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Question: People with disabilities worldwide are at disproportionately higher risk of contracting HIV because they are:
A) At higher risk of being a victim of violent sexual or physical abuse.
B) Less informed about the risks of HIV due to limited education and literacy.
C) Assumed to not be sexually active.
D) All of the above.
E) None of the above.
Answer: D) All of the above.
During the early 1980s, what appeared to be an unknown illness began to spread in several parts of the United States.
In New York, eight young men were diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a form of cancer that had been generally only diagnosed to older individuals. In California, there was an increase in the number of cases of a rare form of pneumonia, cases which were not being cured with the normally prescribed medicine. Doctors and researchers began to speculate at what was causing these immune deficiencies (History of AIDS). They called the unknown disease AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Meanwhile, as scientists frantically searched for the cause of the disease, the epidemic was becoming a national scare. As a 28 year old law student in New York put it in 1982, “It is frightening because no one knows what’s causing it. Every week a new theory comes out about how you’re going to spread it” (McGinn).
Since the disease was popping up primarily in gay communities, it was originally hypothesized that the disease could only be spread through homosexual intercourse. But this claim was refuted with the later discovery that heterosexuals who had had sex or had shared needles were also contracting the disease (History of AIDS). Likewise, it was initially discovered that the illness was affecting people in Haiti as well as the U.S., so many Americans believed that the disease had originated in Haiti. Today, on the other hand, it is widely accepted that AIDS originated in Africa.
It wasn’t until 1984 that the illness AIDS was linked to the HIV virus (Encyclopedia). Originally, scientists thought that they would be able to develop a vaccine to cure or prevent the virus, but a consistent cure was never developed (History of AIDS). Instead, medical experts focused on prevention through practice – they recommended that people avoid the transaction of body fluids that caused the virus.
Despite these efforts, over 1 million Americans had contracted HIV by 2003, and current worldwide figures suggest that around 30 million people are affected by the virus worldwide (Encyclopedia).
The magnitude of the AIDS epidemic has influenced disability studies in a number of ways. For one, AIDS is a huge and relatively new form of disability in itself. From the beginning, people with AIDS faced a huge degree of discrimination, especially from people who saw the causes of transmission – intravaneous drug use, for example – as morally “wrong” in some sense. Fortunately, a court ruled in 1998 that HIV/AIDS was included and covered by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (Encyclopedia).
AIDS also disproportionately affects people with pre-existing disabilities. According to Human Rights Watch, this is due to a number of factors worldwide. One reason is the higher risk of violence and lack of legal protection for people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are up to three times more likely to experience sexual or physical abuse – and are thus at greater risk of contracting HIV – than those without disabilities. Another reason is lack of education and subsequent illiteracy for people with disabilities. This can lead to limited understanding about the risk of HIV. The final reason is the dearth of sexual information offered to people with disabilities. Many often wrongly believe that people with disabilities are not sexually active, whereas, in reality, people with disabilities are often equally sexually active as those without (Fact Sheet).
All of these factors have made HIV/AIDS a top priority for disability advocates over the past few decades.
“Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS and Disability.” Human Rights Watch. June 8, 2011. 15 Aug. 2013. http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/06/08/fact-sheet-hivaids-and-disability
Figert, Anne E. “HIV.” Encyclopedia of American Disability History. 2009. Print.
McGinn, Daniel. “MSNBC: AIDS at 20: Anatomy of a Plague; an Oral History.” Newsweek Web Exclusive.