disability or special need - correct terminology for children's book — Scope | Disability forum
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disability or special need - correct terminology for children's book

KatieD Community member Posts: 2 Listener
I'm researching a children's book about disabilities, aimed at 6+ year olds. For this age group, is it better to talk about Special Needs (as they seem to in the school context) or Disabilities? The latter is harder for kids to read and say, but do some disabled people find 'special needs' offensive? Is there a third term I haven't thought of? 
Many thanks for any advice you can offer.


  • Cher_Alumni
    Cher_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,741 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @KatieD and welcome to our community.  Thank you so much for asking this question!  Language is so powerful and to ingrain non-prejudicial ways of talking about disabled people from an early age is definitely what we need  :)

    People self-define and describe themselves in ways which feel comfortable and right to them, so for some people 'special needs' is acceptable and for others 'having a disability' is.  At Scope we use social model of disability language which is a way of describing disability that sees society as disabling the person rather than their impairment.  For instance, a person in a wheelchair is disabled by inaccessible shops and stigmatised attitudes to being a wheelchair user rather than their underlying condition.  As a result, we use the phrase 'disabled person' or 'person with an impairment' because disability isn't viewed as something belonging to them.  For more information, visit Scope's Social Model of Disability webpage.

    Just to mention, special needs can be a problematic phrase because it earmarks disabled children as being negatively different to their peers.  The term 'special' also has a history of being used in derogatory ways as an insult so some prefer to stick to the term 'disabled children'  I hope that helps :)
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  • KatieD
    KatieD Community member Posts: 2 Listener
    Thanks so much, this definitely helps. And yes we want this book to be empowering and to educate the readers about how people can live well with a disability so long as society gets it right. I'll go with 'having a disability' for now :)
  • Oxonlady
    Oxonlady Scope Member Posts: 566 Pioneering
    Hi @KatieD and Cher_Scope I agree that language is powerful and in fact the same words can mean different things to different people.
    A lady once described me as a "disabled artist". My initial reaction was to recoil, as I've never thought of myself as a "disabled artist". The lady replied that this description might inspire disabled children and their parents, in that they can aspire to be artists or whatever else they wish to be.
    I understood this lady's point of view but for my part, I feel that my artwork is probably the only thing in my life that doesn't make me feel disabled. The opposite is true, my artwork transcends my disabilities and makes me feel enabled, empowered, creative and fulfilled. I noticed online that I am now described simply as "an artist"! I prefer it this way but it's a very personal view and I do not disrespect other people who describe themselves as "disabled artists". So yes, language in this area can be a bit of a minefield! 
  • Richard_Scope
    Richard_Scope Posts: 3,560 Scope online community team
    I would use 'disabled child' it's more social model
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