Any society, or group within society establishes norms of behavior to which its membersare expected to conform. When people violate these norms, others express disapproval; deviantsare shun, and if the violation is serious enough they may be treated with much less dignity orrespect than justice dictates. This type of behavior has been going on for many years and this idea is particularly relevant to those who have HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS(Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). The moral construction and distinctive stigmaattached to AIDS is due largely to the fact that a very high proportion of people who have AIDSare considered social deviants. This is partly due to studies which show high levels of sexualpromiscuity and drug abuse among AIDS patients. The unfortunate part of the disease is that thevictim must tackle two different types of disability. The first being chronic illness, deterioratinghealth, and different style of life. The second has to do with both acceptance and reintegrationinto the community, and society as a whole. This added dimension to the HIV-AIDS virus hashad numerous impacts upon the victim. The greatest being, the introduction of new types ofpain; those that hurt the soul, not just the body. AIDS is now considered a chronic illness. The method by which you become infected isquite scientific. To paint a general picture, while traces of HIV have been found in saliva,sweat, and tears, it is generally accepted that the exchange of these bodily fluids is not anefficient mode of transmission. The risk of becoming HIV, and later AIDS infected is muchgreater when there is a direct exchange of blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Unprotected sexualintercourse is stated to place one at a high risk of infection (Huber, 1996). HIV has beenisolated from both semen and vaginal secretions. Anal intercourse, especially among men is anacutely effective mode of HIV transmission. Men who have sex with men continue to comprisethe greatest number of reported AIDS cases in America (Huber 1996). Rare cases of infectionoccur with blood transfusion, organ transplant, or accidental exchange of blood with an infectedperson. AIDS as a disease could be compared closely with the motions of cancer, yet it differsfrom most other diseases in the way that it prescribes itself to the human body.
However, thereseems to be an unavoidable plague following this disease world-wide. There is a firm beliefamong many, that AIDS victims are responsible for their disease because of their lifestyle,sexual preference, or own misfortune such as financial insecurity. Because of this attitude, theyare treated differently in almost all regions within the community, from the work place, to thedentist s chair. If not for a number of key medical, legal, and social supports, AIDScommunities would surely be left out in the cold. Those with HIV-AIDS are classified as disabled under the Americans with DisabilitiesAct. They are thus entitled to protection from discrimination in employment, health care,housing and all aspects of life in America (J.O.R., 1997). Rehabilitation professionals recognizethat HIV disease can affect everyone, regardless of their lifestyle or sexual orientation. It isbecoming increasingly evident that rehabilitation caseloads will grow as persons with AIDS areliving longer and wanting to work. However, the legal system can only get their foot in the door,the real battle ensues when AIDS victims are discriminated against within their communities. There is another dimension to AIDS as a disability that several case studies and accountsof AIDS victims will attest to. This entails victims who have not been treated fairly by their bossor co-workers in the workforce, peers, or general medical institutions because of their disability. The fear of contagion is a noose around the neck of AIDS victims. So much so, that personalcontact or even communication with those without the disease, produces a rather sinful reaction. People are generally afraid of what they see in HIV and AIDS victims; that is pain, suffering,and rapid physical or mental health deterioration. In the case of Sidney Abbot, this type ofdiscrimination caused quite a stir when she tried to get her teeth examined by a dentist. She wastold that her teeth would not be cleaned until she could finance a procedure to take place in thehospital in a maximum infection-containment facility (Garrett, 1998). The American DentalAssociation refused to budge on this issue, supporting their claim that people with AIDS shouldnot jeopardize the lives of dentists or oral surgeons. In this case, Abbot claimed to be protectedfrom medical discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case went to theSupreme court, and Abbot was greeted there with firm backings from the American MedicalAssociation, the American Public Health Association, and the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDSFoundation. The final message given to the dentist in question, and the American DentalAssociation was to have some tact and use professional judgement and care with such cases inthe future Dealing with AIDS as a disability involves much more than symptoms, medication, andchronic illness, it also incorporates fear, alienation, and boundaries.
