Acts of Discrimination

  • Disability Discrimination
  • Mental Health Stigma and Treatments
  • Words Have Power
  • Disability and Natural Disasters
  • Stigma Can Lead to Abuse And Neglect

Exhibition Thematic Section: Acts of Discrimination

Disability Discrimination

Jhier Littles, Student, Fitchburg State University

Disability discrimination is when a person with a disability is treated with lesser value than one without a disability in similar circumstances. As of 2017, it is documented that about one in four people with disabilities face discrimination at least once every day (Gaille). There are many cases of disability discrimination which most adults over 18 do face. As much as people try to avoid discrimination, it is sad to say that there is no way to truly escape or eliminateit. Much like any other form of discrimination, disability discrimination does greatly affect those who encounter it. Some who do encounter it experience psychological distress such as depression and anxiety. Many people who face discrimination will encounter racial slurs or even strange looks, and, on rare occasions, it could get physical. The most common causes of discrimination against the disabled are: social and cultural barriers, lack of accommodation/ transportation, lack of inclusion, and unemployment.

One of the sources of discrimination against the disabled is the social and cultural barriers. This happens often because people do not know how to behave towards others who live in different circumstances than they do. People with disabilities do not want people to feel for them or to be treated any differently than any other person. If anything, many of the community that faces this issue, for instance, want an alternative way to get the same job as an abled-bodied person.

Another case of discrimination is the lack of accommodation, ranging from issues like a font in a brochure being too small to an accessible way to get from one part of a building to another. And for this reason, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created. The ADA was created specifically to prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities in all aspects such as in jobsm any form of public transportation, any institute of education, etc. An example of a lack of accommodation that affects the community is the transportation barriers that they have to face. Yes, public transportation is great and works very effectively for the majority of the disabled community, but those public transportation services can only go so far. What happens when those services can no longer be provided and the disabled individual is alone? In Massachusetts, transportation services such as The RIDE by the MBTA are provided to those who identify as disabled. To qualify for The RIDE, one does need to have any form of disability that needs to be supported by a healthcare provider. The Ride is specifically for people with disabilities that feel like they cannot take other forms of public transportation such as the train, bus, or trolley. Taking The RIDE does come with fares depending on the disability. For those who classify as the local members of the ADA community with a destination 3⁄4 of the way from the closest MBTA connection pay $3.35 one-way, per customer. Those who do not classify as an ADA community member a local ride with the same 3⁄4 destination pay $5.60 one-way, per customer. This alternative form of transportation that specifically helps the disabled is just in a few of the fifty states. What about those in the states without these types of services?

Another big example of a lack of accommodation today is the absence of a sign language translator at big speaking events or public conferences. This alone can impact one without the ability to hear so much. Not only are they missing important information, but they are also feeling like they do not belong in that environment because the resources they need to stay in the loop is not available. This is where the issue of lack of inclusion comes into play. Lack of inclusion is one of the most commonly seen cases in discrimination against the disabled. Whether it’s involving playing in a sport or dealing with employment, this can affect a broad variety of the disabled community, and it does greatly affect a person's life.

Oftentimes lack of inclusion for people with disabilities under the age of 18 is seen in schools. Many school systems around the country separate students who classify as disabled in any form the ones who do not. This method of teaching may academically seem like it is the better way for the students with disabilities to learn at their own pace. However, socially, this makes it harder for a kid to feel like they fit in, and at the time where bullying happens most is when kids feel like making friends is what life and growing up is really about, which is why something like being in a different class would affect them so much.

Those above the age of 18 tend to face a majority of lack of inclusion in the workplace. This generally takes place in the hiring or firing process. Employers will overlook a qualifying applicant with a disability because they do not feel like they could fulfill all the requirements due to the disability. This is when unemployment becomes another cause of discrimination against the disabled. In 1991, the employment rates for disabled vs. the able-bodied were dramatically different, with only 50.2% of the disabled community were employed while 84.4% of the able-bodied were employed according to the 1990 census, leaving half of the disabled community without a job or an income. In 2010, 41.1% of the disabled community were documented as employed and 79.1% of the abled were too employed. The typical annual earnings of a disabled person as of 2010 is $23,532 which is almost $11,000 less than a non- disabled person which is $32,688. Over the years, the rates of disability employment have gotten much lower. As of 2019, only 19.3% of people with disabilities were documented as employed. It seems that rates of employment are getting so low in the disability community because the majority of the disabled are older people who cannot work at all because of it (Gaile).

