There are no “special” needs

By March 16, 2018 Thoughts

I invite you to consider this idea:

The Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics have one thing in common – Rare Athletes.

The Paralympics, an encore to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, are underway in Pyeongchang. There are two paths to the Paralympics, the first starts at birth and the second starts at fate. Both paths require the athlete to let go of the question “why me” and get on with life. This is easier said than done. These athletes have the emotional challenge of being different, either from other normal people at birth or from their normal selves before the amputation or loss of mobility, stacked on top of the physical challenge of differentiating themselves from the competition.

When it comes to the Special Olympics we associate the games with people that have special needs. For me, this idea of “special needs” creates separation. It may do society well to think of these needs as “rare” not special.

What do the Stats Say?

The following are approximate rates of various conditions in Canada. Those suffering will have a range of “rare needs”.

Cerebral Palsy: 1 in 323

Cystic Fibrosis: 1 in 3600

Down syndrome: 1 in 750

Fetal Alchohol Syndrome: 1 in 111

Multiple Sclerosis: 1 in 294

Spina Bifida: 1 in 3229

Why Rare vs. Special?

The term special creates an “us” and “them” dynamic. The term “rare” factually describes the needs of people with rare conditions, they are just that, rare.

There should be nothing “special” about the opportunity to be able to use one’s strengths and talents to get an education and contribute to society through meaningful employment. In order to accommodate these rare needs in the workplace, it requires effort and investment. The payback is improved culture, improved morale and meaningful contributions.

“Special” comes into play when someone with rare needs achieves a rare accomplishment. For instance, a person with a developmental disability achieving the required number of credits to graduate high school in a non-modified program. Or a student with rare needs who perseveres through adversity and finds a way to attend college or higher education. Or an athlete competing at the Paralympics whose life was turned upside-down after being electrocuted.

Consider being one of the rare organizations whose leaders look for opportunities to include people with rare needs on their teams.