Sunday, March 11, 2012

Documentaries, TV, & film about people with disabilities and disability issues for use in university courses

Resource from presentation by Beth Haller at CUNY ESA Conference 2012, “Cripples, Idiots, Lepers, and Freaks: Extraordinary Bodies / Extraordinary Minds” - March 22, 2012 

Image from the documentary "King Gimp"
Mass media about people with disabilities and disability issues for use in university courses
(All these are available in DVD format or online. Disability or issue is listed in parentheses. Also listed are links to its website or Disability Studies analyses of it. You can find other films here: Please contact me if you have additions or links for the list:

Alicia (living with brain injury) (A promising 18-year-old drama student sustains brain damage; her response to her disability was to start a theatre group and become an active member of the community)

Autism: The Musical (Follows the lives of five LA children on the autism spectrum over the course of six months as they prepare for a musical production)

Body & Soul: Diana and Kathy (Two women with disabilities support each other and live independently)

Body of War (Focuses on returning disabled veteran Tomas Young, 25, who became paralyzed from a bullet to his spine - wounded after serving in Iraq for less than a week)

Bong & Donnell (A friendship between a disabled boy and a nondisabled boy) 

Born Freak (Disabled actor Mat Fraser explores how disabled performers survived working in freak shows)

Breathing Lessons. The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien (Polio survivor Mark O’Brien, who was a writer and poet) Watch free online here:

Bulgaria's Abandoned Children (Free online documentary about Bulgaria, which has more institutionalized mentally and physically disabled children than anywhere else in Europe.)

Code of the Freaks (Examines Hollywood images of disability, tracing themes from the 1920s to the present)

Deaf Jam (A deaf teen begins to perform ASL poetry and decides to perform at a poetry slam)

Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America (Behind-the-scenes look at the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant)

Enable (People with disabilities and technology)

Freedom Machines (About the significant impact of technology in the lives of people with disabilities)

A Friend Indeed-The Bill Sackter Story (True story of Bill Sackter, who left a lifetime in an institution to emerge as an international hero for people with disabilities) Full documentary online:

F**k the Disabled (Gay, disabled comedian Greg Walloch chronicles his life and comedy career)

Going Blind (Blind people tell their personal stories)

The Horse Boy (Tale of family resilience in the face of a young boy’s autism)

How to Die in Oregon (Focuses on physician-assisted suicide in Oregon)

I Can’t Do That But I Can Do This (Kids with learning disabilities discover their abilities)

Including Samuel (A film about inclusion. The family of Samuel, who has CP, works to include him in all facets of their lives.)

Journey into Dyslexia (Profile of dyslexic professionals, thriving students and compassionate educators)

The Key of G (Man w/ Mowat-Wilson syndrome & independent living) 

The Kids are All Right (Online documentary about protests against the MDA Telethon) 

King Gimp (Artist w/ CP Dan Keplinger; education access)

Lives Worth Living (The disability rights movement in the USA)

Marwencol (Artist with TBI, PTSD creates elaborate miniature scenes depicting WWII)

Monica & David (A couple with Down syndrome marry and start life together)

A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism (Discusses facilitated communication and the Rapid Prompting Method)

Murderball (Athletes with disabilities; Paralympics)

Music by Prudence (African musicians with disabilities)

My Classic Life as an Artist: A Portrait of Larry Bissonnette (An autistic man becomes an outsider artist after leaving a life in an institution)

My Country (It profiles three people with disabilities whose lives have been shaped by the struggle for equal rights) Watch it here:

The Nerves of Us  (focuses on Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), a surgery for people with CP)

No Bigger Than a Minute (Little person describes his life & societal attitudes)

The Other Child (Short documentary about brothers and sisters when one sibling has autism)

A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America

Plan F (Blind man who is an occupational therapist turned auto mechanic)

Praying with Lior (A teen with Down syndrome prepares for his bar mitzvah)

Raising Renee (A woman with an intellectual disability becomes more independent after living with her artist sister)

See What I'm Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary (It follows the journeys of four extraordinary deaf entertainers over the course of a single year as their stories intertwine and culminate in some of the most important events of their lives)

Shameless: The Art of Disability (Art, activism and disability)

Smile Pinki (Indian girl’s life is changed when she finally gets surgery for her cleft palate)

Todd Selby x Christine Sun Kim (Christine Sun Kim is a Deaf performance artist working to reclaim the world of sound for herself. Todd Selby is a blind filmmaker) View here:

There's Still Hope For Dreams...a Phamaly Story (It follows a theatrical group comprised entirely of disabled performers.)

