SPINAL CORD INJURY: STIGMA

A spinal cord injury is a very visible disability. Unlike a person with diabetes or heart disease, you cannot hide your condition. A wheelchair or crutches, and any changes in physical appearance, are immediately apparent to others. The ease or difficulty of adjusting to disability depends not only on your own emotions and actions, but on other people’s reactions to your changed appearance.How you look to others is likely to be on your mind from the early days of rehabilitation. And how you cope with social responses to your disability is important to your success in living with a spinal cord injury.
StigmaPeople with visible disabilities are often stigmatized by cultural beliefs and language and treated as if their disabilities were a mark of disgrace, social inferiority, or moral or mental abnormality. Such prejudice generally arises from fear or anxiety. To ward off their own feelings of vulnerability, many people use stigma to separate themselves from “those disabled people” and thus to feel protected and secure, certain that they could never be “one of them.”Unfortunately, this prejudice is manifest as discrimination in jobs, education, and socialization, as will become more apparent when you leave the hospital and attempt to reenter the “real world.” But even during your inpatient rehabilitation, you need to understand that fears of social rejection and concern about how you look to others are based as much in social reality as on your own anxieties and altered self-esteem. Even if you feel great about yourself, others may be awkward, uncomfortable, or frightened by your disability.
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