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NEA President Faces Backlash for Comments About Special Needs Students

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On Sunday, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), released a statement condemning comments made by Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), regarding students with disabilities.

During the Campaign for America’s Future Awards Gala in October, Garcia said the following:

We diversify our curriculum instruction to meet the personal individual needs of all of our students, the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.

The AAPD wrote:

As the nation’s largest labor union, representing over three million teachers, the NEA should know better than to insult students and must do more to be inclusive of all students. On the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is horribly unfortunate and sadly ironic that we must chastise the President of the NEA for her comments.

The NEA writes that their mission “is to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world.” Preparing every student to succeed in a diverse world undoubtedly includes students with disabilities.

Read the AAPD’s full statement here.

On Monday, more disability advocacy organizations joined the AAPD’s stance. In a statement on Facebook, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) condemned Garcia’s use of the terms “chronically tarded” and “medically annoying”:

These derogatory terms demonstrate a lack of respect and understanding about individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities, and imply that students with disabilities are a burden on educators and the education system.

While we appreciate President Garcia’s apology and clarification regarding her choice of words in this speech, we would like to open a dialogue with her and NEA on best practices in educating students with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

We will be inviting President Garcia and other NEA officials to a brainstorming session to discuss ways in which the NEA and the disability community can collaborate to enhance the educational experience for students with cognitive or medical challenges. We hope that President Garcia will seize this opportunity for positive, constructive dialogue.

The AAPD is encouraging people to speak up to Garcia on Twitter by tweeting the following: “Chronically ‘tarded & medically annoying” is neither progressive nor acceptable @NEAToday @Lily_NEA @OurFuture #UnacceptableExample”

UPDATE: NEA President Responds to Outrage Over Comments About Special Needs Students

Originally published: November 30, 2015
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