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'Language and words matter' when describing people with additional needs

People need to think about the words and language they use to describe those with additional need...
Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

10.04 24 Jan 2021


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'Language and words matter' wh...

'Language and words matter' when describing people with additional needs

Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

10.04 24 Jan 2021


Share this article


People need to think about the words and language they use to describe those with additional needs.

That's according to Newstalk's Stephen Daunt, the award-winning presenter of 'Between The Lines - Living with a Disability' which was produced with the support of text-to-speech technology.

There has been significant talk in recent weeks about the reopening of schools for children with extra education needs, often referred to as "special schools".

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Stephen says that he doesn't want to hear the words "vulnerable" or "special" used after the pandemic is over.

He added that while he has never heard as many mentions of disability in his life since the issue has emerged, he wants disabled people to be seen as equal citizens.

It comes as Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan apologised in the Dáil for describing children who do not have further educational needs as "normal".

Speaking on The Hard Shoulder this week, Stephen said that he has "sympathy for anybody caught up in this mess".

While not wanting to "romanticise special schools", he said his own experience was that he and his friends, many of whom he is still close to now, "just saw it as school".

"Yes, we had additional needs but we were classmates, we actually wanted to learn, we didn't see our school as some kind of daycare," he explained.

"We were also primary school-age kids who loved each other's company.

"To give you an example, we played cowboys and Indians with crutches as guns, to us, that was normal."

'Language and words matter' when describing people with additional needs

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Stephen has been working from home since last March and as he has asthma, is classed as medically vulnerable

"I have been good and staying in," he said.

"Compared to previous lockdowns, this one has been harder as I haven't gone past my front gate since Christmas Eve.

"Working from home may be new to some but it has some advantages for a disabled person."

'Citizens have rights'

Stephen said that while he doesn't think he has seen as many mentions of disability in his life, he believes this may be "a double-edged sword".

"It's great we are acknowledging there may be disabled people in Ireland but I do think we need to have a discussion around the kind of language we use and who is doing the talking," he explained.

Expanding on this, he said he wants the conversation to go beyond the current debate on schools.

He said: "In a way, I know I'm both lucky and privileged - I use and abuse Twitter, I work in media, but what if there are no Steves to turn to or what if disabled people are solely defined by words like 'special' or vulnerable'.

"Vulnerable and special, I know they are used with the best of intentions but I actually don't want to hear them after this is over.

"This is especially the case with politicians entrusted with making policy, policies that are there to make the lives of citizens better.

"I use the word 'citizen' deliberately, citizens have rights.

Stephen added that while it's "very subtle", he feels that a "sense of othering" is going on.

"It's hard to explain but I am worried about will disabled people be seen as equal citizens, will their needs be seen as rights, or will we be seen as passive vessels of care," he said.

"We might disappear into a world of care, that's my biggest fear for the future.

"Language and words matter, I'm just asking people to think before using them."

Main image: Stephen Daunt

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