodied people will simply hope we go away. Perhaps if they ignore us, we will go away. Those of us with disabilities will ask the able-bodied person if there is a problem, if there is a concern.
But instead of being truthful, the able-bodied person will smile a smile, and say “oh no, everything’s fine” and they will make up an excuse to get rid of us.
They haven’t the guts to come after us because we are “special” and a good person certainly can’t come after someone who is “special.”
Another possibility is that the able-bodied person will determine that because we are “special” we need guidance and they will proceed to instruct us on how we really should feel and what we really should be thinking. Here comes the long explanation.
They spend a huge amount of time trying to get us to bring our thinking and feelings around so we can properly fulfill our role of bringing inspiration and hope.
A third possibility is that the able-bodied person will get angry with us. They will write us off as being “bitter” and because we aren’t fulfilling our role properly, we will be discarded. We’re not the proper type of a person with a disability.
Often this able-bodied person will make some kind of comment like “my mother raised me to be kind to ‘handicapped’ people” and since we are not allowing the able-bodied person to be kind to us, we are defective.
Let’s cut out this “special” garbage once and for all. I am not “special.” I am human. Sometimes I get angry. I’m angry today. Can you tell? And that’s okay. Every human being gets angry sometimes. Every human being has a different opinion at times. Every human being is controversial at times.
I am not special. I am human.
I challenge you, able-bodied reader, to allow me to be human, with all the infinite variety of emotions and opinions that every human enjoys.