Disability in the Mass Media

Disability in the Mass Media, DSAB 622, Spring 2016
City University of New York
Disability Studies Master’s Program


Instructor: Beth A. Haller, Ph.D.

Contact: bah621@gmail.com

Get to know me online:
Beth Haller website: http://pages.towson.edu/bhalle/
Book website: http://www.media-disability.net

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
• “Hidden” 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 begins on Monday and ends on Sunday 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 EST.

In the Announcements area of the Blackboard classroom, I will post weekly updates and comments. You should check this area each time you log in. It will be used on a weekly basis to post updates and comments on 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. Most of the 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 labeled “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 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: 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%
  • Discussion posts/Participation (30 percent)

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.

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,  http://www.newmobility.com/.)

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? http://www.media-disability.net 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 March 13 on our Blackboard blog site.

Audio description script/discussion (10 percent)

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. 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:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24Pmmo9wKik
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n5IGnuadhM
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l766llLRxps
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kckxSsCiaB4
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEDrAOt0er8
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vz3zueYyac8
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgNgscHJh6I

Video Description Guidelines: “How to Know What to Say” by Rick Boggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZlNVajYx9s

Examples of audio description:

Post your script and the link to what you described on the Blackboard blog site, as well as email me your audio description script by 11:59 p.m. March 24. Send me your 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 or Twitter feed.

Read this special issue of DSQ about blogging and connect at least 3 of its articles to your analysis: http://dsq-sds.org/issue/view/1

What the paper should include:

  • Write a 1,000+-word paper 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/tweets/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: April 4

Discussion posts about each other’s blogs/social media assignments are due that week.

Blog choices

Blog name Student assigned
AAPD Power Grid blog, http://www.aapd.com/resources/power-grid-blog/
A Typical Son, http://atypicalson.com/
Autistic Hoya, http://www.autistichoya.com/
Bad Cripple blog, http://badcripple.blogspot.com/
Sit down, fight back, https://exposingableism.wordpress.com/
Claiming Crip, http://www.claimingcrip.blogspot.com/
Disability Thinking, http://disabilitythinking.com/disabilitythinking/
Every Little Thing, http://alisonpiepmeier.blogspot.com/
How did we get into this mess?http://www.thismess.net/
Inky Ed, http://inkyed.wordpress.com/
JJ’s List, http://www.jjslist.com
Just Stimming, https://juststimming.wordpress.com/
Left Brain/Right Brain, http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/
Life After Paralysis, http://www.spinalcordinjury-paralysis.org/blogs/20
A Little Moxie, http://www.meriahnichols.com/
Nick’s Crusade, http://www.nickscrusade.org/wordpress
Ouch! (BBC Disability Blog), http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/
Plant of the Blind blog,  http://stephenkuusisto.com/
Powerchair Diaries, http://powerchairdiaries.com/
Rolling Around in My Head, http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/
That Crazy Crippled Chick, http://thatcrazycrippledchick.com/
Verve, Mobility Resource blog, http://blog.themobilityresource.com/blog
Words I Wheel By, http://wordsiwheelby.com/

Facebook pages:

Organization Student assigned
American Association of People with Disabilities: https://www.facebook.com/DisabilityPowered
Autistic Self Advocacy Network, https://www.facebook.com/AutisticAdvocacy/timeline
Center for Leadership in Disability: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-for-Leadership-in-Disability/256231957394
Deaf News Today: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Deaf-News-Today/211140915575836?ref=ts
Disability Law in the News (International): https://www.facebook.com/disabilityLaw
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund: https://www.facebook.com/DREDF.org
Disability Scoop: https://www.facebook.com/disabilityscoop
Down syndrome in arts and media: https://www.facebook.com/ActorswithDownSyndrome
International Paralympic Committee: https://www.facebook.com/ParalympicGames
National ADAPT (USA): https://www.facebook.com/NationalAdapt
National Disability Rights Network: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-National-Disability-Rights-Network/109074605801200
New Mobility magazine: https://www.facebook.com/newmobility
Two Thirds of the Planet, https://www.facebook.com/twothirdsoftheplanet/
World Institute on Disability: https://www.facebook.com/WorldInstituteonDisability
Yo! Disabled and Proud: https://www.facebook.com/pages/YO-Disabled-Proud/190827107620280

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.)
  • You should submit a 500-word proposal to me by March 6 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 http://media-disability-bibliography.blogspot.com/ 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 (http://www.newmobility.com/), The Ragged Edge archives (http://www.ragged-edge-mag.com/), ADAPT (http://www.adapt.org), 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 March 6.

Films & TV program choices for the final project (All available on iTunes or Amazon for rent or purchase.)


