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As a member of the disabled community, I find it important to speak out when I believe that the community has been misrepresented. The article titled “Emerson Special Olympics Event Draws Hundreds” that was published on Jan. 23. was reported and written in a way that failed to respectfully represent the athletes involved in the story.
The first issue that I had with the article was the poor choice of words. The phrase “special needs kids” was used multiple times within the piece. Although it isn’t very well known, the term “special needs” is considered a derogatory and offensive term by many within the community; labeling a disabled person’s needs as “special” holds the implication that they are not essential to their everyday life, and serves as a form of “othering” from abled people. Additionally, referring to these athletes as “kids” and writing the article in a way that depicts them as such perpetuates the harmful stereotype that disabled people are “grown children” simply because of their disabilities. The athletes should have been referred to as “young adult” or “athletes,” since that is what they are.
The second issue that I had with this article had to do with the sources. The article was supposed to be about the Special Olympics event that was held at Emerson, yet no quotes from any of the disabled athletes were included. Choosing to interview the mother of one of the athletes over the athletes themselves further exemplifies the internalized ableist mindset that disabled people are just “grown children”, especially since that would never be done while reporting on a game or event involving abled athletes. The end quote, which was from the mother of one of the athletes, stated “When he was on a non-specialized team nobody would pass him the ball, no one would talk to him, and it is because he is different,” which is really telling given that he, as well as the other athletes, weren’t given the opportunity to be interviewed. There’s simply no excuse that could be provided for not interviewing one of the athletes. Unconsciously, our society seems to view the term “special needs” as “non-verbal”, however, many people with cognitive disabilities would be able to be interviewed, and would probably love to be, as well. Interviewing someone with a disability is not an ethical dilemma.
I hope that in writing this, the Beacon staff, editors, and the Emerson community will open their eyes to the way that disabled people have been portrayed in the media, and will work on challenging any offensive language and internalized ableism that may present itself in the writing and reporting process.
Emerson College student
Rajkumar is a staff writer for The Beacon’s Living Arts section.