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Overcoming Social Stigma Around Disabilities

Often, when talking about those with disabilities, their achievements will be listed alongside words such as: ‘despite’, ‘limited’, ‘defied’, ‘overcame’ and ‘courage’; leading to the idea that having a disability means that one is defined by it.

The idea that one can be defined by their disability can be extremely frustrating. While the disability can limit certain aspects of their life, the social stigma that surrounds it can be far more debilitating. The attitude some have towards people with disabilities regards them as less intelligent or capable, this misinformed attitude can result in dismissive and patronising behaviours.

We are conditioned by society to believe that humans have certain physical and mental attributes; while anything that differs from the ‘norm’ we tend to label as ‘disabled’, with a connotation of it being unwanted. A disability does not have to be negative and many people living with disabilities do not want to be defined by their health condition or have it seen as inherently negative. The concept that one achieves something despite their disability can actually marginalise the efforts put into reaching these achievements. Instead we should be focussing on the skills, efforts and prowess, as we would do with non-disabled people.

A negative attitude towards disability is not only seen in the media but also from friends, family, and even in the healthcare industry itself. Healthcare professionals can be patronising towards people with disabilities and make assumptions rather than starting a consultation with an open mind. Some healthcare professionals may already have a preconceived notion of how the person they are consulting with should feel about their disability and what they will need to improve their lives. In scenarios like these, the patient will not only have to explain what they need, but also first combat the wall of prejudice which the healthcare worker has set up to begin with.

Overcoming prejudices can be exhausting. We need to shift the collective mindset of seeing those with disabilities as less-complete humans who participate in life despite their obstacles. It is toxic to live in an environment filled with prejudices regarding oneself and how you are perceived. To live a full life, as we are meant to, it is important to realise that no one is defined by their health alone, and that with every achievement in life they are not overcoming their disability but really just being a human who works hard and puts in effort to be who they are meant to be as their very best selves.

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