Respectful Disability Language

wheelchairNEONYMS — Today I learned that the term “functional needs” instead of “special needs” may be on the horizon.  It is a new expression to me.  “Residual functional capacity” assessment is familiar to me (I’m a Social Security disability lawyer and we use “RFC” as shorthand for whatever a person is still capable of doing to support themselves despite their physical, mental, exertional, and postural impairments), but I hadn’t heard “functional needs” as a synonym or neonym (?) for “special needs” before.  Sticks and stones, tomato/tomahto, I know, I know.  But as a disability lawyer at a special needs/special ed/elder law firm–let alone as the mother of son with a disability they used to call “Mongolism”–I definitely want to be aware of the latest lingo, and use it and promote it.  I’m sure there was a time when the term “Down syndrome”–like “EMR” oops I mean “MR/DD” oops I mean “DD,” or “senior citizen” or “Latino” or “typical” or “accessible” or “on the spectrum” or “GLBT”–was new and cutting-edge.  I hope if you’re reading this, you will help our firm stay in touch with how people view themselves and use language to match our good intentions.  How does that song by John Mayers go?  “It’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say.”  As advocates, we think it’s better to risk saying it wrong than to stop saying it  —  since our clients will know our heart’s in the right place.  Still, I was grateful to the person who shared an article about respectful disability language from Mobility International. So have you heard the phrase “person with functional needs” in this neck of the woods yet?  It’s apparently already widely used in California and some other states, too.  Let us know. 

– Posted by Mary McKee, a former co-ed/yuppie/DINK    

Posted in Blog, Disabilities.