CUNY: Disability in the Mass Media

Disability in the Mass Media, DSAB 622, Fall 2017 (online)
City University of New York
Disability Studies Master’s Program

Instructor: Beth A. Haller, Ph.D.,

Get to know me online:
Beth Haller website:
Book website:

Course Description
This course focuses on issues related to disability and mass media representation, including journalism, TV, film, advertising, photography, documentary, comic art and the Internet. Topics covered will include:
• The relationship between disability studies and media studies;
• The various models of media representation of disability;
• The impact of stigma in mass media imagery;
• Mediated bodies – the impact of cultural and media representations on the experiences of people with disabilities;
• Disability media, i.e. content created by and for people with disabilities;
• Content and textual analysis – researching the prevalence and meaning of mediated disability representation;
• News about disability rights in U.S. society, what is and isn’t covered; and
• Invisible disabilities and how they do or don’t get onto the media’s radar.

Course Objectives
The Master’s in Disability Studies introduces students to this emerging multidisciplinary field that spans the social sciences, arts and humanities, and sciences. The Disability Studies paradigm recognizes that disability is not inherent in the individual as a personal problem or deficit, but rather, is a set of physical and social barriers that constrains people. Several goals of this course are:
• To understand disability studies as “the holistic study of the phenomenon of disability through a multidisciplinary approach;”
• To incorporate the experience of disability and the perspectives of people with disabilities into a research structure;
• To offer a sampling of the major scholarly perspectives and professional issues in disability studies, media studies, and social policy;
• To encourage students to engage with, as well as critique, disability studies scholarship;
• To provide a structure for student research into disability and media and/or writing about disability issues.

Course Materials:
• Selected readings will be posted in the Course Materials area of Blackboard. For others, you will find them on the Websites listed or on e-reserve.
Representing Disability in an Ableist world: Essays on Mass Media by Beth Haller (Advocado Press, 2010).
Textual analysis, A Beginner’s Guide by Alan McKee (2003). (This book is about methodology, which you will read to guide your analysis for the final paper, which is a textual analysis. None of the discussion posts will be about this book, but please ask me questions as you read this book.)

The Structure of the Course:

Each class week is typically 7 days and ends on the 7th day at 11:59 p.m. Please note that the classroom server is set to U.S. Eastern time. Therefore, all due dates are noted in USA EST.

In the Announcements area of the Blackboard classroom, I will post updates and comments. You should check this area each time you log in. It will be used on a weekly basis to post about class matters. I will also post a schedule that reminds you of important due dates.

In the Course Materials area, I will have everything arranged in folders by week. Materials for the course are posted and can be reviewed from the start of the class.

In the Assignments area, I provide full information about completing each assignment as well as deadlines.

The Discussion area contains at least one discussion forum for each week of the course. Each discussion forum will be opened for posting on the Saturday before each new week begins.  There is a forum labelled “Cyber Cafe” for casual conversations among yourselves, as well as a general “Ask the Professor” forum where questions about class requirements or other questions that do not fit into a weekly discussion may be asked.

For individual written papers, you will email them to me as MS Word attachments. See specific instructions on the assignments.

Contact with instructor: I will be logging on to the Blackboard site almost daily. If you need to email me privately, please put the course name in the subject line so I know it is from this class. For general questions about the course, readings, media texts, etc., please post them in the Ask the Professor Discussion forum, because if you have a question about something course-related, it’s guaranteed other students do, too.

Some General Policies:

This class will be governed by the CUNY’s general policies on intellectual property, academic misconduct, and plagiarism. If you have questions about how to properly cite material, please let me know.

If you have specific accommodations you need as a person with a disability, please let me know as soon as possible so I can provide those. All students should let me know what I can do to maximize your learning potential, participation, and general access in this course. I am available to discuss this on the phone or on email. To make arrangements for accommodations, contact the CUNY Disability Studies program.

Grading criteria for written assignments and course in general:

90 – 100 (“A”). On the written assignments, this means the paper is clear, organized coherently, and well-written. It is an effective discussion of the topic. It has no spelling, grammar, format, or accuracy errors. In terms of the course, this means you have made every required post in a substantial way, have scores in this range on the assignments, and have good questions and discussion posts.

