Labels are For Jars

Disability 4 Comments »

Or so I thought. Until I re-entered the public schools after the passage of the Law for Education of Handicapped Children. I was fired up! Now I could manage my resource room without traditional, sometimes offensive, labels. Instead of labeling the children, I would specify the skills they needed and group them accordingly. Good idea.

The first memorandum I received that year asked me to identify my students as to their disabilities, such as learning disabled, mentally retarded, visually impaired, etc. The explanation stated that the labels would determine the type of funding that would be awarded. I also discovered that in working with classroom teachers and other professionals the label was necessary in developing appropriate teaching strategies. So labels are not just for jars; they are essential for delivering necessary services to children with disabilities (another label).

One way society has dealt with the issue of labels is to change them (e.g from “deaf” to “hearing impaired”). A more lasting change, one that should always be used, is called “people first.” Thus, a person with a disability might be referred to as someone with a learning disability, or a child with autism, rather than a learning disabled student or an autistic child.

I recently read an article describing a research study, in which there were two groups, one of which was referred to as “the autistics.” I also heard a nurse call an infant with Down syndrome “a Downs baby.” Such language infers that the disability defines the person rather than describing an attribute of the person. It may sound silly, but I can identify with it. I have diabetes, but don’t call me “a diabetic!” That’s not who I am.

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