Reporting on special needs has its challenges, but it’s necessary

Nathan Yuan, Editor-in-Chief

The first time I interviewed Christopher was in November 2022, I came prepared with a notepad full of questions. What did his day look like? How did he learn to play the clarinet? What was it like to be blind at Central? I was ready to bombard him with questions.

Yet, by the end of the forty-three-minute interview, I had barely gotten to my second question. 

Christopher was not an easy person to interview.

He went on long tangents about how he could hear the bathroom stall door slam even at the end of the hall. My attempts to interject failed to steer the conversation away from what he really wanted to talk about: trains. Frankly, I came away from the first interview feeling frustrated. 

The Central Times rarely publishes stories with students who have special needs as sources. When we report on Special Olympics, Down Syndrome or Adapted PE, we often print multi-line, in-depth quotes from coaches and peer helpers, yet fail to include a single quote from a student with special needs. And even when we do, their quotes are often short, heavily paraphrased and relegated as “kicker quotes” where they’re placed at the end. 

And I totally understand why. We may come armed with people-first language and the best intentions, but there is no makeup to cover the fact interviewing someone with special needs often takes patience and is challenging.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to even approach the touchy topic. I mean, how do you tactfully ask for details about someone’s disability? We face obstacles we usually don’t (for example, how do you expect a blind person to check and respond to emails promptly?) And in many cases, we shirk responsibility by forgoing that conversation.

But as much as it’s difficult to, as was my initial experience with Christopher, it is undeniably valuable and important to hold these conversations to illustrate their experiences. Students with special needs also have experiences worth covering. 

The Central Times originally began reporting on Christopher’s story back in December 2021. Since then, it has been assigned and reassigned, a total of six times, but I’m proud to say that despite that we have finally published a piece on Christopher and his experience at Central.