80 – 89 (”B”). On the written assignments, the paper is cohesive and well-organized, although it may have some minor spelling or grammatical errors. The discussion covers almost all of the important information and follows proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have made almost every required post in a substantial way, have scores in this range on the assignments, and have good questions and discussion posts.

70 – 79 (“C”). On the written assignments, the paper is disorganized and contains many minor errors. The discussion missed some pertinent information or does not follow proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have made fewer than required posts, have scores in this range on the assignments, and have not participated on the discussion boards.

60 – 69 (“D”). On the written assignments, the paper ineffectively discusses the topic; it is not coherent or understandable. It contains an unacceptable number of spelling, grammar errors and/or inaccurate information or does not follow proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have rarely posted anything, have scores in this range on the assignments, and have not participated in discussions at all.

Below 60 (“F”). The paper contains major factual error(s) related to the topic. The information presented is completely incorrect. The paper does not meet the requirements in word count, focus, or format. In terms of the course, this means you have not participated in posting anything, have scores in this range on the assignments, and have not participated in discussions at all. If you are caught cheating in any way, you will automatically receive an F in the course.


  • Discussion posts/Participation: 30%
  • Disability news analysis blog post: 10%
  • Audio description script/discussion blog post: 10%
  • Disability Blog/Social Media analysis paper/presentation: 20%
  • Media Analysis Paper on an Entertainment Program or Disability Issue: 30%

A rewarding aspect of graduate study is the opportunity for colleagues (faculty and students) to interact, learn from each other and, sometimes, to produce new knowledge. Aside from helping me to get to know you as a colleague, your class participation will help me evaluate your analytical skills, your preparation for each class, and your ability to integrate concepts we discuss into your understanding and analysis of disability and media issues.

As you are doing the readings, write down questions, comments, and critiques of that week’s readings that you can post in that week’s Discussion area. I will also post questions in the Discussion area of Blackboard as well. You will also be expected to ask questions or comment on the responses of your classmates.

The purpose of your participation in the Discussion area is that you will be engaging the readings in a critically constructive way. Think about the ways you can extend the ideas or issues raised by an author(s) by linking them to the lived experience of disability, to the media texts, or other readings.

Assignment Due Date
Disability news analysis Oct. 9
Audio description script/reflection paper (3-minute video) Oct. 16
Blog/social media paper (1,200 words) Oct. 24
Final proposal for Media Analysis Final Paper on a News Topic or Entertainment Representation of Disability Oct. 31
Media Analysis Final Paper on a News Topic or Entertainment Representation of Disability Dec. 14
Discussion posts/responses to other students posts (10) Weekly, unless otherwise indicated

— Disability news analysis (10 percent)

For your analysis, select several articles on the same disability topic from a search of Google news (I refer to this as the mainstream media) & one article from the disability magazine, New Mobility,

You will analyze all the stories and compare and contrast them. What perspective is in the New Mobility article that may not be in the other news articles? How does the mainstream media article represent the disability issue or the person with a disability, i.e. what media model do you think it falls into? Find the media models here: Discuss how they do or don’t represent perspectives from the disability community that you found in New Mobility.

The overarching question to answer is: How do these news stories tell their stories and represent disability? What evidence of the Models of Disability (week 1) or the Media Models of Disability Representations (week 1) can you find in the articles?

Write a 300-word compare and contrast analysis that you will post by Oct. 9 on our Blackboard discussion site.

— Audio description script/discussion (10 percent)

Example of audio description timed script here:

Assignment: After watching Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center’s video description tutorials 1-7, you will create an audio description script for a 3-minute segment of a fictional movie or TV show that is not already described and is available on YouTube (do not select a clip from Netflix or other paid streaming services that other students or I may not have access to.) You will also write a 300+ word reflection paper on the experience, i.e. what you learned, challenges, new ways you think about accessible media, etc. Your reflection paper should mention at least 3 articles you read below.

Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center’s video description tutorials 1-7:


Video Description Guidelines: “How to Know What to Say” by Rick Boggs

Examples of audio description:

Post your script and the link to what you described on the designated Blackboard discussion site, as well as email me your audio description script by 11:59 p.m. Oct. 16. Send me your reflection paper only by email. It is your choice whether you want to record your audio to sync with a video. (Note: Please let me know if you have a visual impairment that prevents you from doing this assignment. You will be assigned a captioning assignment instead.)

