The process of stigmatization
A stigma develops when pejorative and condemning assessments of a group or trait affect ideas about every representative individual of this group or trait.
In Stigma, Erving Goffman mentions three stigma types: tribal (heritage, class, religion), moral (addiction, criminal history, mental disability), and “the physical abominations” (chronic illness, physical disability, cosmetic disfigurement).
Most often, Society quickly separate the deviants and isolate them apart from the group. This grouping, and related isolation of individuals promotes stigma perpetuation. An example is the isolation of epileptics by the Catholic Church for fear of the epilepsy-causing demons. Later they were separated from other patients in mental hospitals; this was done to prevent the spread of epilepsy, thought to be a contagious disease.
A more recent stigma concerns people with AIDS. Fear of contracting the virus causing AIDS through simple contact with a patient prevents some people from voluntarily having contact with people with AIDS. A stigma has been created, and fear of death is stronger than medical information regarding transmission.
Legislation now mandates equality of opportunity in education, housing, and employment among other things, but perceptions of people with disabilities are slower to change. It’s not just employment discrimination or inaccessible buildings that enforce disability or difference. Language, actions, and the assumptions and perceptions transmitted through words and actions, can be exclusionary. “People first” language affirms a person with a disability, addressing the person before a label. For example, rather than saying “Joan is afflicted by epilepsy,” the affirmative language says “Joan is a person with epilepsy.” The person comes first, and an “exclusionary condition” is avoided.
Terms that may be offending, insulting or degrading towards persons suffering from disabilities or abnormal conditions are no longer “politically-correct”. A British theater company has dropped the word hunchback from its stage adaptation of the classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame after discussions with a disability adviser who raised the possibility of offending people with spina bifida or the disfiguring scoliosis of the spineo and renamed it The Bellringer of Notre Dame.
The original title of the novel was Notre Dame de Paris, but its name was changed when the book was translated into English and the hunchback has remained part of the title until now. The novel has been translated into 20 languages and adapted several times for the stage and screen — including a 1939 Hollywood film starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.