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Changing Attitudes

Increasingly, there are calls for public awareness and education campaigns to diminish stigma associated with stuttering and other conditions (e.g., Blood, 1999; Finkelstein, Frautschy Demuth, & Sweeney, 2007; Klompas & Ross, 2004; Langevin, 1997; St. Louis, 2010; Wahl, 1999). The rationale is that if groups who are stigmatized could, through a more educated public, face positive or even neutral public reactions to their conditions, the impact of their conditions would become less handicapping. If this could be achieved, the benefits would be immediate and major. Advocates for campaigns assume that providing the public with accurate information will motivate people to become more understanding and/or empathetic, and ultimately behave in less discriminatory ways toward those who have the undesirable conditions.

Historically, attitudes have been shown to improve for some stigmatizing labels of the past, e.g., being labeled as “insane” or “a witch” (Porter, 2002). Herek, Capitanio & Widaman (2002) found that the overt stigma for AIDS declined slightly in the 1990s even though stigma still remained strong. Similarly, although public understanding of mental illness improved from the 1950s to the 1990s, stigma was not “defused” (US Surgeon General, 2004). For some physical handicaps, reduction of stigma over time is more encouraging. Individuals in wheelchairs, for example, are less stigmatized than they were in the past (Harris, L., et al., 1991; Nabors, 2002; Smart, 2001). Nevertheless, numerous examples are reported where public education campaigns, e.g., regarding mental illness, apparently have not changed attitudes to the extent expected (Harris, Walters, & Waschull, 1991; Lee, 2002).

Campaigns utilize a variety of forums and strategies though which to change attitudes. These campaigns have utilized electronic or print media, school curricula, interviews with famous people who have disabilities, and a variety of other strategies involving professional or self-help group advocacy.