In the hope that changing languages changes attitudes, schools have adopted new terms to refer to students with disabilities. Here are some examples:

Changing Language Changes AttitudesPeople with disabilities, instead of handicapped or disabled.

Cognitive disability instead of mentally retarded.

Mental health condition instead of mentally ill.

Brain injury instead of brain damage

A generation ago, terms such as mentally retarded were commonly used in schools. Some teachers did not know how to teach children with severe disabilities.

“There were times teachers didn’t want these kids in their classrooms,” said teacher Pam Bender. “They didn’t know what to do with them.”

Through the years, terms like this were not used so much, thanks to advocates taking steps to have government agencies remove classifications that they found to be offensive.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a bill that required the federal government to replace “mentally retarded” with “intellectual disability” in government agencies.

In describing students with special needs, there is a new awareness of putting the student first. “People First Language” describes students with special needs as people first, and then the disability.  For example, a student formerly referred to as an “epileptic child” is now referred to as a “child with epilepsy”.

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Related articleChanging Language Changes Attitudes