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Stigma is not a disease

Graduate student hopes to challenge and change perceptions

Teaching and Learning

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Reducing stigma and positively changing people’s perceptions is a lofty goal. Despite the challenge, Kenneth Joshua wants to make a difference.

His area of interest is stigma related to physical disabilities. In Mr. Joshua’s home country of India and other South Asian countries, stigma surrounding physical disabilities, in particular leprosy, is prevalent and significantly affects a patient’s family and social life.

Changing mindsets

“We are in the 21st century and we still have to face stigma for people with disabilities, especially leprosy,” said Mr. Joshua. “Trying to change the mindset is difficult. Stigma is attached to religious beliefs, old tales and myths, and it might take a long time to change them.”

In his previous career as a physiotherapist he has worked with people in hospitals and at the Leprosy Mission International. Mr. Joshua has seen firsthand how individuals affected with physical disabilities are impacted by stigma and bias, including lack of access to healthcare, support and inclusion.

Changing people’s perceptions and ideologies about physical disabilities, ideas deeply rooted in customs, culture, religion and perceptions, is difficult. In some areas of South Asia physical disabilities such as leprosy are considered a curse, which can lead to family members and society at large abandoning those affected. Women have even greater challenges, as gender discrimination can impact access to healthcare and support. Financial barriers are also a significant challenge.

“I started working in a corporate hospital where life was good. There were a lot of rich and influential people and things were very good at this hospital,” explained Mr. Joshua. “Then I took over as a physiotherapist at an NGO and I realized life is not that easy. The stigma that is there with people who are physically challenged is a lot.”

Mr. Joshua wants to facilitate research to find better ways to tackle the barriers in developing Asian countries. Furthermore, while many studies have documented existing stigma related to physical disabilities in India, research examining how to change it has not been done on a broader scale. He also acknowledges other influences like infrastructure also need to be changed in order to benefit those in need.

HKR expertise

Mr. Joshua recently arrived in Canada to complete his masters of kinesiology under the supervision of Dr. Erin Cameron in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.

He considered Memorial a good choice to explore this research because he was looking for specialized courses such as the Health-Related Stigma course offered through the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. More specifically, Dr. Cameron’s work on weight stigma aligned well with Mr. Joshua’s planned work.

After completing his masters degree, Mr. Joshua plans to complete his PhD so that he can further benefit those in need and continue working to improve conditions for those with physical disabilities in India. He would also like to continue his medical mission and work alongside his family members who have also chosen that type of work.

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