Is “Special Educational Needs” a term that should be used in 2013?

inclusion_symbolTo begin our series of blog posts on Inclusion in Education, Berni Vincent discusses the term ‘Special Educational Needs’….

There was a time when User Led Organisations (ULOs) would ardently debate the use of terms and language that present an inaccurate and disempowering image of Disabled People.

In recent times ULO have been forced to focus limited resources and energy on maintaining survival with no guarantee that future funding will be available. This has meant that debates on language and other issues related to ULOs’ history and philosophy have more often than not taken a back seat as we struggle to just survive.

In such difficult times when user led organisations are struggling to survive and Disabled People face cuts to support packages and disability hate crime is on the rise, it is even more important that we get back to basics and debate the issues so that we can understand where negative language came from and how it feeds into the stereotypes that society has of Disabled People.

Term like ‘Special Educational needs’ is one such hot potato that in days gone by was avoided by ULOs and replaced for the preferred term ‘inclusion in education – a term that represents involvement in the educational process rather than putting the focus inappropriately on special.

Despite some positive developments in the area of supported education Government departments continue to use the term ‘Special Educational Needs’.  One example being The Department of Education consultation report (March 2011) “Support aspirations a new approach” which is littered with positive aspirations. Labelling Disabled People as having special educational needs seems to take little account that in the midst of terminology there is a unique human being who just happens to need support with accessing the barriers in education.

How do ULOs get back to a place where we can debate the key issues. What does special needs have to do with education? Have our needs as disabled people changed? Is it ever appropriate for a ULO to use this term and if it is how can we communicate this in a way that stays true to our philosophy and educates and avoids alienating those less politically informed organisations that we approach for funding and rely on. Send us your comments through the blog or tweet @SPECTRUMCil using the hashtag #InclEd

ULOs need to be seen as organisations that are not fearful of looking at different sides of an argument. Reflection and debate is necessary to organisations. We have a responsibility to educate, share history to grow and evolve future generations, newcomers and developing leaders.

Berni Vincent July 2013


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