Experiencing stigma: The physically disabled perspective
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The field of physical disability is a relatively unexplored one. In particular, it is evident that little has been done to attempt an explanation of the reactions of people with physical disabilities to the labels, and consequent stigmas that are applied to them by the able-bodied. It is important to note that whilst people with physical disabilities are generally not considered deviant, many of them experience the same societal reactions to their conditions as other 'deviants' do. This occurrence is probably due to the fact that physically disabled people are seen by society as different, 'abnormal', or even 'deviant'. People with physical disabilities are isolated, stigmatised, segregated and discriminated against as a result of their disabilities. They are however, not intrinsically deviant because of their disabilities, but rather because of the undesirable differences that are imputed to them by society. The presence of a physical disability thus renders the disabled individual 'deviant', partially because of the limitations it imposes upon the person's range of activities and behaviour, but mainly because of the reactions of the able-bodied to the disability. People with physical disabilities are forced to remain socially and economically marginalised, not because of their disabilities, but because of discriminatory and exclusionary attitudes and practices on the part of the non-disabled. People with obvious physical disabilities, such as those confined to wheelchairs, are disadvantaged during everyday societal interaction, unless they constantly attempt to minimise their differences from the able-bodied. In this regard, many of the physically disabled suggested that non-disabled people believed them to innately possess the following characteristics: helplessness, dependency, an inability to take on any responsibility, and a constant need for guidance and supervision. The interviewees maintained that the aforementioned beliefs supplied 'normals' with seemingly legitimate reasons for the stigmatisation of groups such as them. They also noted that many 'normals' felt that they, as physically disabled individuals, deviated from the 'highly admirable state' of physical perfection. The physically disabled are often expected to cope with their limitations in ways not expected of other 'normal' people. In this regard, they are conditioned to 'manage' and 'overcome' their disabilities, to be 'independent' and above all else to be 'normal'. The limitations that result from physical disability, however, .often render these individuals dependent, and therefore deviant, as they are forced to break the norms of adult independence and self-reliance. According to the physically disabled, their disabilities stem from the fact that physical and social environments are designed without any consideration of the needs of particular individuals or groups, and not from their own functional limitations. They therefore maintain that the problems that they encounter in interaction with the able-bodied could be minimised if the latter group was better educated concerning the requirements and 'lifeworids' of people with physical disabilities. In this regard, it is evident that people with physical disabilities have been portrayed as 'flawed able-bodied people' throughout history. The physically disabled however, suggest that although they differ physiologically from their ablebodied counterparts, they are no different from any other 'normal' person. Finally, people with physical disabilities desire the same consideration, social courtesies and acknowledgement as any other 'normal' person, expects and receives. The physically disabled state that the fact that their bodies do not function in the same manner as those of the non-disabled, does not exclude them from assuming any of the roles that they previously held in society, should they choose to. As such, the physically disabled maintain that, given the opportunity, they would gladly take part in all the areas of 'normal' life, and particularly in the employment area. Physically disabled people want to be treated by their nondisabled counterparts as 'normal', they neither require, nor desire 'special' treatment because of their physical limitations.