Stigma

Stigma is part of the complex of factors that transform impairment into disability. The term refers to the disapproval and disadvantage that attach to people who are seen as different; its repercussions can be far-reaching. Stigma affects employment, social recognition, educational opportunities, friendship and sex, housing, and freedom from violence. Stigma in Greek means to prick or to puncture, and the word originally referred to a sharp instrument used to brand or cut slaves or criminals. The fact that stigma is still closely associated with visible forms of difference—leprosy, needle tracks, missing limbs, and obesity, for instance—recalls this history, as does the fact that it retains associations of moral disgrace. Today, the term is more abstract and more general and refers to social forms of stigma—to the discredit or dishonor that attaches to a wide range of human variation.

Stigma’s associations with enslavement lasted through the nineteenth century, when the …

This essay may be found on page 173 of the printed volume.

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