We’re experiencing a renaissance of civil rights in this country. A woman has run for President of the United States on a major party ticket. People can marry whomever they choose. The country is caught up in a retelling of the story of our founding fathers – in a hip-hop musical written by a Latino and featuring a colorblind cast.
Major shifts indeed. And we plan to ignite yet another – for people of every age, gender, and life situation. For people who have difficulty walking, seeing, hearing, or comprehending the world around them, and millions more who cope with health conditions, seen and unseen, that redefine their life options. Disability and other health challenges have many causes – from accident, to disease, to genetic chance. The result is often a daily test of individual resolve and strength. But along with these solitary struggles, there is one common to all: stigma.
Health stigma – the judgment of lower worth unconsciously attached to people with physical or behavioral differences – is communicated in many ways. People may stare or awkwardly look away. Or they may avoid an encounter that makes them uncomfortable because they don’t know how to respond or what to say. These may be simple, innocent reactions born of confusion, not lack of compassion. But their impact is deep and lasting.
To those whose health condition already creates a sense of isolation and diminished self-esteem, these stigmatizing experiences are painful affirmations that lead to further separation. Too often, health stigma prompts a choice to live apart from society, in anger or depression, rather than embrace the strategies of coping. Those who are stigmatized begin to stigmatize themselves. This emotional toll has a physical impact as well, often hindering the success of therapy or treatment.
Medical solutions to many disabilities and health conditions may still be distant. But an effective response to the immense emotional and psychological impact of health stigma is within our reach.
Rude2Respect is about creating that change. It’s about bringing the issue of health stigma to light, and helping people with health challenges live with confidence and resilience. It’s also about educating the public on better ways to interact with people with both seen and unseen health conditions.
The launch of the Rude2Respect website (rude2respect.org) and Facebook page is just the beginning, the base of a social media campaign to turn “rude” to “respect.” We’ll be reaching out to the public in search of role models to honor and celebrate. And we’ll be offering resources to people who live with stigmatized health conditions as well as those who want to better understand and support them.
Removing the stigma associated with disability and health challenges is an achievable goal. Join us in making this a success, in turning rude to respect – and eliminating health stigma in our lifetime.