The gym that we go to has two entrances. We are expected to use the lower entrance because the gym is just inside the doors. However, while that entrance is technically wheelchair accessible, the experience of it isn't. It's made up of big square pieces of concrete that are pushed together like giant bathroom tiles. But the difficulty is that each of those has settled differently and a pushover them means being jousted around in my chair. Once I was almost thrown out of my chair when my front tires caught in a deep hole between the slabs.
Because of this, we always entered at the other door. That entrance is extremely accessible. When the pandemic hit and when the gym opened again, it was determined that the rule was we had to enter via the bottom entrance. I spoke to them, told them of the issue I had with coming in that way, they were awesome. Really awesome. They went through the procedures we'd need to go through coming in the door we wanted and our names were put on a list that approved the really accessible entrance for me.
This worked well for weeks and most of the people who work that door know who we are and know to admit us without any questions except about covid symptoms. But yesterday someone new was at the door and she directed us to the other entrance. I explained to her that if she checked she'd find our name. She kind of made a big production of going with us and going to let them know at the other entrance, where we always check in again, that we were coming.
As we got on the elevator she made the comment that we came in that way because we were speshul. I grabbed the elevator door and said, "We aren't special, this door is more accessible," in a very stern tone. I was angry. Really angry.
"Special" is a term I hate in reference to disability and it's often used in that mocking tone that lets you know that your rights as a disabled person are seen as a gift or candy given to you to make you happy. My rights are not 'Special' in this case it was the right to access. When you consider what disabled people want, and I'm not speaking for all disabled people, none of the things on the list are "speshul".
These aren't gifts that we want they are rights we demand. They aren't 'speshul' they are things that form the basis of the struggle of disabled people for a seat at the table, a piece of the pie, a voice that is heard.
I'd love terms like 'special' to go to the dump heap of history beside all the other words used to separate and denigrate people.
I'd love to hear from you about the words that you find galling or upsetting when used in reference to someone with a disability.
Special is such a weird word, e(special)ly in the context of "special needs". I hate it - it seems to disregard the curb-cut effect, and it's often used for needs that aren't special.
I need food that doesn't make me ill, I need to be communicated with in a way that works for me, I need to have my boundaries respected, I need love and support - none of that is a special need. Those are all human needs.
"Special needs" seems to invalidate everyone - it invalidates the individuality from regular folk who could benefit from individual solutions (you don't need to have auditory processing disorder to be a visual learner who likes it when a teacher uses visual aids, you don't need to be blind or dyslexic to learn better with an audio book), and it invalidates the rights of disabled folks by othering them and by making their solutions (like an accessible entrance) seem like something special that can optionally be offered if one elects to do so.
And it invalidates the curb-cut effect.
Not special - human.
"Confined to a wheelchair" and "wheelchair bound". Grrrr. A wheelchair is a mobility device. I use a wheelchair. I am a wheelchair user.
My wheelchair is not a punishment. It is not some sort of mobile prison. My wheelchair enables me to go wherever I wish to go. If it is accessible.
And that is another discussion altogether. Wheelchair accessibility - we who use wheelchairs have multitudes of accessibility (lack of) stories.
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