This morning all across Pennsylvania, thousands of thought bubbles appeared with harsh stigmatizing statements such as, “Mentally ill people are dangerous,” “Most ‘disabled’ people are just scamming the system,” and “There’s no such thing as a learning disability—people just need to work harder.” While offensive, volunteers from disability organizations around the state took to the streets and posted the thought bubbles with the objective of drawing attention to statements that are said to people with disabilities on a daily basis. Today, the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council (PADDC) launches the Stigma Project, a statewide campaign to change people’s thinking, behavior and attitudes toward people with disabilities. LetsThinkAgain.org
“The stigma against people with disabilities is ugly, hurtful and widespread, and it negatively affects the lives of thousands of Pennsylvanians,” Graham Mulholland, Executive Director of PADDC, said. “This campaign strategy, even in the planning stages, has generated much divisiveness, discomfort and hesitation. It’s an issue we don’t like to talk about, but we must in order to initiate real change.”
The campaign, funded through a federal grant awarded to PADDC and administered by the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA), aims to eliminate the stigma against people with all types of disabilities, which has been found to be a serious problem in the state. According to a 2012 survey conducted for PMHCA, 79% of people said they believe society thinks of individuals with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities “with discomfort and awkwardness.” However,most people would say they do not contribute to the stigma surrounding people with disabilities.
According to Lynn Keltz, Executive Director of PMHCA, people do contribute to stigma in ways they don’t even realize.
“The challenge here is to get Pennsylvanians’ attention regarding this important topic, have people recognize and be aware of their own stigmatizing thoughts, and educate the public about how they should be thinking and behaving to ultimately promote a more diverse and inclusive Commonwealth.”
The Stigma Project campaign, which asks people “What are you thinking?,” includes a website where visitors can view videos, take a Stigma Quiz, pledge to end stigma and participate in other interactive activities designed to engage and educate. Campaign handouts and bracelets are being disseminated in communities across Pa., while Public Service Announcements will begin airing on radio and television stations. All communications materials lead the public to LetsThinkAgain.org and social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.