— Disability Blog/Social Media analysis paper (20 percent)

You will write a 1000+-word analysis paper about two disability-related blogs and one disability organization’s social media sites from the list provided. You should select 2 blogs and 1 disability organization’s Facebook page.

Read this special issue of DSQ about blogging and connect at least 3 of its articles to your analysis,, as well as at least 12 other references from the blog posts and course readings.

What the paper should include:

  • Write a 1,000+-word paper with 15 references in which you carefully analyze a number of posts (at least 8-10) on the two disability-related blogs and at least a week’s worth of the organization’s social media posts. In the post explain what model(s) or perspectives on disability the blog/social media post appears to operate under. What seems to be the blogger’s and disability organization’s perspective toward disability, toward people with disabilities? How do you know? Be sure to support your argument with specific references to the blogs/FB wall posts and the date of entries. As part of your analysis, try to figure out who the site’s intended audience is? Who are they seeking to reach? Based on the blogger bio/organizational profile, what are their backgrounds and how does that seem to influence the blog/social media content? If possible, email the bloggers/organizations with your questions about the blog/organization.
  • Write about your reaction and reflection on the blogs/social media. How do or don’t they fit the disability models discussed? How do they reflect the perspectives in the DSQ essays about disability blogging? Please include your personal commentary about what you think the impact of the blogs/social media is.
  • Finally, you will write a 200-word post on the Blackboard blog about the blogs/social media you analyzed. Summarize what you found and your impressions for us. Be sure to post the 3 links – to the blogs and social media sites. You will read each other’s posts (comment on at least 2 other students’ posts – if there are already 2 comments move on to another student’s posts to comment).Due date for paper to be emailed to me: Oct. 24

Blog choices

Blog name Students assigned
The Art of Autism,
A Typical Son,
Autistic Hoya,
Bad Cripple blog,
Sit down, fight back,
Claiming Crip,
Disability Thinking,
Disability blog of The Body Is Not An Apology,
How did we get into this mess?
Inky Ed,
Just Stimming,
Left Brain/Right Brain,
Life After Paralysis,
A Little Moxie,
Ouch: Disability Talk,
Crippled Scholar,
Powerchair Diaries,
Rolling Around in My Head,
Rooted in Rights,
Ruderman Family Foundation blog,
Starting with Julius,
That Crazy Crippled Chick,
Where’s Waldman,
Words I Wheel By,

Facebook pages:

Organization Students assigned
American Association of People with Disabilities:
Autistic Self Advocacy Network,
Center for Leadership in Disability:
Deaf News Today:
Disability and Media: Representation Matters,
Public Disability History,
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund:
Disability Scoop:
Disability Visibility Project,
Down syndrome in arts and media:
International Paralympic Committee:
National ADAPT (USA):
National Disability Rights Network:
New Mobility magazine:
The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism,
Two Thirds of the Planet,
World Institute on Disability:
Yo! Disabled and Proud:

— Final Project: Media Analysis Paper on a News Topic or Entertainment Representation of Disability:  (30 percent)

  • Select your topic/text for analysis, i.e. a qualitative content analysis/textual analysis of major newspapers’ coverage of a disability issue OR a qualitative content analysis/textual analysis of a film/TV show listed below. (These entertainment representations are the only choices for a very specific reason, so if you don’t want to do your paper on one of these, you should do a news analysis.) Email me your topic idea by Oct. 2.
  • You should submit a 500-word proposal to me by Oct. 31 and it can be used as the introduction in your final paper. It should discuss the significance of topic, i.e. how these media representations are important in portraying disability culture and it should include the beginning of a theme list, i.e. what media models or narrative themes or disability stereotypes (both positive and negative) might be found in the media text(s).
  • Go to for a bibliography of research about media and disability and do a search in the Academic Search engine, Ebsco. Write a literature review about all the research relevant to the topic.
  • Research the topic in the disability media, such as New Mobility magazine (, The Ragged Edge archives (, ADAPT (, disability organization Web sites from the country connected to your topic, disability blogs/social media sites, etc. See if you can find reaction from the disability group represented about their reactions to the news topics or film/TV program text.
  • Apply the McKee book methodology for your paper. The general question your paper should answer is: How is the disabled person represented in the film or TV program? or how is the disability topic represented in the news media you have chosen?
  • Look at the general cultural themes McKee discusses (pp. 102-105) and see if you can come up with disability-related themes you will be looking for in the text. The Models of Disability and the Media Models of Disability Representation can help you evaluate the representations of disability in the text or news coverage.
  • Research the specific disability issue in the news or the specific disability portrayed in the film or TV show so you can assess the representation presented.
  • The final paper should include: 1.) An introduction to the text or news topic you are analyzing and why it is important, 2.) the literature review, 3.) your methods, i.e. how you developed the list of themes you are looking for in the text, 4.) your findings, 5.) your conclusions about how the film/TV program or news coverage represents disability topics or people with disabilities, and 6.) a complete reference list in a proper academic reference style (The final paper should have at least 15 references).
  • Your paper will be evaluated on the quality of your writing, the organization of your paper, and your ability to integrate analytical concepts from critical disability studies literature into your analysis.
    Paper Length: 2,500+ words, including the 500 words from the proposal/introduction.
  • The proposal is due by email Oct. 31.
  • Final paper is due to me by email Dec. 14. Post about your final paper due on BB that same day. Response posts due by Dec. 18.

