I’m sometimes asked “Why do you say “disability” instead of “special needs”?
Here’s the most basic reason:
- When people say “special needs”, the next word is usually “kids”.
- When people say “disability”, the next word is often “rights”.
I’m an adult, and I want equal rights. For that reason, I’m going to keep using the language that has room for adulthood and power.
You are not your child’s voice. You are not the voice of the voiceless. You are not anyone’s voice, except your own.
You can advocate for others, but you can only speak for yourself.
You can translate. You can guess. You can do lots of things. You can advocate.
But you are you. You are not your child. Or your student. Or your sister. No matter how well you understand them. No matter how much you love them. You are not them. You are you.
They have a perspective of their own, and it is not the same as yours. Whether or not they can articulate it, whether or not anyone knows what it is, they have a perspective that is wholly their own.
When you speak, you are speaking from your own perspective; that is the only perspective you *can* speak from. You can never get inside another person’s head; you can never share their perspective; you can never be their voice.
Make sure that you keep in mind that the person you care about exists as a person separate from you, and that they disagree with you about some things; probably even some really important things. (No one 100% agrees with another person about everything.). Do not speak as though you and they are essentially the same person, or as though they automatically agree with everything you think. They are real, and their perspective matters.