  • “Adam” (feature film about a man on the autism spectrum)
  • “Becoming Bulletproof” (A documentary about people with disabilities shooting a Western film.)
  • “Children of a Lesser God” (feature film about a Deaf woman who has a relationship with a hearing man)
  • “Girlfriend” (independent film about a man with Down syndrome who pursues a nondisabled single mother) https://www.viewster.com/movie/1098-13177-000/girlfriend/
  •  “Monica & David” (documentary about a married couple with Down syndrome)
  • “My Left Foot” (feature film/biopic about Irish author with CP Christy Brown)
  • “Neurotypical” (documentary exploring autism from the perspective of autistic people.)
  • “The Sessions” (feature film/biopic about American writer Mark O’Brien who lived in an iron lung) (For this analysis, also watch the documentary about him, Breathing Lessons, online for free at: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/breathing_lessons
  • “The Station Agent” (independent film about man who is a little person)
  •  “Temple Grandin” (biopic on HBO about the autistic animal science professor and author)
  • “Where Hope Grows” (feature film about a man with Down syndrome who befriends an ex-baseball player)
  • “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.) http://www.aetv.com/shows/born-this-way
  • “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 $31 on 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) http://www.youtube.com/user/MyGimpyLife
  • “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) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKid_CNBQaE7cw-MQX-kjiupEFmsijqgh
  • “Switched at Birth” episodes (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, Jan. 29-Feb. 7: Review of stigma and models of disability


  • Goffman, E., (2006). Stigma selections, The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
  • Ableism definition from ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement.
  • Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 1. The changing landscape of disability “news”: Blogging and social media lead to more diverse sources of information.
  • Haller, B. (2000). If They Limp, They Lead? News Representations and the Hierarchy of Disability Images. Handbook of Communication and People with Disabilities by Dawn Braithwaite and Teri Thompson (editors). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Haller, Beth. “Media models of disability representation” (online: http://www.media-disability.net)
  • Models of disability, http://www.copower.org/leadership/models-of-disability


  • “When Billy Broke His Head”

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

Week 2, Feb. 7-14: The power of media to frame disability, inspiration porn & emerging media forms (No class on Feb. 12 for Lincoln’s birthday.)



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 2 discussion forum.


Week 3, Feb. 16-21: Disability media, Accessible media

(No class on Feb. 15 – President’s Day)


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:

1.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24Pmmo9wKik

2.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n5IGnuadhM

3.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l766llLRxps

4.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kckxSsCiaB4

5.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEDrAOt0er8

6.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vz3zueYyac8

7.       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgNgscHJh6I

Video Description Guidelines: “How to Know What to Say” by Rick Boggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZlNVajYx9s

Examples of audio description:

Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 3 discussion forum.

Final paper topic selection due Feb. 19.

Week 4, Feb. 22-28: 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 issueReadings:

  • 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?
  • Lunsford, S. (2005). Seeking a Rhetoric of the Rhetoric of Dis/abilities. Rhetoric Review, 24(3), 330-333
  • National Center on Disability and Journalism style guide, http://ncdj.org/style-guide/
  • NY Times stylebook disability entries
  • AP stylebook disability entries
  • Code sheet example
  • Center for Integration & Inclusion in Journalism. (2002). Newswatch: Covering the disability community.


  • “Lives Worth Living”

Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 4 discussion forum.

Week 5, Feb. 29-March 6: Controversies over film representations of disability



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 4 discussion forum.

The final paper proposal is due by email March 6.

Week 6, March 7-13: Neurodiversity/autistic rights/mad pride/disability arts



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 6 discussion forum.

News analysis paper due March 13.

Audio description script and paper due March 24.

March 25-27, no classes scheduled; Easter weekend


Week 7, March 28-April 3: The big disability rights issue: Assisted suicide/Euthanasia



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 7 discussion forum.

Week 8, April 4-10: Student posts on Disability Blogs/Social Media. Papers due April 4.


Week 9, April 11-17: Entertainment TV and humor



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 9 discussion forum.

Week 10, April 18-21: Advertising



Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 10 discussion forum.

Week 11, April 22-29, Spring recess; no classes or assignments


Week 12, April 30-May 8: Imagery


  • Hahn, H. (1988). Can disability be beautiful? Social Policy, 18:3, pp. 26-32.
  • Hevey, D. (2006). The enfreakment of photography. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
  • Garland-Thomson, R. (2001). Seeing the Disabled: Visual rhetorics of disability in popular photography. The New Disability History. NY: NYU Press.
  • Frazee, C. (2010). Introduction. Invisible No More: A Photographic Chronicle of the Lives of People with Intellectual Disabilities. NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Powerpoint about: Pietropaolo, V. (2010). Invisible No More: A Photographic Chronicle of the Lives of People with Intellectual Disabilities. NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Markotić, N. (2012). Play the Facts and the Truth: Disability in Documentary Film. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. http://cjds.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/cjds/article/view/40/43.


  • “Music by Prudence”

Discussion forum: Participate in the Week 12 discussion forum.

Week 13, May 9-18: Work week

Work on final paper


Week 14: May 19-28
Final paper due: Analysis papers & synopsis due May 20
~Students will post a 250-300 word synopsis of their final papers on the Blackboard blog by May 20; classmates will comment by May 24.