The case against “special”

young girl in a classroom setting looking at an iPadTorrie Dunlap gives a first hand account of how she thought people with disability had “special needs” and now realises that this thinking marginalises and separates, particularly when “special arrangements” are made. For universal design to get greater traction, first we need more people like Torrie to make that paradigm shift. Indeed, this Tedx Talk is a really good example to show people who have yet to even consider how they patronise (even just in their thinking).

Cartoon of Santa with his hands held out either side of his bodyTorrie relates real stories of children and how they are treated as special, with special days and special events which are obviously not inclusive. She even tells of a special day for children with disability to visit Santa – why can’t they go any day?  Here is a snippet from her talk:

“A mental model is a deeply ingrained set of beliefs based on assumptions, generalizations, media images, our own experience or lack of it. Basically, how we think about stuff… For many of us, our mental model around disability reflects the medical model – something to fear, something to fix, something to feel sorry for, and that we can feel good when we help less fortunate people. But, what happens when we consciously change our internal model and view disability as neutral, and the environment as a factor? What if we see children with disabilities first as children, and not a diagnosis or as “special?”

The link to the page and video includes a full transcript of the Tedx talk.