Dis(ABILITY):

What do you think of when you hear or see the word disability? Do you focus on that first part and see it as a disadvantage, or do you focus on the later part and see it as a strength?

The word disability typically has a negative connotation that comes with it. The most common definition that you hear behind disability is that it is a mental or physical impairment that limits one or more life activities for a person. That is not how I see a disability though. I came up with my own definition that I believe provides a better image or picture of what a disability is.

A disability is a physical or cognitive condition that leads people to see the world in a different way than “normal” people or society do. This happens on a social, relational, academic, and/or emotional level. The way that they approach one or more of those four aspects of their lives effects what their perspective on life is. This just shows that they aren’t necessarily pushed back by their disability, they just see life differently and people need to meet them where they are. They have the ability to open the eyes of the people around them.

This is why “person first language” is so important. “Person first language” makes sure that the students are not defined by their disability. Example: Say “Angel has autism” rather than defining the student by their disability (“Angel is Autistic”). They are individuals above anything else. There are many articles out there talking about how important it is to involve those with special needs in the classrooms. That is such an important component of making students with disabilities feel like they are part of the group and not separated from it. When “person first” language is used, it is just another reminder that even though they may view the world in a different way that does not mean that they are defined by that. It shows them that they are valued as a person.

Approaching teaching with this view on students with disabilities has impacted my teaching. It reminds me and keeps me accountable as I make sure to treat my students like individuals, making sure I help them all on an individual level because they are all so special. The whole point is to not generalize. As soon as you begin to generalize your teaching style will change and students will not get the help that they need. 

I challenge you to use “person first language”. When you look at people, look for their special ABILITIES or STRENGTHS not their difficulties. God has made everyone special for a reason. 

                Nicole Sanservino

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