Through Deaf Eyes (200-year history of Deaf life in America)

Touch the Sound (A sound journey with internationally known deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie)

Tying Your Own Shoes (Short animated documentary about four adult artists with Down Syndrome)

The United States of Autism

Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back (Disability culture; disabled artists)

War Torn 1861-2010 (Documentary about the disabling effects of war)

We Are PHAMALy (Follows members of the musical theatre troupe PHAMALy (the Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League) as they prepare for their production of Once Upon A Mattress)

When Billy Broke His Head (A man with TBI explores the disability rights movement)

When I’m Not Alone (A transgender disabled man becomes a disability advocate)

Where's Molly? (A brother finds his disabled sister in an institution after 47 years and re-establishes a loving relationship)

Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace (Short documentary about the notorious institution for people with disabilities on Staten Island, NY)

Wretches and Jabberers (Two autistic men travel the world as advocates)

Yellow Brick Road (Theater program for people with intellectual disabilities)


Adam (Autism)

Assisted Living (Wheelchair use)

A Beautiful Mind (Mental illness)

Beeswax (Wheelchair user)

Beyond Silence (Deaf community)

Canvas (Mental illness)

Children of a Lesser God (Deaf community)

The Color of Paradise (Blind person)

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (Locked-in syndrome)

Dumb & Dumber (Blind person)

The Elephant Man (Neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome)

Fanaa (Blind person)

Finding Nemo (Memory problem; disabled fin)

Freaks (Multiple disabilities)

Girlfriend (Down syndrome) Watch here for $5:

Harvey Krumpet (Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s)

The King's Speech (Stuttering)

Mabul – The Flood (Autism)

Mary and Max (Asperger’s, obesity)

Million Dollar Baby (Wheelchair use)

Mozart and the Whale (Autism)

Music Within (CP; hearing loss)

Musical Chairs (Wheelchair use; amputee)

My Left Foot (CP) Longmore, P. K. (1990). The glorious rage of Christy Brown. Disability Studies Quarterly, 10,  23-25.

My Name is Khan (Autism)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Multiple disabilities)

Quid Pro Quo (Wheelchair user)

Rain Man (Autism)

The Ringer (Intellectual disabilities)

Rory O’Shea Was Here (CP)

Saved (Wheelchair user)

The Sea Inside (Wheelchair use)

Seabiscuit (Visual impairment, cane use)

Shine (Mental illness)

Simon Birch (Little person)

Sling Blade (Intellectual disability)

Snowcake (Autism)

The Soloist (Mental Illness)

The Station Agent (Little person)

The Tic Code (Tourette’s syndrome)

There’s Something about Mary (Intellectual disability)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Intellectual disability)

Whole (BIID)

X-Men, X2 (Wheelchair use)

Yo, Tambien (Down syndrome)

Entertainment TV

American Horror Story (Down syndrome)

Boston Legal (Little person; autism)

Breaking Bad (CP; cancer)

CSI (Amputee; hearing loss)

Family Guy (Wheelchair user)

Friday Night Lights (Wheelchair user)

Glee (Down syndrome; wheelchair use)

Heroes (Wheelchair use)

House (Cane use; substance abuse)

Joan of Arcadia (Wheelchair user)

Life Goes On (Down syndrome)

Monk (OCD)

Nip/Tuck (Multiple disabilities; Little person)

Parenthood (Autistic child)

Pelswick (Wheelchair user)

Private Practice (Wheelchair use; substance abuse)

Quads (Wheelchair users)

The Secret Life of the American Teenager (Down syndrome)

Sesame Street (Wheelchair user)

South Park (Wheelchair use; walker use)

Switched at Birth (Deaf community)

United States of Tara (Mental illness)

Reality TV

The Amazing Race (Little person; Deaf person; Autism)

Dancing with the Stars (Amputee; Deaf person)

Extreme Home Makeover (Many episodes make over home for disabled adult or child)

How’s Your News? (All stars have intellectual disabilities)

The Specials (UKWeb series about group home of adults with intellectual disabilities)

Last Comic Standing (2006 winner, Josh Blue, has CP)

The Little Couple (Little people)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Accessing new deaf representations on TV: A case study of Marlee Matlin on ‘The L Word’" By Lillie Ransom, Gallaudet University & Beth Haller, Towson University

Accessing new deaf representations on TV:
A case study of Marlee Matlin on ‘The L Word’

By Lillie Ransom, Gallaudet University
& Beth Haller, Towson University
Paper presented at the National Communication Association conference,
San Diego, Calif., November 2009. (Conclusion added August 2011.)

