#SlaughterStigma in the New Year

Join Bender Leadership Academy and New York Times best selling author, Karin Slaughter, in the continued fight against stigma.

Stigma refers to beliefs about people that are unfair or negative because they have a common characteristic, such as having a disability, religious beliefs, the color of a person’s skin, gender, how much money they make, or where they live. These beliefs lead to the perception that because someone has a certain characteristic, they must possess this certain trait. These beliefs, when ingrained into a society, lead to people making judgments about a person’s value and behaviors. These judgments have the potential to impact the quality of life for people who share that common characteristic by limiting access to resources and opportunities and by impacting their health and well-being.

We all understand that stigma has a negative impact on society, social groups, and even at the individual level. However, ending stigma isn’t simple. Stigma is insidiously persistent and has often become so ingrained in society that it has become embedded in the unconscious. To end stigma, a conscious effort must be made to change thinking and behavioral patterns.

This year the Bender Leadership Academy and the #SlaughterStigma campaign challenge you to take not only take a stance, but to take action to end stigma. To make a change, we all must work together to end stigma. That’s why the objectives of the #SlaughterStigma campaign focus on actions we can take as an individual which challenge stigma associated with people with disabilities.

Step #1: Encourage the use of truthful and positive portrayals of people with disabilities.

In Karin Slaughter’s writing, her character, Will Trent, is complex. Like all people he has strengths and weaknesses. His dyslexia can be viewed as both. One commonality that employers have found when including people with disabilities in their workforce is an increase in innovation. Because people with disabilities experience the world differently, they often offer insight within their teams that expands understanding of the communities they serve, resulting in better products. Yet, media representation of people with disabilities frequently portrays people with disabilities by using tropes which promote stigma.

Common disability tropes include portraying people with disabilities as weak or reliant on others for survival, bitter about having a disability, or as superhuman (because they can’t see, they have increased hearing). Writers, like Karin Slaughter, tackle these tropes by creating characters with disabilities who are “people first.”

However, you don’t need to be a writer, producer, or actor to encourage truth in representation of people with disabilities. You can do this by thinking about what you say and how you act when talking to someone with a disability or talking about disability. For example, in our #NotAshamed campaign we talk about how using mental health terms to describe behaviors that are negative or that we don’t understand perpetuates the stereotype that people with mental health disabilities are weird, unpredictable, or violent.

Step # 2: Educate the public on stigma and stereotypes of people with disabilities with a focus on breaking down myths.

At Bender Leadership Academy, we teach our students how to tell their stories. By being confident enough to share our experiences and perspectives, we can help to educate our communities about real people with disabilities. Stigma encourages people to feel afraid and ashamed. These feelings encourage people to remain silent about their lived experiences. By embracing our personal power and sharing our voice, we can educate others in a way that helps them to question their bias and beliefs.

The Deaf Community is one example of how people with disabilities can educate others – their strong sense of community has provided them the opportunity to share their lived experiences as a people who have built a unique language and culture. The Deaf Community has shared that they do not wish to be cured and that they are Deaf Proud.

The Autistic Community adds another layer to the lived experiences of people with disabilities, sharing the perspective that neurodiversity is naturally occurring, and that Autism needs to be understood, not cured. The Autistic Community too embraces pride in their identity first approach to educating others about what it means to live with autism.

You can share your story in a number of ways, including letter writing, speaking at various events, and using social media. Remember to use the SlaughterStigma hashtag when creating a social media post.

Step # 3: Empower others to be allies of people with disabilities, by identifying and committing to actions they can take on an individual level to end this stigma.

Calls to action will depend on your audience. For friends and family members, you may encourage them to commit to changing the language that they use. Examples may be to ask them not to use the R-word, not to say they are having a panic attack unless they are actually experiencing a panic attack, not to direct their conversation to a parent or companion of a person with a disability, or not use disability as a comparison to inspire others to do something (look how hard this is for a person with a disability to do, if they can do it, so can you).

For teachers and educators, as another example, it may be to encourage them to get additional training. X is a young man living with epilepsy. After experiencing several teachers who did not understand that some of his actions, like closing his eyes or putting his head down when exposed to flashing lights, were his attempt to take responsibility for managing triggers for seizures, he spoke to his school about bringing in the Epilepsy Association to help them understand epilepsy facts and myths.

For others it may be asking them to commit to reviewing the disability platform of a politician before voting, writing letters to their government officials, reviewing company commitments to diversity to determine if they include disability within diversity before making purchasing decisions, making donations, or participating in community events to promote awareness for people with disabilities.

In the fight against stigma, we must pair action with commitment. Make your commitment today, by taking the #SlaughterStigma pledge.