Addressing Stigma

Co-Director of the UCSF-UCB Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center, Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, is interviewed in this brief video by Aria Rani Sindledecker about stigma related to mental health:


Ableism is broadly recognized as attitudes and practices of discrimination based on ability. Attitudes towards learning differences and disabilities vary, and misconceptions or lack of awareness contribute to stigmatization that hinders acceptance and belonging. Misinformation about different abilities contributes to deficit-perspectives, which negatively impact future expectations, social interactions, and perceived potential. This poses significant risks for families whose children have learning differences, cognitive, or physical diversity. Ableist attitudes may inadvertently lower school expectations for students, which may manifest through less challenging goals and more restrictive placements. Anti-ableism work remains at the forefront of policy and practice for families accessing special education services.   

In 1975 President Ford made public schools accessible to children with varying abilities through the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142). Today, at the federal level, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services is rethinking special education to address ongoing barriers to participation and access. Socially and culturally, families continue to face different forms of ableism, and deficit attitudes about cognitive diversity and varying abilities. When families work with school districts to determine appropriate individualized education services, understanding ableism contributes to critical perspectives when assessing how goals, placements, and services align with family values, and their children’s needs. Families in need of additional supports may benefit from advocacy organizations such as the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. 

Additional Resources on Anti-Ableism 

Additional Resources for Disability Justice


Janz H. L. (2019). Ableism: the undiagnosed malady afflicting medicine. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 191(17), E478–E479. 

Nielsen, K. E. (2012). A disability history of the United States. Boston, Beacon Press. 


The UCSF | UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia & Cognitive Diversity Center does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of external resources. Sharing available information is not endorsement of viewpoints expressed from external sources, nor is it a substitute for advice from medical professionals.