Films & TV program choices for the final project (Those available on Amazon for rent or purchase are noted. If you have Netflix, check there as well.)


  • “Adam” (feature film about a man on the autism spectrum) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Becoming Bulletproof” (A documentary about people with disabilities shooting a Western film.) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Children of a Lesser God” (feature film about a Deaf woman who has a relationship with a hearing man) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Girlfriend” (independent film about a man with Down syndrome who pursues a nondisabled single mother)
  •  “Guestroom” (short film about a young woman with Down syndrome who explores her sexuality.)
  • “Life Animated” (documentary about a young man with autism who communicates through his love of Disney films) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Monica & David” (documentary about a married couple with Down syndrome)
  • “My Left Foot” (feature film/biopic about Irish author with CP Christy Brown) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Neurotypical” (documentary exploring autism from the perspective of autistic people.) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “The Sessions” (feature film/biopic about American writer Mark O’Brien who lived in an iron lung) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon). (For this analysis, also watch the documentary about him, Breathing Lessons, online for free at:
  • “The Station Agent” (independent film about man who is a little person) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  •  “Temple Grandin” (biopic on HBO about the autistic animal science professor and author) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Where Hope Grows” (feature film about a man with Down syndrome who befriends an ex-baseball player) (available for rent or purchase on Amazon)
  • “Wretches & Jabberers” (documentary about two autistic men traveling the world as advocates.)

TV shows (You will need to purchase at least 4-5 episodes for your paper).

  • “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” which had multiple disabled characters for its circus-themed season. (But make a case to me if you want to do other seasons.)
  •  “Born This Way” (reality show on A&E Network about adults with Down syndrome.)
  • “Glee” episodes (fictional TV show about a high school show choir that has a member who is a wheelchair user.  The show added a cheerleader character with Down syndrome in season 2. Please select episodes that focus on the Artie character or the Becky character.)
  • “Life Goes On” episodes (DVD only). Season 1 available from Amazon.
  • “The Little Couple” episodes (reality show about a newly married couple who are little people and later adopt LP children internationally)
  •  “Little People, Big World” episodes (reality show about parents who are little people and have 4 kids, one of whom is also a little person)
  • “My Gimpy Life” (all episodes free on YouTube) (Web show created and starring an actress who uses a wheelchair)
  • “Parenthood” (the focus should be on the Max character, who is autistic. The paper should include discussion about whether the portrayal by a non-autistic actor was realistic.)
  • “Push Girls” episodes (reality show about 4 Los Angeles women who are wheelchair users)
  • “Riding Shotgun with Zach Anner” (all episodes free on YouTube) (Web travel reality show from a man with cerebral palsy)
  • “Secret Life of the American Teenager” (fictional TV series with a character with Down syndrome, Tom. A paper on this series should focus on him.)
  • “Speechless” (fictional comedy about a family whose oldest son has CP) 
  • “Switched at Birth” (fictional TV show about two teens switched at birth, one of whom is deaf and part of the Deaf community)

Course Schedule & Readings
About the readings: We may not have time to discuss all the readings in each week’s Discussion area, but they are meant to give you different perspectives on Disability and Mass Media, and a number of them should be integrated into your papers for the course.