These forms of discrimination emotionally takes the biggest toll on a person because they just want to feel like they are equal, however, that cannot happen if people are not aware of how the barriers affect the disabled person. 

On the bright side, there are a few steps that we as a community and a country can do to make people with disabilities feel more included. The four most effective ways to expand inclusion are; By creating an inclusive culture, broaden talent, foster awareness, and prioritize all forms of access (Stadtler). Inclusive culture not only entails making the disabled community feel welcomed, but it makes the environment diverse so that they feel comfortable even with their physical or mental differences. Today, many companies do try to do a better job of making their staff more diverse and making as many networking connections as they can. Not only is inclusive culture a good tactic for expanding inclusion, broadening talent too is an effective way to resolve one of today's most pressing issues of disability discrimination. When a company with a goal of diversity goes through the hiring process, they should look at all aspects that the job requires and prioritize all access by finding alternative jobs or methods to accommodate disability. The last effective way a company or business could expand inclusion is to foster awareness. By fostering awareness, there will be a decrease in disability discrimination.

“5 Common Causes of Disability Discrimination." Shegerian & Associates, 16 Sept. 2014,

Bahattacharya, A. "America still leaves the disabled behind." CNN, 26 July 2015, ms-remain/

“Disability and Health Disability Barriers.” CDC, 4 Sept. 2019,

Gaile, Bradon. "21 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics." Brandon Gaile, 22 May 2017,

Stadtler, D. “4 Ways to Expand Inclusion of People with Disabilities.” SHRM's Executive Network, HR People + Strategy, 21 Feb. 2019,

Canterbury, UK - Canterbury Cathedral and “Mad” Henry of Fordwich

Mental Health Stigma and Treatments

Abby Murphy, Student, Fitchburg State University

Many people believe that the subject of mental health is taboo. Despite the fact that mental illnesses affect millions of people in the US, there is still a harsh stigma surrounding them. Far too often individuals will never get the help they need and deserve to treat their mental illness because of this harsh stigma. Since this illness is not physically noticeable, some people may feel as though it is not as harmful and does not deserve the same amount of attention as a visible disability. It is important that society as a whole becomes educated on the extent to which mental illnesses affect millions of people every day in order to even begin to approach ending the stigma.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 19.1% of adults and 16.5% of youth ages 6-17 are affected by mental illness each year (“Mental Health by the Numbers"). These statistics are very important tools in spreading awareness and ending the stigma. If more people become aware of how common mental illness is, it is easier to understand the emotional, physical, and financial impact many people who suffer from mental illnesses face on a daily basis. Other statistics that are shocking are those that show how common, or uncommon, it is for people with a diagnosed mental illness to get treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, annually in the US, only 34.9% of adult males and 48.6% of adult females with a mental illness receive treatment. One of the barriers that people face when trying to get the help they need is a lack of insurance. According to the article, “Mental Health by the Numbers”, 11.3% of adults with a mental illness and 13.4% of adults with serious mental illness in the United States had no insurance coverage in 2018. If enough awareness is raised and conversations are had about mental illness, people will be more likely to reach out for help and be able to access that help. Undoubtedly, something needs to change if 11.3% of adults with a mental illness are deprived of the needed care due to a lack of insurance.

The stigmatization of mental disorders has a long tradition. During the Middle Ages, mental illness was, at least by some, perceived as “a punishment from God: sufferers were thought to be possessed by the devil and were burned at the stake, or thrown in penitentiaries and madhouses where they were chained to the walls or their beds” (Rössler). In general, many who were perceived as “crazed” were feared and shunned. Some of the harmful words used to describe people with a mental illness during the Middle Ages were madness, insanity, and lunacy. Over time, we have come to recognize that this type of language, the meanings of which have changed over time, is extremely harmful and contributes greatly to the harsh stigma. The words used when referring to individuals who have a mental illness have changed drastically since the Middle Ages, but there is still much improvement to be done. An issue that is very common in our society today is for people to casually use severe mental illnesses to describe their passing moods. Using the phrase “I’m so depressed” while not fully understanding the disorder causes many to believe that depression is merely feeling sad in a passing moment and is something one can just “will” themselves out of. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) seems to be used casually by many people without first educating themselves on the symptoms of this disorder. Many people associate OCD to tidiness or just being particular but there is so much more that comes along with this illness and using it lightly does not allow others to feel as though they can seek the necessary help if they are diagnosed with OCD. By doing this, people are diminishing the severity of the symptoms that individuals with OCD have to live with every day. Casual references like these assist in undermining the severity of mental illnesses and contribute to the harsh stigma which discourages people from seeking the help they need.

