Disability as Difference
Nevertheless, Goffman repeatedly fails to appreciate the possibility that having at least some disabilities may be, like membership in some other groups that are stigmatized, as good as or better than ‘normality’. He discusses valuing one’s difference only as a coping strategy of the stigmatized, without calling into question the objectivity or permanence of the values that regard them as less than ‘normal.’ On the contrary, he rates valuing one’s difference and identifying closely with those who share it rather low, even as a coping strategy:
The possibility of genuinely felt group pride (such as Deaf pride) seems to escape Goffman’s imagination. He can see solidarity among the different only as poor compensation for the acceptance as ‘normals’ that is denied them. He even seems to miss the genuineness of pride among stigmatized ethnic groups. Consequently, Goffman also misses an important difference between people with disabilities and other stigmatized people. Most stigmatized people are members of stigmatized groups that have subcultures within which the stigma may be made irrelevant or at least ameliorated by the group’s own values. Most (but not all) people with disabilities grow up with non-disabled people and/or are constantly surrounded by them, absorbing their values and assumptions; they have little or no contact with a
subculture that destigmatizes or positively values their difference from the non-disabled (Zola 1993, 167).1 Perhaps Goffman’s inability to imagine group pride is caused partly by his overgeneralizing from examples of people with disabilities.