Understanding Disability through Mass Media

Understanding Disability Through Mass Media
5-7:40  p.m. Tuesday, Spring 2017

Instructor: Prof. Beth Haller, Ph.D.
Phone: 704-2442
Office: Van Bokkelen 205B
E-mail: bhaller@towson.edu
Web page: https://bethhaller.wordpress.com/

Office Hours: Mon., Tues. 3:30-4:45 p.m. and by appointment. Feel free to send me E-mail messages with questions about the class.

Course Description: An overview of how mass media frames disability for the general public. This course focuses on issues related to disability and mass media representation, including journalism, TV, film, advertising, photography, documentary, comic art and the Internet.

Course Objectives:
1. Examine and expand understanding of media impact on the historical, cultural, medical, and social issues related to disability;
2. Differentiate between the various disability models, as well as specific models of media representation of disability;
3. Introduction to disability media, i.e. content created by and for people with disabilities;
4. Compare and contrast the lived experiences of disabled people against mass mediated representations;
5. Look at news about disability rights in U.S. society, what is and isn’t covered;
6. Use various analysis techniques to researching the prevalence and meaning of mediated disability representations.

Recommended Books and Course Materials:

  • Beth Haller, Representing Disability in an Ableist World (Advocado Press, 2010)
  • Other readings given as handouts, posted on Blackboard or available online

Note: All papers should use the American Psychological Association (APA) style. For examples of types of APA references, visit             http://www.apastyle.org/learn/index.aspx?tab=2.

1. Active Class Discussion/In-Class Screening Responses/Reading Responses: (25%)
This class is designed with some lecture and a good deal of class discussion, so your active participation is crucial. In order to be prepared, take time to read closely, and come to class with questions and comments about the material. Please make every effort to attend class and arrive on time because you will be required to provide written responses to all in-class screenings. Contact me in advance if you MUST miss class.

Reading responses allow you to engage with the assigned material, develop critical reading and writing skills, and prepare for discussions. You will be asked to complete three responses (2½- 3 pages -750-1,000 words – double-spaced, 12 pt. font). Responses should address a key issue or theme developed in the readings from that section. I will distribute prompts, but you are encouraged to create your own topic. Exceptional responses will develop an interesting argument, put multiple readings in discussion with each other, and effectively integrate at least three quotes cited from at least three course materials; include a reference list of all sources, both readings and screenings used. Due dates are listed in the syllabus.

Rubric for reading responses:

Grade Quality Relevance Grammar/Spelling/APA Style
90 – 100

(“A” & “A-”)

The paper represents a thoughtful reflection on disability and media. It is creative and substantive and demonstrates excellence in its discussion of the topic. The paper illustrates new ways of thinking about disability and the media and used 3 or more direct quotes from 3+ reading materials/screenings to support that content. The paper clearly demonstrates a deep understanding of disability and media content and relevance to Disability Studies. The paper is interesting, compelling and well organized. It has no spelling or grammatical errors. The work displayed is interesting and varied, incorporating the required number of examples from course readings/screenings. Assignment checklist is followed and attached.
80 – 89

(“B+”,”B”, & “B-”)

The paper demonstrates a thoughtful response; however, required examples from readings/screenings are missing or inaccurate. Personal reflections are not as compelling or interesting as they could be. Only 1-2 direct quotes from less than 3 readings/screenings are used. The paper demonstrates a somewhat superficial connection between disability and the media. The paper is well organized, but has minor errors in grammar, spelling, required format, or APA style. Assignment checklist is not followed.
70 – 79

(“C+” & “C”)

The paper does not clearly demonstrate a connection between disability and the media or to Disability Studies. Personal reflections are missing or superficial. No direct quotes from readings/screenings are used. The paper’s content is not relevant to the topic of disability and the media. Content is unclear or not well developed. The paper is disorganized, has serious errors in grammar, spelling, APA style, or required format. It is not compelling to the reader and does not have required examples or references. Assignment checklist is not followed or attached.
60 – 69

(“D+” & “D”)

The paper is off topic and not connected to disability and the media. No quotes or paraphrases from readings/screenings are used. The paper uses no relevant course readings or screenings. The paper meets few of the requirements for the assignment. Assignment checklist is not followed or attached.
Below 60 (“F”)* Sections are missing, or issues of academic honesty or integrity are involved.