There is not only a harsh stigma around having a mental illness but also seeking help with one. Many people avoid seeking treatment because they do not want others to view them as weak or unable to deal with their own “problems.” In terms of treatment during the Middle Ages, trephination seemed to be a surgical performance used to treat mental illnesses. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “Trephination is a surgical intervention where a hole is drilled, incised or scraped into the skull using simple surgical tools" (Irving). This is believed to have been used in treating mental illnesses because there have been skulls found from as early as the neolithic period with small holes in them. A popular theory is that these holes were made for the entrance or exit of spirits which were believed to cause illnesses. Due to research being done, it is now clear that mental illnesses can be treated in ways such as psychotherapy, medication, hospitalization, and support groups. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness treatment, choices on which treatments work best for each individual will vary from person to person. There is not one blanket treatment that works for everyone even if it is for the same mental illness. These treatments will continue changing as more research is done and mental health professionals gain more insight.

The book Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity by American sociologist Erwin Goffman describes how stigmatized individuals deal with the challenge as well as laying the foundation for stigma research as a scientific discipline. Goffman was very critical towards mental hospitals because he believed that they added to the stigmatization rather than enabling patients to lead normal lives. He believed that further isolating people with mental illness led to a withdrawal in social interactions leading to their participation in society and normal life being reduced.

One of the artifacts featured in the exhibit is the stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral. Henry of Fordwich, who had an undocumented mental illness and was called “mad,” was brought to the tomb of Thomas Becket. St. Thomas was believed to have great healing powers and those who prayed to him would miraculously be healed. This stained glass window illustrates Henry of Fordwich and many others being cured by St Thomas. The image in the stained glass shows a "mad" Henry being dragged and beaten by his presumed "carers." In another scene on the window, Henry is presented as calm and "cured" after praying to Saint Thomas. This representation of mental illness seems very harmful and stigmatizing by portraying a mentally-ill person as uncontrollable and disruptive and in need of help from others in order to get through their daily life. The way that this scene is presented in the stained glass makes it seem as though the treatments for mental illness in the Middle Ages were extremely harsh and inhumane. The tying of hands and dragging and overall violent atmosphere depicts mental illness in a very harsh light. The belief that people who suffered from mental illness were being punished by God has facilitated the ongoing stigma related to mental illness along with other disabilities. Although many people began to view the origins and causes of mental illness differently once scientists discovered that different parts of the brain were responsible for different parts of the body and behavioral functions, the role of supernatural, religious, or magical explanations of mental illness still exists. This proves that even though stigma is universal, each person’s experience with being stigmatized is influenced by culture.

These harmful stigmas surrounding mental illness cause many people to suffer in silence. Stigmatizing people who have a mental disability or illness has occurred since the Middle Ages and there is still room for improvement. By educating others on the topics of mental health, people can understand how necessary it is for these false beliefs about mental illness to be diminished. The language and treatments have changed but there is still more research that needs to be done.

Goffman, Erving. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Penguin Books, 1990.

Halliday, Sonia. “Stained Glass / Canterbury / England.” Sonia Halliday Photographs,

“A History of Mental Illness Treatment.” Concordia University, St. Paul Online, 14 Oct. 2016,

Irving, Jenni. “Trephination.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 4 Apr. 2020,

“Mental Health by the Numbers.” NAMI, Sept. 2019,

Rössler, Wulf. “The Stigma of Mental Disorders: A Millennia-Long History of Social Exclusion and Prejudices.” EMBO Reports, John Wiley and Sons Inc., Sept. 2016,

Words Have Power

Stephanie Agyapomaah, Student, Fitchburg State University

When mental health is mentioned there can be a lot of eyebrows raised. In our society, we often think we know exactly what the individual is going through just by looking at them, but it’s never the case. Mental health is one of those topics that is talked about and then it disappears. I have learned that society only wants to talk about the topics that are new and fresh. Mental health is one of the issues we fail to make public because of the simple fact that people don't understand it. People still have stereotypical thoughts that needs to change. Overall, society needs to change the perception of mental health and increase the familiarization with it.

