Labelling is used to characterise individuals into specific groups within society. Labels can be considered as cultural stereotypes that have been around for many years that influence our reactions and behaviours to the people around us (Kliewer & Biklen, 1996). Labelling helps to identify the clinically healthy from the clinically unhealthy population, males from females based on biological distinctions as well as categorising people with special needs from those without, labelling them as disabled. Although there are benefits of labelling for society, individuals feel the impact of being categorised, harassed and devalued based on their label (Wright, Jorm, Mackinnon, 2011; Kliewer & Biklen, 1996). Labels result in varying expectations between genders and social status. These expectations are apparent in schooling environments. For example, home economic classed were developed as an appropriate education for girls to learn how to cook and sew (Hansot, 1993). This essay will discuss the positive and negative aspects of labelling on along with developing an argument to identify that society pressures have greater impact on labelled individuals.
To recognize and label a disability is considered a natural pathway to assist persons with the help-seeking process (Angel & Thoits, 1987; Biddle, Donovan, sharp, & Gunnell, 2007; Vogel, Wester, Larson, & Wade, 2006). Link and Phelan (2010) discuss the positive and negative aspects of labelling. They identify the benefits of diagnosing and labelling a condition to instigate possible treatment modalities and accurate caring needs for the individual’s. Identifying and labelling a disability, enables the person with special needs to receive the correct funding and care they deserve to improve performances just like any unlabelled individual. Wright, Jorm ; Mackinnon (2011) state that the labelling of a condition may facilitate one to seek necessary help to cope with their needs. There are many challenges for children with special needs in the education system to be accepted by their peers. Kliewer ; Biklen (1996) identify that labels are helpful to provide individualised education programs for children with special needs. They suggest that these labels give educators opportunities to provide extra support to labelled students providing them with the same opportunities as unlabelled children.
Kliewer ; Biklen (1996) state that labelling an individual with the term “disabled” is classified as stereotyping, prejudice and discriminating. When an individual is labelled retarded it limits access to many opportunities such as jobs and activities that are enjoyed by non-labelled people (Kliewer ; Biklen, 1996). People labelled with a disability often struggle to have their achievements identified over their physical or mental retardation attributes (Kliewer ; Niklen, 1996). Individuals with special needs are often contained, controlled and added into the ‘other’ group classification (Kliewer ; Biklen, 1996). Being labelled mentally retarded has effectively dehumanized those with special needs (Kliewer ; Biklen, 1996). It has become a form of harassment in the classroom for many students (Kliewer ; Biklen, 1996). Whilst there has been effective outcomes with labelling a disability for help-seeking, it has also been coupled with stigmatizing beliefs that potentially reduce one’s willingness to seek professional help (Wright, Jorm, Mackinnon, 2011). Often, unlabelled individuals associate someone with a disability as being ‘sick’ (Wright, Jorm, Mackinnon, 2011). Although the positives of being labelled with a disability or mental health condition is associated with accurate care and assistance, it can be concluded that negative stigma and humiliation of the label has more challenging effects for those living with the disability.
Social pressure, is the pressure placed on an individual or group by another individual or group (Nugent, 2013). For persons labelled with a disability, social interaction is often the most challenging. Unlabelled individuals often discriminate labelled individuals by only identifying them based on their label and not their potential or capabilities (Kliewer & Biklen, 1996). Social distance is a commonly used measure of stigma. Social distance is identified as an individual’s desire to form varying degrees of relationships with stigmatized identity (Baumann, 2007; Lauber, Nordt, Falcato, ; Roesseler, 2004). Stigma is an attribute that has discrediting values for labelled individuals in the eyes of others, reducing them from a whole person to a discounted version (Breheny, 2007). Corrigan, Edwards, Green, Diwan, ; Penn (2001) identify that prejudicial attitudes influence social distance, which encourages discriminatory behaviours towards individuals with disabilities and mental health conditions. A study by Corrigan, Edwards, Green, Diwan ; Penn (2001) identified that individuals who are familiar with mental illness and disability through experiences at school, family or peers, are less likely to employ prejudicial attitudes towards these labelled individuals.
People with disabilities are marginalised and excluded from mainstream society (Kitchin, 1998). Society has placed the label ‘disabled’ on people with special needs, causing these individuals to feel vulnerable, alone or in need of help (Watson, 2003). Carver and Rodda (1978) suggested that an individual who is described as disabled within society, is seen to belong with a different and inferior order of beings. Individuals with special needs feel the many pressures of being classified different (Goffman, 1963). A persons stigma is often negatively affected when labelled retarded, mentally or physically disabled within society (Breheny, 2007). Michael Oliver (1990) demonstrated that disabled individuals are socially excluded due to being deemed unproductive. Apart from being excluded in social aspects, disabled people are often segregated within schooling, have restricted access to public transport and unable to find suitable housing (Oliver, 1996). People labelled disabled struggle with the perceptions placed on them by society. It has been identified that social discrimination originates from society’s labels. Therefore concluding that society has greater impact on the pressures faced by individuals labelled disabled.
Labels are valueless on their own (Watson, 2003). It is society’s ideas and values of the conditions that have the most impact and this needs to be challenged (Watson, 2003). Shurmer-Smith and Hannan (1994) suggested that although categories are portrayed as inevitable or essential, they are only fabrications of cultural practices. People are not born with a predisposition to recognise differences, we learn to categorise through cultural practices (Kitchin, 1998). In conclusion, it can be identified that there are both positive and negative aspects of labelling. Positive aspects include but are not limited to help-seeking, treatment, accurate caring needs, correct funding, individualised education programs and extra support. The negative aspects include but are not limited to discrimination and harassment, limited access to public transport, having achievements not recognised, being contained and controlled, negative stigma resulting in reduced help-seeking as well as being perceived as ‘sick’. Societies labels can be identified as the instigator of social pressures faced by individuals with disabilities. Therefore concluding that society pressures have greater impacts than social pressures.