2. Disability blogging/social media analysis paper and presentation: (20%)
• Readings for this assignment: Disability Studies Quarterly special issue: Disability Blogging, http://dsq-sds.org/issue/view/1 (9 articles).
• Email me with your selection of a blog AND social media site and I will post the list on Blackboard. Choices are first-come, first-served. (Note: Because this is a large class, two students may select the same blog/social media site, but only after all the sites are chosen. To avoid replication in the presentations, the blogs will take priority in the presentations, meaning if two people have selected a blog, the second person signed up will present a Facebook page.)
What the analysis should include:
• Write a 1200-word paper in which you carefully analyze a number of posts (at least 6-8) on the disability-related blog and at least 2-3 days of the social media posts. In your analysis explain what model(s) or perspectives on disability the blog/social media posts appear to reflect. What seems to be the blogger’s and social media site’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/FB profile, what are their backgrounds and how does that seem to influence the blog/social media content?
• Your paper must reference at least 3 of the 9 articles from the Disability Studies Quarterly article on blogging.
• 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? How do the FB posts reflect the perspectives in the course readings? Please include your personal commentary about what you think the impact of the blog/Facebook posts are.
• You will make a short presentation about the sites you analyzed (from your seat; no presentation materials needed; I will project the blog while you speak) discussing some of the answers you had to the above questions.

Blog choices

Blog name Students 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/
Disability blog of The Body Is Not An Apology, https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/tag/disability/
How did we get into this mess?http://www.thismess.net/
Inky Ed, http://inkyed.wordpress.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/
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/
Rooted in Rights, http://www.rootedinrights.org/blog/
Ruderman Family Foundation blog, http://www.rudermanfoundation.org/rudermanblog
Starting with Julius, http://www.startingwithjulius.org.au/category/blog/
That Crazy Crippled Chick, http://thatcrazycrippledchick.com/
Where’s Waldman, https://whereswaldman.wordpress.com/
Words I Wheel By, http://wordsiwheelby.com/

Facebook pages:

Organization Students 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.gov, https://www.facebook.com/Disability.gov/
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
Disability Visibility Project, https://www.facebook.com/groups/356870067786565/
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
The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, https://www.facebook.com/thinkingpersonsguidetoautism/
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

3. Audio description script/discussion (20 percent)

Example of audio description timed script here:  http://www.adlabproject.eu/Docs/adlab%20book/index.html#example-ad

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 found on YouTube 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. You are only required to create the script; it is your choice whether you want to record your audio to sync with a video.

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:

(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.)

4. Lived Disability Experience vs. the Media: (Presentation 5%; Paper 30%)

You will read one of the memoirs of a disabled person listed below and write a paper that compares and contrasts the person’s actual experience with that disability versus the representation of that disability in the news and entertainment media. Using the memoir as a foundational text, you will be expected to find at least 15 additional sources to inform the paper. These include: scholarly disability studies essays from Disability Studies Quarterly; materials from an activist disability blog or alternative disability media source; popular cultural representations; and news stories about a related disability topic (You may use up to 5 readings from the course readings). Drawing upon all these readings, you should develop a coherent analysis of the mediated discourses around the disability, as it does or doesn’t reflect the lived experience with a disability as discussed in the memoir. This 1,500-2,000 word paper should use the memoir as a lens from which to compare and contrast popular cultural representations of disability in news, TV, film, etc. (Note: Depending on how many people are in the class, I will require that all the memoirs are selected before another student can select the memoir. Choices are first come, first served.)


