Saturday, May 28, 2011

Disability & Mass Media syllabus, Summer 2012, CUNY master's in disability studies

Summer 2012
“Disability & Mass Media”
City University of New York
Disability Studies Master’s Program
6-8:30 p.m., MW, June & July

Instructor: Beth A. Haller, Ph.D.

Get to know me online:

Course Materials:
• Selected readings, most will be on e-reserve. For others, you will find them on the Websites listed.
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).

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.

The Master’s in Disability Studies introduces students to this emerging multidisciplinary field that spans the social sciences, 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.

The Structure of the Course

I hope this course will be a participatory, collaborative learning experience. It is discussion-oriented, as well as mixing in numerous viewings of media texts on disability topics to further additional discussions. Therefore, it is imperative that you do the readings and browse any Web sites required before each class. Please come to each class with at least 5 questions, comments or critiques of the readings where noted on course schedule, known as Reflection Q&A’s.


Class participation and Reflection Q&A’s (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.

To assist you in your preparation for each class, please type up a brief Reflection Q&A (about 150 words). As you are doing the readings, write down at least 5 questions, comments, and critiques from that day’s readings. If you disagree with something said, write about that. If something in the readings really surprised or amazed you, write about that. You will be engaging the readings in a critically constructive way – see if you also can extend the ideas or issues raised by an author(s) by linking them to the lived experience of disability or other readings. Format: Typed with your name on it, but it can be as simple as a list of questions or comments on one page. Bring two copies, one to turn in to me and one for you to take notes on, as the class the discussion may add to the thoughts you had.

Images of people with intellectual disabilities in the community discussion paper (10 percent)

For this paper you will watch the Web-based TV show from the UK ( and the online documentary, "A Friend Indeed: The Bill Sackter Story" ( "The Specials" explores the lives of people with intellectual disabilities from their perspective. They live in a group home but deal with work and relationship issues just like anyone else. The true story of Bill Sackter follows his life after he leaves an institution and through support of friends becomes a part of the community. Discuss what people can learn about people with intellectual disabilities from these true stories. What are the positives and negatives of portraying people’s lives so honestly? We will discuss the show and film in class. Write a short reaction paper to the show and film (about 750 words) about why you think the rights of people with intellectual disabilities are so misunderstood around the world. Be prepared to discuss your thoughts in class.
Paper Length: About 750 words
Due Date: June 25

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

You will write an analysis paper about disability-related blogs and a disability organization's social media site. You should select 2 blogs and 1 disability organization's Facebook page or Twitter feed. Please select them from from the Blogroll at or from this list of autism blogs: Please select blogs that have posts from 2011-12. (If someone hasn’t posted since 2010 or before, DO NOT select that blog.) The blog should have a clear connection to disability as a topic, i.e. not a blog about “Mad Men” that happens to be written by a person with a disability. :-) Also, make sure the blog has commentary by its author and is not just a re-posting of others materials. For the disability organizations, look through this site to find one that use social media (Please do not select my Media dis&dat blog or my book's Facebook page.)

What the paper should include:
* Write a 4-5 page paper in which you carefully analyze a number of posts (at least 10) on the two disability-related blogs and at least a week's worth of the organization's social media posts. In the paper 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 blog/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.
* Write about your reaction and reflection on the blogs/social media. How do or don’t they fit the disability models we’ve discussed? You can integrate this into the paper or you can have a section at the end of the paper that is your personal commentary about what you think the impact of the blogs/social media is.
* Finally, you will make a brief presentation to the class about the blogs/social media you analyzed. Summarize what you found and your impressions for us.
Paper Length: at least 1000 words
Due Date: July 9

Media Analysis Paper on an Entertainment Program or Disability Issue (40 percent)

For the research paper:
* Select your topic/text for analysis, i.e. a qualitative content analysis of a major U.S. newspaper’s coverage of a disability issue or a textual analysis of a film or TV show’s depiction of a disability issue or disabled character. (For a list of films that have a disabled character, visit and I have created a list of links about film and TV about disability, (Possible TV shows that are available on DVD or are currently showing: The Amazing Race, Breaking Bad, Covert Affairs, CSI, Dancing with the stars – Heather Mills or Marlee Matlin seasons, Deadwood, ER (Kerry Weaver character), Extreme Home Makeover, Glee, House, Life Goes On, Little People, Big World, The Little Couple, Lost, Monk, Nip/Tuck – Peter Dinklage season, Private Practice, The Little Couple, South Park, Switched at Birth, United States of Tara)
* Go to for a bibliography of research about media and disability and do a search in the Academic Search engine, Ebsco. Also, apply some of the readings from class that are relevant. Write a literature review about all the research relevant to the topic.
* For the textual analysis, apply the McKee book for your paper. For the news coverage, research the topic in the disability media, such as New Mobility magazine ( , The Ragged Edge archives (, disability organization Web sites such as AAPD (, ADAPT (, disability blogs, etc.
* Develop a list of themes you will be looking for in the content/text.
* Analyze the news content or text.
* Write up your findings and discuss how they do or don’t represent perspectives from the disability community that you found in the disability media.
* The final paper should include: 1.)An introduction to the 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/news coverage, 4.)your findings, 5.)your conclusions about how news media, films or TV represent disability topics or people with disabilities, and 6.)a complete reference list in proper APA 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 disability studies literature into your analysis.
Paper Length: at least 2000 words
Final paper due by in class: July 30

Proposal for final papers/projects due June 27: The proposal will be three-four paragraphs explaining why you are focusing on the topic you chose. Please provide the start of your bibliography and a possible theme list for the analysis. I will be available by email and phone on non-class days to discuss the assignment and help guide you.