Mental health comes with stereotypes. Many patients not only have to cope with what there going through, but have to deal with stigmatization that comes with it. There are too many times that people with mental health issues are referred to as "crazy" or "insane." These words create a categorization that puts mental health disabilities in a negative context. In the past, people with these disabilities were often thrown in institutions and were injected with all types of medicine to ‘’cure’’ them. To them they thought it was benefiting the patient, but it wasn’t. How can you ‘’cure’’ something with which someone was born? It is physically impossible. It took a long time to realize that there were mental issues because they physically couldn’t be seen. In their eyes mental health disorders were invisible because they couldn't see what the person was going through. Just because you can’t see what they're going through doesn’t mean the issues don't exist. 

Stereotypes have a way of influencing people to make quick judgments without realizing they can hurt others' feelings. The way people look at certain issues can be different than the way you look at something. Everybody has different perspectives or opinions, and you never know how the person takes it, so that means you should be careful with your words. It might be a joke or something you thought was funny, but it can still have an effect on other individuals. Words can be deadly sometimes, and you just have to be careful of the way you say something because you never know what the person has experienced.

Society can become very negative about and needs to change the perception of mental health. Mental disabilities or any disabilities shouldn’t be treated any different. Everybody is a human and should be treated like one. Society needs to open up for change because being ignorant isn’t going to take you anywhere. You can’t go around judging people because you don’t know their story. People need to stop assuming and actually go learn about the disability. Society needs to educate themselves on mental health or any other disability because something you say can have a major effect on others.

Abderholden, Sue. “It's Not Stigma, It's Discrimination.” NAMI, 7 Mar. 2019,

“How Does Stress Impact Our Mental Health?” MQ Mental Health,

Maldonado, Marissa. “How Stress Affects Mental Health.” Psych Central, 8 July 2018,

News Article: "Hugo Devastates - A family awaits word on daughter"

Disability and Natural Disasters

Jeanie Djokotoe, Student, Fitchburg State University

Society has pushed people with disabilities off the grid basically making them an insignificant matter.  It is as if their disability has become a huge weight on their shoulders to manage.

For example, natural disasters are a reason why people believe that disability can be a burden to the community. When a natural disaster occurs, evacuation must happen so that people will be out of harm’s way. But for people with disabilities, that task is not as easy for them as it is for the rest of society. Natural disasters are a cause of death for the disability community: “If the international community’s desire is to protect the population from disaster risks, during these discussions, greater attention must be paid to persons living with a disability” (Walbaum, et al). Evacuating for safety takes longer for those with disabilities than those without disabilities. Sadly, both groups of people get the same amount of time to prepare. Most people without a disability just have to make sure they have food, supplies, and shelter. People with disabilities have to do that and more. They also have to make sure that they have medicine if needed, assistant help and any personal care equipment that they need (Walbaum, et al).

With readiness, there needs to be communication. When a natural disaster is approaching a certain town or country, news about the storm is broadcasted through television, radio, and newspapers. Those media are wonderful ways for some people to receive the news, but not all. Some of the people in the disabled community are not able to receive messages about the storm. People who are blind can probably hear the television or radio. People who are deaf can probably read the newspapers. However, those who are blind and deaf are more vulnerable than ever. They will not be able to either see or hear about the news about natural disasters due to their disability. They must gain support from their community in these kinds of situations. When a natural disaster occurs, help from the government are usually inaccessible, so it is up to the disabled community to seek help from each other in that time of need.  

“Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs.” FEMA,

Walbaum, Véronique, et al. “Persons with Disabilities: Among the First Victims of Natural Disasters.” ID4D, 24 Apr. 2018,

Stigma Can Lead to Abuse And Neglect

Christine Nibitanga, Student, Fitchburg State University

It is not morally right to treat an individual less because of their disability or any differences. People with disabilities are still human. From a young age most are taught to treat people the way you would want to be treated; the same principles should still be followed when it comes to those whom are disabled. Disabilities have been around for all of human history.

