We have received some questions about why we chose to use the word “disability” in the name of the Albany Disability Squad. This word can feel controversial to some people, and not all people with disabilities feel comfortable with this label. After a lot of debate, the founders of the Squad chose to include this word in our name for several reasons:
- Disability is the basis for the three main pieces of federal legislation that give rights to students with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) created the Special Education as we know it, along with the Individualized Education Program (IEP). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and it is the source of the Section 504 Plan. And there is the Americans with Disabilities Act, another civil rights law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in public life.
- The Albany Disability Squad seeks to advocate for the educational rights of students with a very wide range of disabilities, including physical, developmental, genetic, and learning disabilities to name a few. Not all students with disabilities (such as those with 504 Plans) are in Special Education, so using the term “Special Education” would have left them out. We don’t want our name to limit our activism to Special Education issues only.
- We believe, along with many activists who have disabilities themselves, that disability can be an important component of a person’s identity. For this reason, activist Lydia X. Z. Brown prefers to use “identity-first” language and be called an autistic person, not a person with autism. Identity-first language uses proper adjectives to describe someone (disabled person, autistic boy, dyslexic woman). Please note that calling someone a “Down Syndrome person” is not using identity-first language, because “Down Syndrome” is a noun, not an adjective. In this case, it would be appropriate to refer to a “person with Down Syndrome.”
In the end, we should follow the lead of the people who have a particular disability in determining how to refer to them. We can’t assume that even all individuals with the same disability will agree on how they prefer to be referred to. When in doubt, the most respectful thing to do is to ask a person what their preference is!