Cancer patients are notostracized for their disease like AIDS patients are. There is a definite distinction there, as itrevolves around the uncertain nature and motive of the disease. If AIDS culture is a deviant one,then those who stand outside of it look down upon the disease and all those who carry it. Thereare many unfortunate stigmatic attitudes towards the disease that have yet to be corrected bymother culture. It is still assumed by some that most AIDS victims may be homosexual,negligent in their sexual practices, or chronic drug abusers. Though this may be the case incertain situations, there are other factors at play such as poverty, culture, and lack of educationwhich stand in the way of a normal lifestyle. There is a definite gender issue which accompanies this disease. Homosexuals inAmerican society have had a hard enough time gaining social movement within theircommunities. Those with AIDS, have an even harder time, because they are blamed both for
their choice of lifestyle and spreading of the disease. There is a high prevalence of HIV andAIDS within gay cultures around the world. Due to this fact, the HIV virus is sometimesreferred to as the gay virus. This stigma has again made it very difficult for gay malecommunities, forcing them to often denounce their virus, and sometimes their homosexuality tothe public. However, statistics show that there is a higher level of acceptance, and recognitionof their disability among those in their close social network. Females with AIDS have also had a hard time integrating themselves within thecommunity (Green, 1996). A study put together involving 42 male and female participants withthe HIV virus, analyzed the view points of persons with HIV, and views of the general public. Itwas found that both parties held an illiberal attitude towards women with the disability overmen. This is partly due to the fact that AIDS is seen more as a male issue in the eyes of themedia, not a female one. One of the most troubling aspects of the virus, is that people do notknow who to blame for the epidemic. It is one of the most widely spread virus in the world,and can afflict anyone who is not careful. Many who are ignorant of the nature, history, orevolution of the virus into modern society, have chosen to blame homosexuals for the spread andeven genesis of the virus.
Why? Because they are an easy target, and already struggling to get afoothold within their communities. Even though AIDS is not looked upon as a female issue in the eyes of the public, thereare staggering amounts of female AIDS victims within the community. They are in many casessuffering from extreme poverty and the poorest of living conditions. To these women, socialsupports provided by the government such as walk in clinics and rehabilitation services are theironly hope. Unfortunately, most of these women live on the street, and are forced to deal withthe possibility of contracting the virus every day. Whether it be through prostitution, sexualpromiscuity, drug use (sharing of hypodermic needles), or unsanitary conditions living with oraround AIDS victims. Another issue surrounding women and AIDS, is child birth. Mothers whoare infected, transmit the virus to approximately 30 percent of their babies. Of AIDS casesinvolving children under the age of 13, approximately 89 percent are attributed to HIV-infectedmothers (Huber, 1996). In many cases, these mothers had not even known that they wereinfected with the HIV virus, because they had not yet started to feel signs or symptoms of it yet. These people living on the streets, are considered to be at the bottom of the ladder, as faras social status, living conditions, and health. There are some means to reintegrate them backinto society, but it is a very lengthy and trying journey. There are several factors in the way suchas discrimination in the work force, partial health insurance coverage, unfair medical treatment,and general segregation in the community. Those who attempt this journey, almost always findthese factors slapped in their faces on more than one occasion. Other countries and cultures experience similar reactions between the view points ofAIDS victims and society s. The issues do not change drastically among the players because thevirus itself does not change; it is not selective, and will infect anyone it comes into contact with. In India, the bulk of males who test positive for the HIV get it either through the use of infectedintravenous needles and drug abuse or through what the Director General of Health Servicescalls heterosexually promiscuous behavior (Thomas, 1994). Authorities in India battle theenormous drug abuse problem causing so many of its male AIDS cases. Women on the otherhand contract it mainly through sexually promiscuous behavior with men. However, Thomasexplains a number of rituals in association with Indian practice or custom, which might helpexplain a number of cases. Every Saturday night, eight couples meet at a south Calcutta house. The men are dressed as business men, and the women as housewives. They partake in dinnerand drink, then each toss their car keys in a hat. One man at a time selects a set of keys, wherethey then pair up, and partake in sexual relations with a random partner each turn. Dispellingthe notion that AIDS is a gay disease in India, only six men were found out of 3,188 to havecontracted the virus through sex with other men (Thomas, 1994). Thus noted, the AIDS viruscould be considered a different disability when social values are concerned, in different cultures,and societies. HIV and AIDS victims are generally are not accustomed to addressing their disease as adistinct disability due to the often slow, and lingering effects of the virus on the body. HIVvictims have statistically been prone to live long periods of time without feeling any symptoms. During the more severe and latter stages of the virus however, many bodily functions begin towither; the immune system is not able to tolerate much of the environment s smaller and less-harmful contagions. Only in this stage of the infection will it resemble a chronic illness of sorts. As a result, the AIDS victim is more likely to adopt new practices, such as taking doses ofmedication several times daily. Several routines are more likely to set in, ranging from visits tosupport groups, seeing friends within a tight social network, exercising more often, eatinghealthier, and weekly check-ups with a doctor. It is quite unfortunate that in addition to thesecircumstances, a much more real disability is bestowed upon the AIDS victim. This is theunmistakable bias and stigma towards HIV-AIDS culture, gay communities, and people living onthe street with the disease. Again, this discrimination is partly drawn by people who believe thisto be a new and evil virus, sent to plague the world by those who have contracted it themselves. On a positive note, the past few years have shed new light on what the virus really is. There have been new advances injected straight into the education system. As a result,community awareness and support has sky rocketed. The only true hope that AIDS victims haveright now is a chance for a cure. Living with AIDS is a disability that asks far more of itself thanmost people can give. Unfortunately, more and more people are giving, by passing the diseasealong to someone else.