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What IS it about "special"?

There's "special" -- as in "out of the ordinary" -- and then there's "special" as in "for the disabled."

Today in Louisville there's a special (term used correctly) election to fill a vacant state legislative seat. Yesterday's Courier-Journal took the occasion to write about new "special" (term used incorrectly) voting machines.

Repeat after me, reporters: "Accessible." Not "special."

Except, in this case, they are -- given that they were bought "special for the disabled." (As in the minimum they had to do under the Help America Vote Act. At least they did it, you say. Unlike other places. Well, yeah, but... ) If all the voting machines were accessible ones, there'd be nothing "special" about things. Which is what we should be aiming for. But as long as we like the concept of "special," we won't see anything wrong with having two sets -- regular ones for us and "special" ones for them. An article in The Disability Rag about 23 years ago made the point that "special" is just a pretty word for "segregated."

The story I'm whinging about, headlined Special voting machines ready to go, starts out like this:

The two special legislative elections tomorrow may provide the first real workout for special voting machines designed to allow blind and physically disabled people to vote without assistance.

Guess C-J reporter Sheldon Shafer liked linking the two meanings of "special" in one lede. Or maybe he didn't think about it at all.

He gives "special" a workout again a few sentences later:

The Jefferson County Board of Elections has 400 of the new specially equipped voting machines. The county is required to have one at every voting location under the Help America Vote Act....

Read the full story here.

Two other area media outlets who reported on the accessible machines were able to manage without the "special" headline.


Sounds like Shafer has a "special" need for a thesaurus.

Special means more than simply segregated, but is more akin to apartheid. It does not simply segregate, but dehumanizes at the same time. It denies our rightful place in our world.

Special definitely needs to be reserved for the appropriate occasions and wouldn't it be nice if, rather than having one machine per polling place, all machines needed to be accessible. What a novel idea. Although I do have to say that I still like the idea of having Special Olympics for the disabled. But wouldn't it be nice if the Special Olympics could get an agreement with the IOC like the Paralympics did?

I don't know what it is about words that classify and segregate. People love them. You would think people (such as this journalist)whose business IS words would be a little more in tune.

I hope this is an obvious point, but realistically beyond readers of this site and a few others, it isn't.

"Special" is often used to stigmatize what is different, but also used to stigmatize what is (or should be) really common, such as crossing the street, going to school, getting to work on time, being able to get in restrooms, and voting.

Orange County, CA (south of LA) has a "Special Needs in Transit" committee. Implicitly getting to appointments, going to school or work, and visiting friends/family are "special needs" for some people.

"Special" reflects the tyranny of the medical model, when the "needs" it's used to describe aren't medical.

I am a person born with various congenital physical disabilities and my child has autism and mental retardation.

I see the word "Special" as a divisive word that is meant to separate, divide, and classify people into different types of categories.

The word "Special" creates two different categories of people which is: people WITH disabilities and people WITHOUT disabilities. By doing this, it also puts people into one more category of "Us" category OR "Them" category depending on how a person looks at it.

In general society as a whole, there should be only ONE word which is the word "WE". The word "WE" creates ONE category of people which puts people WITH disabilities AND people WITHOUT disabilities into ONE category in general society as a whole.

The words "Special", "Us", and "Them" should NOT be in the English language because these words invites division, separation, classification, and different types of categories of people. The word "WE" invites inclusion into mainstream society and talks about ONE category of people only.

When the Constitution of the United States was written, it started out as "We the People". The Constitution of the United States does NOT start out as "Us the People", or "Them the People". The Constitution of the United States does NOT have the word "Special" in the very first sentence when it comes to talking about people.

The way I see it, general society as a whole should remember the word "WE" and forget the words of "Us", Them", and "Special" when they are making references to ANY other person whether the other person DO or DO NOT have disabilities.

People with disabilities WANT to be included in mainstream society by mainstream society's usage of the word "We". People with disabilities do NOT want to be separated from mainstream society with mainstream society's usage of the words of "Us", Them", and "Special".