assistivetech · dyslexia · education · learning disabilities

The Three D’s: Disability, Difference, Difficulty

I have taught in the field of special education for 19 years, but have been involved in the field since the 1980s when I started volunteering in a preschool special needs program at a local hospital. Over the years, the terminology used has ebbed and flowed with consideration for the meaning of words being used to define, describe, and differentiate. This has happened among many facets of special education as we fight the stigma that can come to be associated with the language used. As special educators, we are trained to be cautious of lingo used for various reasons, but making one thing clear, words do matter.

This year I have had the privilege of starting to host a podcast with topics related to the field of Special Education for Bam Radio Network. After much deliberation, I titled it Learning Differently Radio.   A recent show that I had the honor of recording with guest Kyle Redford, was released was released with the title Reseting Expectations for Children with Learning Difficulties. A great title for the topic, and yet I found myself changing the word Difficulties to Differences when tweeting it out.

My very observant friend and Bam Radio Network Executive Producer Errol St. Clair Smith, noted it, and changed the title of the show to match that action.  He also reached out to me and asked about my view on the terminology.  This launched into an interesting backchannel conversation as to the words, the connotations, and what does it all really mean.  Errol really got me thinking, and we arranged to chat by phone soon to deepen this inspection of the three D’s: Disability, Difference, and Difficulty.  

Immediately I went to the classroom of my colleague and insightful friend Theresa Collins.  She and I often have these exchanges that look into the deep sides of teaching students with learning disabilities.  I posed the question to her, what do the three D’s mean, how are they perceived, and does it truly matter what term we use and why?  Simple question, right? :))    This conversation, not surprisingly, found no answers, but many more questions and considerations.  

Of course this got me thinking how to turn this into a blog post…Yet I was left with more questions than answers, more considerations than solid thoughts.  So here is part 1 of the post asking for your perspective.  No matter from what angle you approach these terms, what are your thoughts on the terms, their meaning, their usage, their importance or their stigmatization?

                         Learning Disability

                         Learning Difference

                         Learning Difficulty

Please follow the link to the form to share your thoughts, and they may be kept anonymous. (if you include your name, and I use your thoughts, I will acknowledge you in the post)  The thoughts and perspectives shared will lead to part 2 of this post.


Thank you in advance for your perspectives and for caring to share them!


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