  • Class Discussion/Participation/Screening Reports/Reading Responses: 25%
  • Audio description assignment: 20%
  • Disability blogging/social media analysis paper: 20%
  • Disability Experience vs. the Media Paper & Presentation: 35%

Grading criteria for written assignments and course in general: (Whenever written assignments are given, I expect you all to produce the best written work of which you are capable.)

90 – 100 (“A” & “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 almost perfect attendance, scores in this range on the tests, and have good questions and discussion in class.

80 – 89 (“B+”, “B” & “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 good attendance, scores in this range on assignments, and have good questions and discussion in class.

70 – 79 (“C+” & “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 poor attendance, scored in this range on assignments, and have not participated in class discussions.

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 missed more classes than you have attended, scored in this range on the tests, and have not participated in class discussions.

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 page length, focus, or format. In terms of the course, this means you have missed more classes than you have attended, scored in this range on the tests, and have not participated in class discussions. If you are caught cheating in any way, you will automatically receive an F in the course. If you attend the final exam and your average is below 60, you will receive F rather than an FX.

(“FX”)* This is an administrative failure for non-attendance or failure to withdraw. If you do not withdraw from the course by Towson’s preset deadlines for the semester and stop attending the class, this is the grade you will receive.

(“I”) Incomplete. At Towson University, students may only receive an Incomplete with “verifiable circumstances” and “where students have completed most of the term” (Towson University Undergraduate Catalog). I recommend a medical withdrawal over an incomplete. In many years of teaching, I have had only one student finish an Incomplete.

* If you receive an F or FX, you may only repeat the course once. After repeating the course, students will only receive credit for the course once and the highest of the grades will be calculated. The lower grade will remain on the transcript with an “R” before it to indicate the course was repeated. For the transcript to reflect the repeated course, students MUST submit a Repeated Course Form to the Records Office. Transcript adjustments are NOT automatic (Towson University Undergraduate Catalog).

Guidelines for all assignments
* No late papers will be accepted after the last day of the semester’s classes.
* Any late papers will lose points for each day they are late.
* Do not plagiarize, fabricate, or submit work you have done for another class. Cite all sources in your paper correctly. If you cut and paste material from the Internet without quote marks or a citation, that is plagiarism. If you paraphrase another’s material, make sure to properly cite the source.

Assignment Due Date
Reading Response 1 (750-1,000 words) February 21
Reading Response 2 (750-1,000 words) March 14
Blog/social media paper (1,200 words) April 4
Reading Response 3 (750-1,000 words) April 18
Audio description script/reflection paper (3-minute video) May 2
Disability memoir/lived experience/media paper (1,500-2,000 words) May 16


Academic Dishonesty:

I do not tolerate plagiarism or fabrication of any kind. You should adhere to the University’s policy on cheating and plagiarism. If you are caught breaking this policy, you will be prosecuted to the full extent that the policy allows. You should adhere to the highest possible standards of ethical behavior for this class.
* All assignments must be typed in the form requested and should contain your name, the date, and the assignment topic in the upper left-hand corner. (No folders or binders are necessary for assignments. Just staple the pages together.)
* Proofread and correctly edit your papers!

Students with disabilities: If you are registered with the Office for Disability Support Services, please see your instructor during the first two weeks of class to arrange your specific accommodations. If you believe you may need accommodation and have not registered with DSS, please do so by calling ext. 42638. http://www.towson.edu/dss/

Student Athletes: You must have a letter from the coach explaining your place on the team and a schedule of any away games or competitions during the semester. You must take any tests and prepare any assignments that conflict with this schedule before the test or due date, not after.


Readings and assignment schedule
(Note: We will screen most video content in class so no need to watch them beforehand. But you have the links if you want to reference them in your papers.)

(Note 2: If there is no link or book for a reading, it will be posted on Blackboard.)