During the medieval time period, thoughts on disability were very mixed, as they are today: “People thought it was a punishment for sin, Others believed that disabled people were closer to God - they were suffering purgatory on earth rather than after death and would get to heaven sooner” ("Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485"). Some accepted the fact that people may be born with a disability or could be disabled by diseases like years of backbreaking work, or leprosy, which is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body ("Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485").

The modern day defintion for individualies with diasbilities by the Disability Discrimination Act is a “person who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” ("Definitions of Disability"). The two most common categories of disabilities are mental and physical disability. People with mental or physical disability often do not like to talk about their disability because they risk being looked down upon by society. With the amount of labels, society struggles to see people as more than their disability. This is due to people like Sally Ann Hart who states people with a disability should be paid less because they don’t have a high enough IQ to understand money (Drewett). But people should be able to get paid for the work they do. She also says they should be content with the idea of being able to work to fulfill their happiness. It is disrespectful and disheartening because at the same time society also struggles to provide these individuals with a disability equal access to services such as education. There are so many people with disabilities who want to work, but are denied the opportunity. We need urgent action to make sure those with disabilities can get work, stay in work, and thrive in work (Drewett). People who are not disabled have no right to make decisions for them.

Abuse is not always easy to identify because it comes in many forms, but it can be easily summed up as the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish" (Hawes) .This is done so to maintain power and control over another individual. The three most common types of abuse are physical abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal or mental abuse. Abuse within the disability community is often found in nursing homes; the types of actions that have been reported are:

  • Removing or destroying a person’s mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, scooters, walkers).
  • Denying access to and/or taking prescribed medication from someone.
  • Forcing someone to take medication against her will.
  • Forcing someone to lie in soiled undergarments.
  • Preventing access to food.
  • Inappropriately touching a person while assisting with bathing and/or dressing.
  • Denying access to disability-related resources in the community and/or to health care appointments. ("Abuse of women with disabilities")

Individuals at great risk of abuse are women: “Women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities” ("Abuse of women with disabilities").

The fact of women with disbilities as a target goes back even to the Middle Ages with examples such as Joan of Arc. Whether Joan Of Arc had a disability or not the cause of death was not because of her disability of epilepsy or schizophrenia. Her disability was being born a female: “Women are impaled on the cross of self-sacrifice. Unlike men, they are categorically denied the experience of supremacy and individuality” (Chesler). The search for women to find ways to fit in often includes diagnoses of the individual being delusional, which then result in displays of physically aggressive. 

The sad part about abuse is that it can be difficult to report because of fear of retaliation and self doubt: “Often people are scared of the way people will react or of ​victim-shaming, which is where the victim of abuse is in a way made to feel like they are responsible for their abuse, is a huge problem. It prevents people from healing from their trauma because people either don’t believe them or imply that they were somehow at fault” (“Reasons Why People Don't Report Abuse"). There is also what is known as gas- lighting, which is another form of emotional/ mental abuse which is where the victim is manipulated into doubting their own memories of what happened and wondering if they’re delusional. Sometimes victims are even convinced that what’s happening is normal, or even their fault.

Disability DOES NOT define a person, so let's stop defining people by the things that make them different and start looking at how those things allow them to be an even better individual. Accessibility for the disabled is important, but even with today’s advancing technology and laws this subject is still not as discussed as it should be. It is time we take a stand for disability rights, which will embrace accessibility, safety, community acceptance, independent living, equal active participation in society, and most importantly equal access to education and employment. 

"Abuse of women with disabilities." American Psychological Association, 2014,

Chesler, Phyllis. Women and Madness​. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

“Reasons Why People Don't Report Abuse.” Choma,

DiGiulio, Sarah. “What Is Gaslighting? And How Do You Know If It's Happening to You?” NBC, 15 Aug. 2018, cna890866​.

“Definitions of Disability.” Disabled World, 21 Apr. 2019,​.

“Disability in the Medieval Period 1050-1485.” Historic England,

Drewett, Zoe. “Tory Says Disabled People Should Be Paid Less as 'They Don't Understand Money'.”Metro, 6 December 2019, oney-11280594/?fbclid=IwAR3oZNZRE5dl5drMXYY7oCSdvmx2KgBp68SabGR14wWUZkZ vQpPk3ZNPIK8.

Hawes, Catherine. “Elder Abuse in Residential Long-Term Care Settings: What Is Known and What Information Is Needed?” U.S. The National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970,