Some General Policies

Please come to all classes prepared by having done the readings, prepared a Reflection Q&A, and ready to discuss the material. If an emergency arises, please contact me immediately.

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 in person, on the phone or on email. To make arrangements for accommodations with the CUNY Graduate Center, contact the CUNY Disability Studies program.

Course Schedule & Readings
About the readings: We may not have time to discuss all the readings each class, 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.

May 30: Review of stigma and models of disability

Goffman, E., (2006). Stigma selections, The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. (on e-reserve)

Ableism definition from ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement. (on e-reserve)

Baker, S. (2008). Cultural and critical studies. In Sloan, D. & Zhou, S. (Eds.),
Research methods in mass communication. Vision Press.

Haller, Beth. “Media models of disability representation” (online:

Haller, B. & Zhang, L. (2010). Highlights of 2010 survey of people with disabilities about media representations.

Models of disability,

Screenings: “When Billy Broke His Head”
Autistic teen's No Pity documentary:

June 4: The power of media to frame disability & emerging media forms
Assignments due: Reflection Q&A’s are due at the beginning of each class.

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 1. The changing landscape of disability “news”: Blogging and social media lead to more diverse sources of information.

McKee, A. (2003). What is textual analysis.

Haller, B., (2000, Jan./Feb.). False positive: The Supercrip image kicks real issues off the media radar screen, The Ragged Edge.

Center for Integration & Inclusion in Journalism. (2002). Newswatch: Covering the disability community. (just skim articles you find interesting.)

Thoreau, E. (2006).  Ouch!: An Examination of the Self-Representation of Disabled People on the Internet. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Montgomery, K. C. (1989). Prime Time as political territory. Target: Prime Time, Advocacy groups and the struggle in entertainment television. NY: Oxford University Press. (on e-reserve)

Sheppard, A. (2011). Rockin’ and Rollin’ on Fox’s Glee, DSQ,  

Wheelchair pride blog. (2010, January 12). A Special TV Series That Is A MUST See

Dobbs, J. (2009, September). Why does Facebook matter? New Mobility.

Screening: “No bigger than a minute”

June 6: Controversies over film representations of disability 
  Assignments Due: Reflection Q&A

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 9. Media advocacy and films: The “Million Dollar Baby” effect.

McKee, A. (2003). Chapter 2. Does it really matter how people make sense of the world?

Wolfson, K. & Norden, M. (2000). Film images and people with disabilities. In Handbook of communication and people with disabilities, D. Braithwaite & T. Thompson (eds.) Mahwah, NJ: LEA. (on e-reserve)

Dolmage, J. & DeGenaro, W. (2005, Spring). ‘I Cannot Be Like This Frankie’: Disability, Social Class, and Gender in Million Dollar Baby, DSQ.  

DSQ, (2005, Summer). Million Dollar Baby special section.

R-Word campaign, (2008). ‘Tropic Thunder’ Film -- Action Kit.

Carter-Long, L. (2008). ‘Tropic Thunder’ – Hollywood Still Doesn’t Get It. Disaboom.

Browse online: The Arc ‘Tropic Thunder’ update,

Read online:

How to read a film:

Screening: Clips from “My Left Foot,” Million Dollar Baby,” “Tropic Thunder”

June 11: Content and textual analysis, the news and disability
Assignment: Do search of Google news or the NY Times Web site and bring in 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?

Wright, C. R. (1986). Cultural content of American mass communication. Mass Communication, A sociological perspective. NY: Random House. (on e-reserve)

NY Times stylebook disability entries (on e-reserve)

AP stylebook disability entries (on e-reserve)

Code sheet example (on e-reserve)

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.(on e-reserve)

Johnson, M. (2003). Discrimination and the formation of a minority. Make them go away. Louisville, Ky.: Advocado Press. (on e-reserve)

Screenings: “Lives Worth Living”

Discussion: How to conduct content analyses and textual analyses

June 13: Telethons
 Assignment: Reflection Q&A

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 7. Pity as oppression in the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

McKee, A. (2003). Chapter 4. How do I know what’s a likely interpretation?

Johnson, M. (1992, Sept./Oct.). A Test of Wills: Jerry Lewis, Jerry's Orphans and the Telethon, The Disability Rag.

Hershey, L. (2002). Lewis vs. Disability Rights.

