Organizational Identity in Nonprofit Communication about Disability

Organizational Identity in Nonprofit Communication about Disability

Julie C. Lellis (Elon University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 33
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5003-9.ch020
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This chapter describes the research process used to uncover and describe the organizational identities of ten nonprofit organizations that serve persons with disabilities. Identities were measured by examining the values used in a variety of marketing and public relations materials. This chapter 1) describes how DICTION was selected as a viable option for data analysis, 2) reveals the process of augmenting and building upon a previously tested values instrument with custom dictionaries, and 3) explains how the results were interpreted and used to describe the organizational identities of ten nonprofit organizations. The challenges of data collection and analysis are discussed. Future directions for values-based research are proposed. Discussion relates the results to the challenges inherent in disability-related communication.
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Erving Goffman’s (1974) book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, described how the identities for marginalized groups are often shaped by how these groups are framed in public communication efforts. When we communicate about persons who fall outside the realm of “normal,” Goffman argued, we may be creating socially constructed identities based on selected information presented—or virtual identities. Goffman argued that a “virtual” identity “has the effect of cutting [a person] off from society and from himself so that he stands a discredited person facing an unaccepting world” (p. 19). Goffman used several examples of persons with disabilities who agreed that disability is a social problem of public perception.

An example that supported this statement is Caroline C. Wang’s (1998) research on public health communication campaigns. She reviewed a series of images used in popular injury prevention campaigns and concluded that the campaigns – originally designed to be helpful to the general public – may have negative, stigmatizing effects on persons with disabilities. Themes of pity, fear, and hopelessness were noted in her review; overall, disabilities were presented as undesirable injuries that could be avoided. Wang reported the comments of several persons with disabilities who viewed the images as damaging to the public conception of disability, and stated, “For people with disabilities, a culture’s response to their disability…may ironically guarantee that people with disabilities are less well off” (p. 154).

In his book Disability & the Media: Prescriptions for Change, Charles A. Riley, II (2005) wrote that persons with disabilities:

…are shamefully misrepresented in the fun-house mirror of the mass media. Consigned by the arbiters of what is published or produced to a narrow spectrum of roles, from freaks to inspirational saints, lab rats or objects of pity, people with disabilities have not seen the evolution in their public image that their private circumstances have undergone in the aftermath of political and medical progress over the past four decades. Even the specialized publications, programs, and films dedicated to people with disabilities (and sometimes run by them) present such twisted images that one wonders what bizarre trick is being played on the “last minority” which lags decades behind other groups – gays, blacks, Jews, women, seniors…(p.1).

Riley described the desire activists have always had, which is to “abandon…the old view of people with disabilities as ‘abnormal’” (p. 7).

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