Week 1, August 25-Sept. 3: Review of stigma and models of disability



  • “When Billy Broke His Head” (streaming from Baruch)

Discussion forum: Introduce yourself in the Introductions forum and then participate in the Week 1 discussion forum.

Week 2, Sept 5-11: The power of media to frame disability, inspiration porn & emerging media forms 



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 2 discussion forum.

Week 3, Sept. 12-19: Disability media, Accessible media


Screenings (Watch the tutorials and examples for the audio description assignment):

Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center’s video description tutorials 1-7:








Video Description Guidelines: “How to Know What to Say” by Rick Boggs

Examples of audio description:

Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 3 discussion forum.

CUNY closed Sept. 20-22, Sept. 29-30

Week 4, Sept. 23-27: Content and textual analysis, the news and disability
Assignment: Do search of Google news or The NY Times Web site and post a link to a news article focused on a disability issue


  • Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 2. Researching media images of disability: How content analysis provides a method for assessment.
  • Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 3. Changing disability terminology in the news.
  • McKee, A. (2003). Chapter 3. What’s interpretation got to do with it?
  • Haller, B. (2016). Journalists should carefully traverse a variety of disability terminology,
  • Kapitan, A. (2017). On “person-first language:” It’s time to actually put the person first. Radical Copy Editor. 
  • Lunsford, S. (2005). Seeking a Rhetoric of the Rhetoric of Dis/abilities. Rhetoric Review, 24(3), 330-333. (posted on Blackboard)
  • National Center on Disability and Journalism style guide,
  • NY Times stylebook disability entries (posted on Blackboard)
  • AP stylebook disability entries (posted on Blackboard)
  • Code sheet example (posted on Blackboard)


  • “Lives Worth Living” (streaming from Baruch library)

Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 4 discussion forum.

Week 5, Oct. 1-8: Controversies over film representations of disability

Email me about your final paper topic selection on Oct. 2. (2-3 paragraphs about why you are choosing this topic.)



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 5 discussion forum.

Week 6, October 10-16: Neurodiversity/autistic rights/mad pride/disability arts

News analysis paper due Oct. 10.



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 6 discussion forum.

Week 7, October 17-23: The big disability rights issue: Assisted suicide/Euthanasia

Audio description script and paper due Oct, 16.


  • Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 4. Not worth keeping alive? New York Times narratives about assisted suicide.
  • McKee, A. (2003). Chapter 5 & 6. Can’t we make it a bit more scientific? & Is that it?
  • Longmore, P. (2003). The Resistance: The Disability Rights Movement and assisted suicide, Why I Burned My Book, Temple University Press. (posted on Blackboard)
  • Schwartz, K. D. & Lutfiyya, Z. M. (2009, March).  ‘What lay ahead…’: A media portrayal of disability and assisted suicide,  Journal of Research in Special Education.
  • Gorman, A. (2015, June 30). Why disability rights advocates are fighting doctor-assisted suicide. The Atlantic.



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 7 discussion forum.

Week 8, Oct.. 24-30: Student posts on Disability Blogs/Social Media.

Papers due to me by email Oct. 24.

Week 9, Oct. 31-Nov. 6: Entertainment TV and humor

Final paper proposal (500 words plus 5-10 references you’ve found) due to me by email Oct. 31.



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 9 discussion forum.

Week 10, Nov. 7-13: Advertising



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 10 discussion forum.

Week 11, Nov. 14-21: Imagery


  • Hahn, H. (1988). Can disability be beautiful? Social Policy, 18:3, pp. 26-32. (posted on Blackboard)
  • Hevey, D. (2006). The enfreakment of photography. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. (posted on Blackboard)
  • Garland-Thomson, R. (2001). Seeing the Disabled: Visual rhetorics of disability in popular photography. The New Disability History. NY: NYU Press. (posted on Blackboard)
  • (about “Citizen Sam” documentary below) Markotić, N. (2012). Play the Facts and the Truth: Disability in Documentary Film. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies.


Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 11 discussion forum.

CUNY closed Nov. 23-26 for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Nov. 27-Dec. 13: Work on final paper; individual meetings via phone or Skype as needed. 
Final paper due: Analysis papers & synopsis due Dec. 14
~Students will post a 250-300 word synopsis of their final papers on the Blackboard discussion area by Dec. 14; classmates will comment by Dec. 18.