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12 Nov 07, 11:59 AM - What do young people learn about disability in schools?

Posted by Jemma Brown

I have just had a rather disturbing conversation with a guy in my As environmental science class, it all started as a guy described Goalball as a sport for “handicapped people” my response to that was along the lines of “thanks very much that was a very pc term” we then had a debate about why the term handicapped was not nice.

According to him if his legs didn’t work he would have no problem with someone calling him handicapped.

I then mentioned that it is an insulting term, his response: “generally if I was trying to insult someone I would call them a retard”.

He then posed the question “What do you call a handicapped person then?” My response was: “a disabled person, a person with a disability, a visually impaired person, the list is endless”.

I find it so hard to believe that someone has just finished there secondary school education and is an intelligent person knows so little about how to refer to disability. What are young people being taught about society in secondary school?

I no from my own experience of mainstream secondary school education that disability is rarely touched upon in what we called GEMS (I think it stood for: spiritual, mental, ethical, guidance). So if children and young people are not learning about disability in schools then where are they getting there ideas from? and who is telling them what is right and wrong in terms of disability?

I think one answer is the media young people get there opinions and ideas of disability from what they see in the news, the sob story’s, or the brave person that has just climbed up mount Everest in there wheelchair. The truth of course being that most people with disability’s are just getting on with the day to day stuff, working, looking after the kids , socialising, etc.

My friends all informed me that if I had not met them and taught them about my views on disability they would not have ever known what was acceptable, I’ve even converted a few of them to regularly reading things on the ouch website, keeping them up to date. I’m not normally one for political correctness, but when it comes to terms like handicapped and retard I defiantly disapprove.

This is why I need your help Ouchers!

Your task if you chose to accept it is to bombard me with ammo to show him that the terms he is using are not acceptable, and particularly why they are not right. I was so shocked by his comments that I couldn’t really think of a decent case to debate.

I would like to add that this post and any comments made should not be offensive or harsh to the poor guy. He is a nice guy and I don’t think it is his fault that he does not know appropriate ways of describing disabled people; I have only used his comments as an example.

Your second task if you chose to accept it is to try and educate young people you come into contact with about what disability is and isn’t, I no its not really our job to do this kind of thing but if we don’t step up and educate, who will!

• Visit Diary of a Monkey

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At 12:38 PM on 12 Nov 2007, Chris Page wrote:

But using the right terminology isn't being "PC". It's just respectful common sense.

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At 01:06 PM on 12 Nov 2007, Jack P wrote:

I think part of the problem is that the terms which are seen as while I would tend to use the term "disabled" / "with a disability", I'm sure I remember as a child that the term "handicapped" was used by some people AS the PC term.

To me as a non-disabled person (disability-challenged, right?) I would have thought that the term "handicapped" fits well with the social model of disability, as long as you add "by society" on the end.

I understand that people find the word 'handicapped' offensive, and therefore I don't use it, but I must admit I don't understand why the term ITSELF is offensive (I can only presume it carries a weight in a social-historical context?)

But I'm with you on 'retard'.

Incidentally, have you seen Damon Rose's 2004 article Don't call me handicapped? It doesn't quite answer the question to my satisfaction (because to me 'disabled' would appear similar to the answer he gives) but it might help you find that ammo...

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At 02:22 PM on 12 Nov 2007, Andrea wrote:

If your friend is serious about educating himself, then one enlightening web site to look at is:

http://gettingthetruthout.org/

Not really specific to LANGUAGE issues per se, but should give a different insight into people who have commonly been labeled "retard" (in this case, an autistic woman). But you do have to set aside a full half hour to read it because if you quit mid-way through then you'll miss the whole point. It's deliberately set up to seem AS IF it is written by some anti-autism group about a supposedly "pitable" autistic woman, but is actually written and photographed by the autistic woman herself; in the second half, she explains what's wrong with the presentation in the first half.

By the same author, see this video "Being an Unperson" at http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/?p=223 and also "In my language" http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/?p=287 I believe at least one of them touches on the word "retard." "In my Language" is the more well-known video because it was featured on CNN at one point, but I think "Being an Unperson" is at least as powerful.

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At 03:34 PM on 12 Nov 2007, Flash Bristow wrote:

Don't disabled people go into schools these days, to talk at Assembly or whatever? When I was in primary school I remember a local blind man coming in - although I mainly remember because of his lovely guide dog - but it was still informative.

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At 05:13 PM on 12 Nov 2007, Shelley wrote:

I think it depends on what you're used to and how a thing is meant, really. When I moved to England from the U.S., I was surprised to find that "handicapped" is considered offensive, and I am handicapped ... except I usually call it disabled now. In the U.S., the "Blue Badge" is called a handicapped placard, the parking spots with the blue picture of a wheelchair are called the handicapped parking spaces. I have gotten into the habit of saying disabled, but only since I've moved here. The more I get used to it, the more right it sounds. But whose issue is that? Meaning, I don't think I'd have a right to tell someone off for saying "handicapped" just because *I* think disabled is a better term. People who say handicapped certainly aren't trying to be rude, and I don't think the term is such that one would automatically know it's considered bad form by some to use it.

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At 09:54 PM on 12 Nov 2007, C. Bond wrote:

uhm...a handicap is something that a golfer gets. Or a weight added to a really good race horse. Both these things signify wealth, power, and a whole lot of leisure time. If you have a disability and are wealthy, powerful, and have leisure time to partake in such activities....good on you. If not, welcome to real life. It can be hard enough, disability or not, we don't need handicaps to even the playing field

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At 09:47 AM on 13 Nov 2007, Moghal wrote:

I think, to be fair, it's a little hard for people outside of the community to keep up with the terminology of every group and concern. So long as they aren't intending to be insulting, give them a break and point them gently in the right direction - if you know it.

There's still a debate going on in the Autistic community between the 'we're people with autism' group and the 'we're autistic people' group. If we can't make up our minds, what chance has anyone else got?

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At 10:51 AM on 13 Nov 2007, John Hargrave wrote:

I think the word 'handicapped' is derived from 'cap-in-hand', a term used in Victorian times to describe disabled beggers who usually had their cap in hand. These people were seen as the 'lowest of the low'and would eke out a living by begging. We have moved on - but by how much?

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At 10:31 PM on 15 Nov 2007, Lisa wrote:

I think schools should have someone with a disability giving talks to school children and learn how to socialise with people who have disabilities. Teachers just think they know what they are talking about instead of getting a person in who is disabled. I hate the word 'SPECIAL NEEDS' it's so patronising and we're not special, we don't have magical powers, so why call us SPECIAL NEEDS?

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At 06:26 PM on 16 Nov 2007, Fran wrote:

Perhaps if diabled young people went to mainstream schools when possible, they wouldn't be seen as different, in my area it rarely happens. I think the attitude and personality of young people would benefit greatly by sharing their education with disabled young people. I understand it not appropriate in all cases, but some, at least.

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At 05:12 PM on 18 Nov 2007, Gaina wrote:

Personally I'm more concerned with how people treat me than what they call me....as long as it's not 'boring' :P

Fran, I went to a mainstream school and I have to say it hasn't done a lot for people's perceptions of disability from where I'm sitting.

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