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Coping With the Stigma of Having a Physical Disability

By HERWriter
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Olkin also brought up the use of microaggressions, which is commonly associated with ethnic or racial minorities and sexual orientation, but also for people with disabilities.

“Microaggressions are acts or behaviors by other people that make you aware of your minority status and have a comment about your inferiority,” she said.

She gave the example of an African American person going into a store, and the manager monitors that person just because of race and stereotypes.

“For people with disabilities, microaggressions occur multiple times in the day, both through the environment and through interactions with other people,” Olkin said.

She gave an example of people without disabilities taking up handicapped parking spots

“You haven’t had an interaction with a person directly, but nonetheless it suddenly made you aware of the fact that you are a person with a disability, that you have ‘special needs,’ and those needs are not being met,” Olkin said. “Those needs can be trampled upon by other people.”

She said these microaggressions can have negative effects on mental health, productivity and social interaction.

Because these microaggressions and stigma in general are everywhere in daily life for people with disabilities, Olkin gave a few suggestions for ways people with disabilities can handle these situations.

“You have to learn to ignore a part of your environment, which seems odd because in some ways you’re hypervigilant,” Olkin said, including thinking about accessible aisles in stores. “At the same time, if a mother yanks her kid out of my way, and I’m thinking, ‘…What is she teaching her kid about disability,’ … a part of me is saying this is not worth getting upset over, this is not something I want to hold on to.”

She added that there are certain situations where ignoring is not the best solution.

“Sometimes picking a battle that you do want to fight can be enormously empowering,” Olkin said.

Finding support with other people who have disabilities can be helpful. This can be an informal or formal support group. Basically, it can just be a social network that includes people with disabilities.

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EmpowHER Guest

I find your observation interesting about stigma and supervisors. I have a Psy.D. that I achieved in 1993 and I am also a person with paraplegia. The school was incredibly ill-equipped and and ill-informed about "disability issues." Given that the disabled community is 20% of our society, they should be training clinicians on how to manage this unique and dynamic group of people.

May 20, 2015 - 12:29pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.