Class meeting, Jan. 31: Models of representation & disability/ableism



Class meeting Feb. 7: Supercrips and inspiration




Class meeting Feb. 14: The power of media to frame disability & emerging media forms



Class meeting Feb. 21: Representations of autism

Reading Response 1 Due 


Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, http://www.autisticadvocacy.org/
WrongPlanet.net, http://www.wrongplanet.net



Class meeting Feb. 28: Analyzing news about disability



  • “Lives Worth Living”


Class meeting March 7: Disability media




 Class meeting March 14: Imagery

Reading Response 2 Due


  • Black, R. S., & Pretes, L. (2007). Victims and victors: Representation of physical disability on the silver screen. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 32(1), 66-83.
  • Garland-Thomson, R. (2001). Seeing the Disabled: Visual rhetorics of disability in popular photography. The New Disability History. NY: NYU Press.
  • Hawkins, K. (2014, June 24). With great power comes great disability. BBC Ouch website. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-27883836
  • Ng, C. (2013). Huge Demographic Virtually Invisible in Media Wants to be Seen. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Business/disabled-community-media-marketing/story?id=19143489.
  • Powerpoint about: Pietropaolo, V. (2010). Invisible No More: A Photographic Chronicle of the Lives of People with Intellectual Disabilities. NJ: Rutgers University Press.



Spring Break: March 19-26


March 28: Work on disability blog/social media analysis paper


Class meeting April 4: Presentations and discussion of disability blog/social media analysis. Paper due.


Class meeting April 11: Advertising



Guest speaker: Self-advocate from The Arc of Baltimore, Seth Burdine


Class meeting April 18: Entertainment TV and humor




Class meeting April 25: Controversies over film representation of disability

Reading Response 3 Due



Class meeting May 2: Creating accessible media

Discussion of audio description assignment with Natalie Shaheen, who is blind and a former teacher of blind children and organizer of Global Accessibility Awareness Day Baltimore.

Audio description paper due

May 9: Work on final paper.

May 19: Final papers due by email.


Earning a college degree is an endeavor that is preparing you for a future in a professional workplace. I expect you to display those qualities of professionalism in my classroom. Here are some policies and behaviors that I require you to follow:

• You will show respect to your fellow classmates and your professor. You will not belittle or laugh at others’ ideas or dominate discussions. The professor may eject you from class for any inappropriate or disruptive behavior.
• You will not interrupt or disrupt the class. This means all cell phones will be turned off during class. AND NO TEXTING! If you eat or drink during class, you will do so quietly and will always clean up after yourself by throwing away your trash. Leaving class to get food or beverage is a disruption. Only the restroom or an illness is an acceptable reason to leave the class. If you have a legitimate reason for leaving class early, please tell your professor before class and sit near the door.
• You will be counted absent if you are more than 15 minutes late for class. You will be counted absent if you sleep in class, or leave class and don’t return.
• If you bring a laptop to class, it should only be used for taking notes. You will be counted absent for that class if I find you surfing the Internet, IMing, etc.
• You are allowed only 2 unexcused absences. After that, you must bring in documentation, i.e. a signed doctor’s note or a signed health center note. However, please DO NOT attend class if you are contagious; we do not want your illness. In the case of car or traffic-related absences, you must bring a car repair bill or towing bill. (Not being able to find a place to park on Towson’s campus is NOT an excused absence.  ) In the case of a death-related absence, please call before you attend the funeral and give me the name of the deceased. The key to an excused absence is proper documentation.
• Any UMS-recognized religious holiday is an excused absence, and the work missed can be made up. However, please inform your professor that you will be out of class and arrange to get the make-up work. Please obtain any missed notes from a fellow classmate.
• Work-related or internship-related absences are NOT excused. Do not sign up for a class that conflicts with your work/internship schedule, or if you do not have the free time to complete required outside class assignments.
• It is your responsibility to make up any missed work due to an absence. Please get to know your classmates and ask them first. The professor will discuss make-up work before or after class or during office hours, not during class time.
• You, not the professor, are responsible for your grade. If you do not complete an assignment, you will receive a zero.
• Do not attend class if you have been drinking or taking illegal drugs. If you do so, the campus police will be called and you will be asked to leave class.
• Never lie, cheat, plagiarize, or fabricate. A mature person asks for help, rather than taking these unethical “shortcuts.” If your professor cannot give you the help you need, then she will refer you to the numerous on-campus resources, such as tutoring services or the Writing Center. If the class is still too difficult for you, become self-aware enough to understand when or if you should drop or withdraw from the class. There is no shame in withdrawing from a class and taking it another semester.
• Respect yourself enough to try your best, and the professor will respect you, too.

