The Most Minor Minority
Common Conception of Minorities
From the time that the Europeans began the colonization of the world there has existed social inequality, such as how Christopher Columbus viewed the Native Americans as inferior and as an asset of free labor to further colonization efforts in North America. In fact, the United States of America was founded on the social inequality of slave labor, which still produces negative effects on our societal attitudes today, albeit more subtly prominent than in the past.
As laws have been developed to protect the equal rights of all humans, it is simply the fear of persecution that hinders the modern publics’ expression of prejudiced attitudes toward minorities, “any category of people distinguished by physical or cultural difference that a society sets apart and subordinates” (Macionis, 2006, p. 283). Nevertheless, racism, “the belief that one’s racial category is innately superior or inferior to another” (Macionis, 2006, p. 287), in the past was an influential and detrimental type of prejudice that ingrained the superior attitudes of the white majority within contemporary society to exhibit behaviors toward minorities motivated by attitudes of inequality (Macionis, 2006, p. 289), or discrimination.
When discussing minorities, inequality, discrimination, and prejudiced attitudes, most people’s conceptualizations automatically snap to those of different genders, races, and ethnicities victimized throughout the history of our nation (Women and African Americans, for example). However, these two minority examples still face some forms of prejudice and discrimination even after all they have fought publicly to accomplish.
The Most Minor Minority Phobia
One of the most overlooked minorities, disabled individuals have not yet begun to publicly accomplish what women and African Americans have; therefore, if prejudice and discrimination still exist for these minorities who have made historical struggles for equality that are well-known to most people, it would seem that additional struggles still lie ahead that have not yet been exposed to allow for the same accomplishments as other minorities. Just as racism has caused many ethnicities to become oppressed, people with disabilities face Disablism, “a set of assumptions and practices promoting the differential or unequal treatment of people because of actual or presumed disabilities” (Campbell, 2008, p.152). However, I do not resent the attitudes of others toward my disability due to “Institutional prejudice and discrimination, bias built into the operation of society’s institutions, including schools, hospitals, the police, and the workplace” (Macionis, 2005, p. 290), which subconsciously direct society’s overall attitude toward disability.
Patston (2007) found in his studies that most people prejudice attitude toward the disabled stems from reports of dysfunctionphobia, feelings of hate and fear about the possibility of a loss in 50% of their physical function upon awakening. What does this disabling fear in losing physical function suggest? For one, that most desire to avoid becoming disabled due to an undesirable life which lacks the quality of life they currently experience while being abled. However, Patston (2007) suggests that “the usual reactions to the encounter of impairment or disability include sadness, a focus on loss, pity, denial and even shock, horror and devastation” (p. 1626); therefore, fear of losing physical functioning may be a way to protect oneself from the negative emotions and scary possibilities that come to be associated with losing physical function.
Stigmatization and Discrimination of the Disabled
As mentioned above, dysfunctionphobia of disabled people warrants reactions that include sadness, a focus on loss, pity, denial, shock, horror, and devastation. The reason being that by trying to empathize with the disabled, one relates to their feelings from the standpoint of perceiving how it would be to walk only to have it suddenly taken away. Empathizing with me in this way would not be logical due to the fact that I have never fully known how it felt to experience walking, thereby incorrectly believing that it must be difficult for me to deal with a condition that most ‘normal’ people do not, but I did not ever possess the condition defining ‘normal’ people; most people do not think to consider this as a possibility, they mostly think about the disabled from what it would feel like for them to suddenly become disabled after knowing how much it would mean to them to walk.
Kanguade (2009) exposes that “the charity model constructs persons with disabilities as unfortunate victims of nature gone awry and therefore deserving society’s pity and charity” (p. 22). Well, here is a public note from my personal experience: most disabled people learn to cope with their situations over time and should be allowed to ask for help, pity, or empathy like all other ‘normal’ people; when it is his or her request or choice; unless of course, the disabled person cannot communicate bodily sensations to know when to make the choice effectively.
