Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Beware The Special Forces

As you may know by now, I’ve been part of a few demonstrations and protests supporting disability rights. On one occasion, feeling somewhat mischievous, I purchased several Special Forces embroidered badges at the army surplus store. I then distributed these badges to a few friends before an action.

People that participated in the protest and saw the badge thought it was quite funny. Most other people seemed to not understand the subtle sarcasm implied.

Generic Special forces badge

We were often asked if we’d been in the military. As it happens, two of the guys we were with had, but they’d not been in the Army’s Special Forces (or Green Berets). Some people were offended that we would wear such badges, as if we had been mocking the men and women who actually were or had been serving in the army. That was not the intent at all. There is a reason I selected only a rather generic badge with no insignia.

So what was the intent, you’ll ask? – Simple, just a bit of good natured humour.

But it also turns out to have had more complex meaning. The use of the word "special" as it relates to disabilities is generally quite unpalatable. Think of "special education", "special seating", "special needs", and even "special Olympics"… These tend to carry a limiting, negative and *separating* connotation.

We’re not *special*. Or if we are, we don’t want our impairment(s) to be the reason we’re recognised as special.

To spell it out to those of you who still don’t see the sarcasm: We have a disability -> We’re Special -> We rallied to fight for disability rights -> Makes us "Special forces". But of course, the implication is that we were somehow "diminished" by our impairment.

‘Nuff rambling about fond memories :)