College of Fine Arts and Communication
Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies
Towson, MD 21252
TO: All Students in the Department Of Mass Communication and Communication Studies
FROM: Department Faculty

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies adheres to the following policy regarding plagiarism:

1. Any words or images taken directly from another source (including the Internet) must be footnoted or cited and in quotation marks. Similarly, in oral presentations, attributions must be clear.

2. Any ideas derived from a source not in the public domain or of general knowledge must be clearly attributed.

3. Any paraphrased material must be footnoted or cited. In oral presentations, attributions must be clear.

4. All papers and presentations must be the student’s own work. Submission of papers or presentations authored by others, even with their consent, constitutes plagiarism.

Any student found plagiarizing in any of the above ways will receive an automatic “F” for the assignment and may receive an “F” for the course. Documented evidence of the plagiarism will be kept in the department office, and will be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs.

Any student discovered soliciting others to write a paper, speech, test, or other assignment for that student will receive an automatic “F” for the course.

There are ambiguities in concepts of plagiarism. Faculty will be available for consultation regarding any confusion a student may have.

Most students are careful to avoid blatant plagiarism, the unacknowledged copying of exact words of the source. However, students must also be aware that the concept of plagiarism extends not only to wording but to patterns or sequences of ideas. If you paraphrase without acknowledgement, using the same sequence or structure as the original author, then you are plagiarizing.

Students have the right to appeal a charge of plagiarism. An appeal starts with the chairperson of the department.

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies has adopted the following policy regarding cheating:


Liability Statement
“In all assignments, students must comply with all laws and legal rights of others (e.g., copyright, obscenity, privacy and defamation) and with all Towson policies (e.g. academic dishonesty). Towson University is not liable or responsible for the content of any student assignments, regardless of where they are posted.”

Civility Code Introduction
Revised (approved by COFAC College Council 11/8/2011)

All College of Fine Arts & Communication Studies students, staff, and faculty are committed to collegial and academic citizenship demonstrating high standards of humane, ethical, professional, and civil behavior in all interactions.

We must take responsibility for the relationship between our personal conduct and the quality of campus life. What we do and say always has an effect on others, whether we see it or not. Civility means more than respecting campus facilities and grounds. Civility means consistently treating people with consideration and respect. It means being courteous, polite, and fair. It means recognizing diversity and honoring differing points of view. When our behavior is guided by concern for others in our community, we are being civil. Practicing civility requires thoughtful behavior and checking our assumptions and perceptions of others’ race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, abilities, culture, belief systems and economic status.

Civility Code
COFAC places a priority on learning. We value the inherent worth and dignity of every person, thereby fostering a community of mutual respect. Students have the right to a learning environment free of disruptive behaviors. Faculty have the right to define appropriate behavioral expectations in the classroom and expect students to abide by them. Faculty have the responsibility to manage and address classroom disruption. Staff have the right and responsibility to define appropriate behaviors necessary to conduct any university activity free of disruption or obstruction.

We believe that in order to achieve these ideals, all COFAC students, staff, and faculty are expected to exhibit and practice civil behaviors that exemplify: (1) respecting faculty, staff, fellow students, guests, and all university property, policies, rules and regulations; (2) taking responsibility for one’s choices, actions and comments; (3) delivering correspondence – whether verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic – with respectful language using professional writing standards and etiquette; and (4) accepting consequences of one’s choices and actions.

The use of threatening or abusive language, writing, or behavior will not be tolerated and can lead to academic dismissal. Further information about civility can be found in Appendix F of the university catalog.