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Language Matters

Language matters. Language shapes attitudes, and at Gateways, we strive to make thoughtful choices about language, in keeping with current trends in the field as well as the preferences of our clients and the broader community of individuals with disabilities, diverse learning needs, and mental health challenges. The language choices below were developed in consultation with people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, as well as experts in the fields of special education and disability inclusion.

We have moved away from using the term “special needs” in our materials, as using the term “disability” is an important step towards removing the stigma that all too often is associated with having a disability. The needs of people with disabilities are no more or less special than the needs of people without disabilities. We all share the basic human needs of connection to community, physical access, and education. People with disabilities simply may require accommodations in order to achieve equal access to these needs within the current structure of society. Furthermore, avoiding the term “disability” can lead to the mindset that there is something inherently wrong with being disabled. Finally, the laws that entitle people with disabilities to access and accommodations consistently use the term “disabled.” Thus, the term is important for guaranteeing legal protections.

While we will be discontinuing the use of the term “special needs,” we will continue at times to use the term “special education,” as this phrase is still commonly used within the educational system, on IEPs, and in the community to give students access to additional support.

Within the disability-rights community, there is a debate between person-first and identity-first language. Some people with disabilities and their families prefer person-first language, such as “student with dyslexia,” as they view their disability as just one small aspect of their identity. Others prefer identity-first language, as they strongly identify with and are often proud of their disability, such as an “Autistic person” or “Deaf person.” At Gateways, we defer to the individual’s personal preference, and default to person-first language when speaking more generally, as that it is what the majority of our clients prefer at this time. We have also chosen to include the term “diverse learning needs,” as in some cases, our services impact learners with and without disabilities, and we want to be inclusive of all students who benefit from Gateways’ services.

Please know that it will take some time to update terminology in our full database of materials and resources. We appreciate your patience as we make these changes.