Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

DISABILITY PRIDE WHY DISABILITY IS NOT A BAD THING: Activists with Disabilities Recognized That We Have a Lot in Common with Other Minorities, Including Civil Rights, Financial, Education, and Health Disparities, a Lack of Role Models, and Underrepresentation in the Media and Politics

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

DISABILITY PRIDE WHY DISABILITY IS NOT A BAD THING: Activists with Disabilities Recognized That We Have a Lot in Common with Other Minorities, Including Civil Rights, Financial, Education, and Health Disparities, a Lack of Role Models, and Underrepresentation in the Media and Politics

Article excerpt

About 19% of Americans have some kind of disabling condition but most reject the label "disability." As a reaction to the stigma surrounding the term "disability," disability activists have started a disability pride movement. As a psychology professor and a person with a disability myself, I was interested in understanding why some people choose to identify as disabled and develop pride.

In a series of recent studies, my colleagues Dr. Adena Rottenstein, Dr. Emily Lund, Lauren Bouchard, and I conducted a survey of factors related to disability identity and disability pride. One study in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology surveyed 1,105 adults online--710, or 64 percent, of those people indicated they had any type of health condition or impairment. We then focused on the responses of people with health conditions or impairments to the question of whether they considered themselves to be a person with a disability. Only 12 percent of people with a health condition agreed or strongly agreed that they were a person with a disability. A variety of factors were associated with considering oneself to be a person with a disability, including lower income, older age, experiencing greater stigma, and severity of impairment, with stigma and severity being the strongest predictors. Social stigma is considered by many disability scholars to be the main cause of disability, and our finding suggests that it also plays a role when people think about their own identities. The role of severity suggests that people with significant impairments experience more stigma, thus contributing to "disablement" by society.

In another study, also published in Rehabilitation Psychology, we examined more questions from the sample of 710 people with impairments. Participants answered questions from a disability pride questionnaire developed by Dr. Rosemary Darling, a sociologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The questionnaire included items such as: "I am proud of my disability," "I am a better person because of my disability," and "my disability enriches my life." We found that social support, being a person of color, and, once again, experiencing stigma, all predicted disability pride. Experiencing stigma was associated with greater disability pride, and in turn, greater pride was associated with greater self-esteem.

That means that disability pride is a promising way for disabled people to protect their self-esteem against stigma. Other research I've conducted indicates that disability identity is associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including lower depression and anxiety among people with multiple sclerosis. Compared to people who acquired mobility disabilities at some point after birth, people who were born with mobility disabilities have higher satisfaction with life, and this can be explained by a more positive disability identity and better ability to manage their disability. I suspect this is because people with congenital disabilities go through their initial development learning about themselves and the world with their disability In comparison, people who acquire disabilities must relearn how to navigate the world and often report feeling that they have lost their identity.

Disability pride is still rare. Most disabilities are invisible and people have to choose to disclose them. To avoid discrimination, many people do not disclose their disabilities or even hide them. But not identifying perpetuates the idea that disability is an undesirable and uncommon experience. "Coming out" as disabled and expressing disability pride seems to protect people against the negative effects of stigma. One reason is that it helps people find others who share their identities, or allies to support them. When people with invisible disabilities come out, they often discover that friends they have known for years share their identities. Coming out also has the power to change society's views about disability. …

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