In 1991, Alan Labonte had worked for a law firm for a little over a year, received the highest raise and a $4,000 Christmas bonus when he was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (Sullivan, 2007). Feeling confident to disclose his disability right away, his employer offered sympathy and assistance only to later be met with awkwardness that turned into avoiding Alan and eventually his termination six months later without any notice (Sullivan, 2007). His employer initially promised to accommodate but later acted as if though their concern was something they were required to say. Nevertheless, in the case of Labonte vs. Hutchins and Wheeler, Alan was awarded approximately two million dollars for the discrimination he faced (Sullivan, 2007). “I contend that internalized ableism utilizes a two-pronged strategy, the distancing of disabled people from each other and the emulation by disabled people of ableist norms” (Campbell, 2008, p. 155).
Stigmatized Sexuality of the Disabled
One of the most popular questions my wife receives about our relationship when meeting new people is whether or not we are able to have sex. Simply because I am unable to walk most people assume that nothing must function below my waist, when in fact I have feeling below my waist which allows me to stand and walk on a walker. Kanguade (2009) explains that the reason for this is “when the sexual practices of persons fall outside the normative range then their sexuality is not legitimized or recognized” (p. 27). Along with subtle discrimination, I must face the stigmatization of not being perceived as a sexual person. Kanguade (2009) confirms that “by maintaining the dominant discourse of sexuality and suppressing other minority views, social and legal policies perpetuate the stigma of asexuality and exclude persons with disabilities from being regarded as sexual subjects” (p. 28).
While attitudes are more subtle than in past years, Guilio (2003) asserts that the “asexual and potentially deviant myths surrounding the sexuality of disabled people are still very much with us” (p. 53). Research supports that the sexual behaviors of disabled people are perceived more unenthusiastically than when these same behaviors are perceived with non-disabled people (Guilio, 2003). Compared to peers in my social group, my sexual experiences are lacking by only having two sex partners throughout my life. With increasing awareness, the importance of developing sexuality as a crucial part of human nature has become my focus of fully developing a sense of identity, albeit not a simple task.
Personal Account of Mistreating Minority
I hold the belief that a 10 year emotionally secured marriage with a strong communicative bond maintaining authentic traits should be able to engage in petting, cuddling, and less marital-like passionate French-kissing with a very few intimate friendships. Kedde and Berlo (2006) suggest that “engaging in sexual encounters will lead to a heightened level of self-esteem and will in turn encourage an individual to continue those activities which have increased self-esteem” (p. 54). Such authentic traits within strongly dedicated marriages include consistent full-disclosure, constantly spoken truths without pessimistic exaggerations as to the possible outcomes, complete and absolute trust in one another’s undying loving commitment whether together or apart under any social circumstances whatsoever, a surplus of self-esteem supporting comments regarding one’s partner throughout conversations with friends and family that do not include one’s partner, consideration to keep one’s word to one’s partner to display effort in developing a more dedicated relationship without feelings of confusion, frustration, hostility, disappointment, and slight distrust or lack of faith.
Although I may believe this way, I do not fully understand how to go about developing this type of relationship; so I decided to tell my best friend, Beau, that I had thought about him, my wife, and I being together intimately, but explained that I was not nowhere near ready at this point in my life. I acknowledged that he seemed quite excited but never doubted his loyalty to me, especially since he reassured me that I could trust him. However, our relationships seemed to be changing quickly in levels of interpersonal connection with one another and I became suspicious; I had not had the kind of connecting conversations with either of them that would be causing such a rapid change. Come to find out, my wife and Beau had already had sexual relations behind my back.
I had explained to Beau that I did not know how to go about developing my sexual belief and that talking to him was the only way I knew how to go about getting it started, but they left me out anyways. I explained to Beau that I was not mad about the sexual acts because that is what I wanted to experience over time but rather the fact that I was lied to when I was trying to seek his help. “A person with a disability should be able to act the way he wants to and according to his plans, in his own way, at the time and place he chooses […] without interference from others where he doesn’t want it” (Ven, Post, de Witte, & Heuvel, 2005, p. 318). Beau and I have another friend that in respect to my personality, is less passive, more assertive, aggressive, and demands respect, even if it means confrontation. Beau fears and respects him, which is why I bluntly explained to Beau that if he would have been in this same situation with our other friend instead of me, I did not think he would have went behind his back with his girl. Beau did not have very much to say.
