‘What are you thinking?’: Provocative campaign targets disability stigma

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s a provocative campaign meant to educate.

Paper thought bubbles in Harrisburg aim to get people thinking about the way they think about those with disabilities.

Posted on objects we pass by every day — benches, mailboxes, parking meters — the signs are subtle. Their message is not.

“It gets attention,” said Karen Gross, director of marketing for Dillsburg-based communications firm Suasion. “It says, ‘There’s no such thing as a learning disability. People just need to work harder.'”

“‘Handicapped people should suck it up,'” Karyn Rapsey read from another thought bubble. “‘We all have problems.'”

If that sounds harsh, it’s supposed to.

“These are statements that are said about people with disabilities every day,” Gross said.

“It’s terrible,” said Rapsey, who also works for Suasion, a firm promoting the campaign. “It’s an awful thing to say to anybody and it’s a terrible stigmatizing thought, but it’s real.”

What are you thinking? That’s the message of the Stigma Project.

“What Are You Thinking helps us to examine our thoughts,” said Suasion’s director of leadership development Kristal Murren as she posted another thought bubble.

It’s a statewide campaign to combat the subtle ways we think about people with disabilities.

“No matter how many programs we invent or rules or regulations we devise, we run up against a barrier which is the attitude of people towards folks with disabilities,” said Graham Mulholland, executive director of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

“So, what we need people to do is really stop in their tracks,” Gross said, “begin to think about stigmatizing thoughts and what they’re thinking.”

Suasion is helping to paper Harrisburg both with the messages and flyers explaining their cause.

“This is a major problem in our state,” Gross said.

“It’s time to put an end to it,” Rapsey said.

You can find more information on the project here.

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