Johnson, H. (2002). FAQ about the telethon.

Mattlin, B. (2007, Sept. 3). No longer one of Jerry’s kids. The Washington Post,

Dupree, N. (2009, Sept. 8) It’s MDA Telethon Time Again!! Nick’s Crusade blog,

Screening: “The Kids are All Right”

There are no classes June 18 & 20 because I have to be at the Society for Disability Studies conference. Please use this time to watch “The Specials” web series and "A Friend Indeed" and write your paper. "The Specials" is 10 episodes of 10 min. each and "A Friend Indeed" is about 90 minutes.

June 25: Autism
Assignment due: Paper about images of people with intellectual disabilities in the community & discussion

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 5. Autism and inclusive education in the news media: A case study.

Solomon, A. (2008, May 25). The Autism Rights Movement, New York magazine,

Ne’eman, A. (2010). The Future (and the Past) of Autism Advocacy, Or Why the ASA's Magazine, The Advocate, Wouldn't Publish This Piece, DSQ,

Murray, S. (2007). Hollywood and the fascination with autism. Autism and Representation, Mark Osteen, (Ed.) NY: Routledge. (on e-reserve)

Savarese, D.J. (2010). Cultural Commentary: Communicate with Me. Disability Studies Quarterly.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network,, 

Screening: “Autism The Musical;” clips from “Rain Man” (1988)

June 27: The big disability rights issue: Assisted suicide/Euthanasia 
  Assignments Due: Proposal for final project;
Questions for Anna Pakman, Social Media Manager, Oxygen Network

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. (on e-reserve)

Russell, M. (1998). Nazi and American Eugenics & Backhanded Social Darwinism, Beyond Ramps. Common Courage Press. (on e-reserve)

Morris, J. (1998). Lives not worth living, Pride against Prejudice. Women’s Press. (on e-reserve)

Watch online: Legitimizing the unthinkable: A disability rights perspective on Nazi medicine with Harriet McBryde Johnson at the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Screening: "Death as salesman: What's wrong with assisted suicide"

Speaker: Anna Pakman, Social Media Manager, Oxygen Media

July 2:
 Disability media, Accessible media
Assignments Due: Proposal for final paper on June 29
Try to watch an episode of "Push Girls" on the Sundance Channel or online,

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 6. Disability media tell their own stories.

Kama, A. (2004). Supercrips versus the pitiful handicapped: Reception of disabling images by disabled audience members. Communications, 29, pp. 447-466. (on e-reserve)

Hibberd, J. (2007, June 17). Digital Revolution Excludes Closed Captioning, TV Week,

Stelter, B. (2010, June 21). One Web video, captions are coming slowly. NY Times,

Matlin, M. (2009, Nov. 6). FCC field hearing testimony. NAD. Or you can watch/listen to it on YouTube,

Screening: Clips from “How’s your news?” “Little people, Big world”

July 9: Student Presentations on Disability Blogs & papers due

July 11: Entertainment TV and humor
 Assignments Due: Reflection Q&A

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 8. The New Phase of Disability Humor on TV.

Bauer, P. (2005, Dec. 11) What’s so funny about disability? NY Times.

I AM PWD. (2010). New study reveals lack of characters with disabilities on television.

LeBesco, K. “There's Something About Disabled People: The Contradictions of Freakery in the Films of the Farrelly Brothers,” DSQ, Fall 2004,

Reid-Hresko, J. & Reid, K. (2005, Fall). Deconstructing Disability: Three Episodes of South Park. DSQ.

Shannon, J. (2005, Nov.) Krazy Kripples: South Park and disability. New Mobility.

Screenings: "Switched at Birth," “South Park,” Pelswick”

July 16: Advertising
Assignments Due: Reflection Q&A

Haller, B. (2010). Chapter 10. Advertising boldly moves disability images forward.

Hahn, H. (1987, March). Advertising the acceptable employable image: Disability and capitalism. Policy Studies Journal, pp. 551-570. (on e-reserve)

Hardin, M. (2003, Winter). Marketing the acceptably athletic image : wheelchair athletes, sport-related advertising and capitalist hegemony. Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1.,

Read some of the posts at this Advertising and Disability blog:

Screening: Cingular Ad with Dan Keplinger, Nuveen ad with Christopher Reeve, print and TV ads

July 18: Photography & documentary
Assignments due: Reflection Q&A

Hahn, H. (1988). Can disability be beautiful? Social Policy, 18:3, pp. 26-32. (on e-reserve)

Hevey, D. (2006). The enfreakment of photography. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. (on e-reserve)

Garland-Thomson, R. (2001). Seeing the Disabled: Visual rhetorics of disability in popular photography. The New Disability History. NY: NYU Press. (on e-reserve)

Screening: News and photo images of disability; “Music by Prudence”

July 23 & 25
No classes, work on final papers.
(I am available by email, Skype, & phone during this time)

July 30: Final class
Assignment Due: Research papers & presentations
~Students will present their final papers to the class in an informal 10-15 minute oral presentation~