Beau would know better and not risk getting his butt stomped into the ground by our other friend; but Beau knew that I was non-confrontational and very passive, and if I did find out, what was I going to do about it; Beau could get away from me even if I tried to fight him. I discussed this whole situation with our other friend and he made me decide to be confrontational and demand that same respect Beau gives him; I have never felt more in control of my life than I do now and it took my social group taking advantage of me. Meyer, Gouvier, Duke, and Advokat (2001) support that in the absence of a disabled person studies show that non-disabled people are less understanding of the needs and respect that disabled people deserve.
Social Conditions of the Disabled
The wages and employment rates of persons with disabilities is lacking in comparison to those without disabilities (Home, Merz, T., & Merz, D., 2001). Representation of disabled people in the media is rare and when they are represented, it is usually stereotyped roles consisting of violence, weakness, and immorality (Home, Merz, T., & Merz, D., 2001). According to Home, Merz, and Merz (2001), “people with disabilities are not presented as regular members of society, but as exceptions of humanity to be pitied, hated, belittled, or sensationalized” (p. 44).
“Unlike other minority groups, disabled people have had fewer opportunities to develop a collective consciousness, identity or culture, let alone interrogate cultures of ableism” (Campbell, 2008, p. 155). Disabled individuals are treated with pity and charity that seem to be superficial instead of real concerns about the capabilities or functions with specific disabilities. People are prone to fear of losing half of their physical functioning which they rely on so much for a good quality of life.
This fear brings with it other negative emotions and focuses on people’s disability from a non-disabled standpoint which projects emotional bias for all persons with disabilities. In the discrimination case of Labonte vs. Hutchins and Wheeler, the superficial pity and charity mentioned above is exposed and undeniable. Along with discrimination in the workplace, disabled people bare a societal label of a less or non- sexual person, thereby making it difficult to develop sexuality that is part of all human nature; therefore sending the subtle message that disabled people are ineffective and do not require this aspect of human nature. Campbell (2008) supports that “from the moment a child is born she/he emerges into a world where she/he receives messages that to be disabled is to be less than, a world where disability may be tolerated but in the final instance is inherently negative; disability is cast as a diminished state of being human” (p. 151).
Campbell, F. (2008). Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory. Disability & Society, 23(2), 151-162. doi:10.1080/09687590701841190.
Home, S., Merz, T., & Merz, D. (2001). Disability and Emotional Abuse: Mental Health Consequence and Social Implications. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2(4), 39-60. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
Kangaude, G. (2009). Disability, the Stigma of Asexuality and Sexual Health: A Sexual Rights Perspective. Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 5(4), 22-36. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
Kedde, H., & Berlo, W. (2006). Sexual Satisfaction and Sexual Self Images of People with Physical Disabilities in the Netherlands. Sexuality and Disability, 24(1), 53-68. Retrieved April 17, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1041422841).
Macionis, J. J. (2006). Society: The basics (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Meyer, L., Gouvier, W., Duke, M., & Advokat, C. (2001). Influence of Social Context on Reported Attitudes of Nondisabled Students Toward Students with Disabilities. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 45(1), 50. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
Patston, P. (2007). Constructive Functional Diversity: A new paradigm beyond disability and impairment. Disability & Rehabilitation, 29(20/21), 1625-1633. doi:10.1080/09638280701618778.
Sullivan, G. (2007). A landmark discrimination case, or, why Alan Labonte turned down $3 million. Inside MS, 25(2), 22-24. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
van de Ven, L., Post, M., de Witte, L., & van den Heuvel, W. (2005). It takes two to tango: the integration of people with disabilities into society. Disability & Society, 20(3), 311-329. doi:10.1080/09687590500060778.