Monday, February 17, 2014

Disability is Not Normal, But...

We live in a world of political correctness. Not long ago when I went for a job interview, I found my words more muddled than usual as I was confronted with the question to the effect of "what are some strategies you would use to handle a child with additional needs?"

Additional needs? I was applying for a job in disability services, based at a special school. The question itself didn't stump me but suddenly we have thrown in the phrase "additional needs"? Whatever happened to plain old "special needs"?

I stumbled through the question. I got the job. 

I enjoyed the job thoroughly. It was a summer job, working with a lot of the kids I know from throughout the year but with more of a focus on fun. I really enjoyed it. I met a bunch of great colleagues as well. I learned a lot and I had one really interesting conversation that stands out in my mind. 

One day, towards the end of Summer, I was talking with a colleague, Hailey. Hailey and I were talking about a little boy at the program. 
This little boy is nonverbal, has autism and could be a real sweetheart. He also could be really unpredictable and had bitten and scratched children, resulting in angry parents. 

Hailey said to me, in frustration, "I think he is such a sweet boy, I mean, if he was just normal - "
Hailey instantly looked horrified at herself "I didn't mean that, of course he is normal, I just mean - "

I just smiled at her and I shook my head "No, Hailey. I understand what you mean."

And the truth is: disability is not normal. 

Use the catch phrase you want: call it not typical, not average, developmentally off target or unique but these are just fancy or politically correct ways of saying not normal. 

Disability is not normal but it is okay. 

If disability was normal: disabled parking spots would not exist.

If disability was normal: IEPs and Special Schools would not exist. 

If disability was normal: we would all have one. (Or maybe we all do, but that is getting way too philosophical. I'm talking mainstream). 

If disability was normal this whole realm of special needs blogging would not exist. 

Disability is not normal. It is not typical. It is not mainstream. But it is okay. 

It's okay to have a disability: it is okay to be disabled. It is okay to not be normal. 

I don't want to be normal anyway. What is normal?

They laugh at me because I am different: I laugh at them because they are all the same. 

What do you think?


  1. I really really wish more people would understand that

  2. This is a very brave thing to write, and I appreciate it. Believe it or not, quite a few people with disabilities prefer to use more blunt terminology, precisely because euphemisms do not feel true to our experience. Even "Special Needs" to me seems dodgy ... like someone trying too hard not to offend.

    Analogy to race might apply here. A lot of people seem to believe (often sincerely, sometimes cynically) that the key to not being racist is to hold that "Race doesn't matter" or that society should be "color blind". But most African-Americans who care about these things would say that race does matter. It is part of their heritage, their history. It is part of who they are. But it's "okay". It is a thing, but it is not a bad thing.

    1. Thanks, mate. I really do appreciate your comment as it did take courage because I was worried people would take offence (and I think a lot of people have - they've read the title and ignored the rest). I think you are right as well with the analogy to race.
      We don't have to conform to the norm to be perfectly acceptable people.
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. If disability was normal, blogs like these would not exist.