By Jill Hinton, PhD

The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire is engaged with a “Stop Special” campaign which launched on June 15. For people with lived experience of disability, the word ‘special’ has been used in ways that create a sense of ‘othering’ and exclusion. The term is seen by many disabled people as offensive. So in New Hampshire and beyond, this campaign is focused on eliminating the use of the word ‘special.' 

The Stop Special website allows you to listen to the voices of folks as they describe the problems with using the word special to describe needs. 

Key points:

  • describing needs as 'special' and 'unique' can make it easy for systems to deny supports
  • using the word 'special' promotes ableism
  • we all have the same needs – disabled people may require different supports to meet their needs

In the START network, we acknowledge that words matter and language is a powerful tool. Our language influences perspectives and views about disabled people. Importantly, we listen to people with lived experience and incorporate their input into our practices. As a model, START has never had a goal to create a separate/special system of care for people with IDD/MH. Instead, we work to build capacity and create access to the supports people with IDD/MH require to meet the shared human needs of housing, healthcare, meaningful community involvement, relationships, etc. From this perspective, we can model the way in emphasizing our shared humanity and avoiding the use of the word ‘special’ in our work. 

We also acknowledge that we collaborate and partner with entities where the word ‘special’ is used frequently - we will continue to positively interact with these agencies and re-frame when it is appropriate. We also support individuals and/or families who may choose to use the word ‘special’ – we will continue to honor the preferences of people with lived experience. 

As we reflect on and engage with the “Stop Special” campaign, the ask of the START network is a commitment to always be open to the voices of people with lived experience and ever mindful of the impact of language.

“The only difference between my needs and the needs of anybody else in the world is that sometimes I need support to get those needs met." - Kathy Bates (read more from Kathy)

Read more about the campaign on the UNH IOD blog

To learn more or take the pledge, visit