I fully support

language that moves away from the notion that people with disabilities, including myself, are somehow ‘special’ or ‘unusual’ purely because of our existence.

Let’s reduce the stigma tied to disability by eliminating the word “special” from everyday language, conversation, services, and policy on disability-related issues. Help us get the word out!

What does the pledge mean?

Individuals and organizations are invited to sign on and support the campaign in a way that feels right for them. Here are a few ideas that can make a significant difference:

  • Avoid using the term ‘special’ to refer to someone with a disability.
  • Help others understand why the use of ‘special’ can be problematic when appropriate.
  • Share information about the Stop Special campaign with others.
    While recognizing that the term may be necessary in certain legal contexts, try to avoid referring to the individuals who receive services or benefits under those laws and policies as ‘special’.

Let’s reduce the stigma tied to disability by eliminating the word “special” from everyday language, conversation, services, and policy on disability-related issues. Help us get the word out!

From the Community

“Calling my needs ‘special’ reinforces the idea that disabled people are burdens and that people and organizations are right to deny us basic access because it is ‘too hard’ to meet our needs.”

– Jules

“Calling my needs ‘special’ reinforces the idea that disabled people are burdens and that people and organizations are right to deny us basic access because it is ‘too hard’ to meet our needs.”

– Jules

“Don’t call me special. My needs are no different from people not yet impacted by disability. If you call me special, it makes me different. It is ‘ableism’ when you call me special.”

– Kelly

“Don’t call me special. My needs are no different from people not yet impacted by disability. If you call me special, it makes me different. It is ‘ableism’ when you call me special.”

– Kelly

“…my needs are just like everybody else’s… The only difference between my needs and the needs of anybody else in the world is that sometimes I need support to get those needs met.”

– Kathy

“…my needs are just like everybody else’s. I need a good education. I need sleep. I need love. I need food. I need shelter. I need water. The only difference between my needs and the needs of anybody else in the world is that sometimes I need support to get those needs met”

– Kathy

About the Campaign

Words matter – our language can empower, respect, and uplift those around us. Yet many words used to describe people with disabilities all too frequently support negative stereotypes.

The term “special” is increasingly considered condescending and offensive. Calling disabled people “special” sets them apart and implies that someone is somehow broken, less than, or deficient.

This campaign is grounded in feedback received from people with disabilities and reflects their opinions and preferences.

Together, let’s get the word out!

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Person-first: ‘A person with a disability’

2) Identity-first: ‘A disabled person’ For many years, the New Hampshire DD Act partners used person-first language as our default. However, in recognition of the growing use of identity-first language within the disability community, our organizations have shifted to a mix of both identity-first and person-first language. Disability is a natural part of life that should be embraced and accepted. Euphemisms like ‘special needs,’ ‘special education’ and ‘special’ undermine our long-term fight for disability rights and justice.

‘Special’ is used as a euphemism for ‘disability’ but it is not accurate, respectful, or empowering, and many people with disabilities have asked that people stop using it.  

Although still used in certain laws and policies, the term ‘special’ is increasingly considered condescending and offensive and it should be avoided whenever possible.

All students have educational needs. Calling the educational needs of students with disabilities ‘special’ sets them apart from the educational services that non-disabled students are entitled to and implies that students with disabilities are somehow broken, less than, or deficient.

Although still used in certain laws and policies, the term ‘special’ is increasingly considered condescending and offensive and it should be avoided whenever possible.

Additional Note: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is fundamental to the education of students with disabilities. This campaign is in no way intended to undermine general support for the IDEA or related, which currently use the term ‘special’ in their text. 

Person with a disability, disabled person, child/student with a disability, disabled child.

Consider using: 

  • Student with disabilities or just ‘student’  
  • Education, appropriate education, the education of students with disabilities 
  • Student who qualifies for supports and services under the IDEA, student with an IEP 
  • Student with a 504 plan, accommodations for students with disabilities 

Under both the IDEA and Section 504, students are entitled to a free appropriate public education or FAPE. Therefore, what students are required to receive is not “special,” but rather an “appropriate” education.  

Example: Students with disabilities who receive services under the IDEA or accommodations under Section 504 are entitled to an appropriate education based on their specific needs.  

It depends on context:  

  • When possible, consider using a different term but recognize that there will be times when using these terms is unavoidable. 
  • If appropriate, consider placing the term in quotes or dropping a footnote to explain that the language is outdated.  
  • Lead by example: avoid using the terms ‘special needs’ and ‘special education’. 
  • If appropriate, inform them that many people with disabilities are no longer using the word “special” because of the stigma attached to the term and share Stop Special with them.

People with disabilities get to choose how they identify. Please respect their choice.

Take Action

As we evolve and change, our language does too. An ongoing discussion of language is a critical part of ensuring dignity and respect for everyone. 

Use these images on social media to help continue the discussion and get the word out.

Resources

Changing the words you use to describe disability takes time and practice. Here are some tools and resources that can help you start your journey.

What’s So Special About That?

Social Media Kit

Guide for Educators

Stop Special Podcast Episode

Disability Language Guide

Pledge to Get
the Word Out

“Calling my needs ‘special’ reinforces the idea that disabled people are burdens and that people and organizations are right to deny us basic access because it is ‘too hard’ to meet our needs.”

– Jules