The premium cable channel, Showtime, launched “The L Word” in 2004. It was the first American TV show to explore the life experiences of lesbians. The show followed on the heels of another gay-themed show on Showtime, the remake of the same-named British show “Queer as Folk,” which ran in the USA from 2000-2005 (imdb, 2011). That show primarily focused on gay men, but had two main characters who were a lesbian couple.

It’s ironic that Showtime launched “The L Word” in 2004 when, according to one network TV show producer, that same year, their show wasn’t allowed to show two women kissing. The show, which lasted four episodes, was the critically acclaimed Wonderfalls on FOX, which had a main character who was a closeted lesbian (Holland & Fuller, Wonderfalls DVD, 2004).

“The L Word” opened as a hit and was the quickest renewal of a Showtime series ever (Showtime, 2004). The show became much discussed and debated in the LGBT community and in the LGBT media. But only a few scholars have turned their attention to it. In 2006 British scholars published the book, Reading “The L Word” (Akass & McCabe, 2006), which is part of the Reading Contemporary TV series that had other books focused on shows like “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City.” TV scholar Candace Moore also turned her attention to “The L Word” in an article for Cinema Journal in 2007.

It’s Moore’s work that informs our thoughts about the inclusion of a deaf character into “The L Word,” played by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin. Moore, in her analysis of the first two seasons, which doesn’t include Matlin’s character, argues that “The L Word” provides a kind of tourist pass into the lesbian community for straight audience members. And she, and members from the LGBT community, believe that has informed the relatively monolithic presentation of West Hollywood lesbians in the beginning of the show’s run.

Moore says “The L Word” “slowly worked to acculturate its straight viewership” to the world of lesbians (2007, p.5). She posits that’s why the first season focuses on a straight woman, Jenny, who begins to question her own sexuality after her and her boyfriend move into a lesbian neighborhood in LA. Moore calls that character an insider-outsider, who provides a non-threatening guide to the community for straight audience members.

Interestingly, many of the criticisms of “The L Word” from the lesbian community focused on the Jenny character’s lying and confusion and on the lack of diversity among the lesbian characters. (In the first seasons, all the characters are white, except for the Jennifer Beals’ character, who is bi-racial like the actress.) As the show added to its diversity, we believe that adding a deaf character was part of that initiative.
Many of the people involved with “The L Word’s” production, creator, writers, producers, etc., are lesbians and they have been responsive to the LGBT community’s complaints about the show. In the second season, Jenny began living her life as a lesbian and they added a Hispanic main character Carmen, played by Sarah Shahi (who has a Mexican and Middle Eastern background). In season 3, Carmen remained and the season explored the issue of breast cancer and introduced a character, Moira, who was transitioning to become a man named Max. (There had also been complaints that all the characters were very feminine and few could claim a butch identity.)

In Season 4, Marlee Matlin’s character, Jodi Lerner, joins the group. She is a sculptor who teaches in the university art dept where Jennifer Beals’ character, Bette, is the dean. They begin a relationship.

Our research doesn’t reveal specifically why “The L Word” added a deaf character, but Marlee Matlin has been a guest star on numerous TV shows since the TV show created for her, “Reasonable Doubts,” was cancelled in 1993. Signing onto “The L Word” posed no concern for Matlin, who has long been seen as a friend to the gay community. She says she sees similarities between homophobia and discrimination against deaf people (Penn, 2007). She has been vocal in her support of gay rights and her brother is gay. In her interviews about joining the show, she said: “The discriminatory practices against the GLBT community parallel almost exactly those against deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Misunderstanding, stereotyping and discrimination – of these things which have happened to the GLBT have been routinely happening to deaf people for years” (Esther, 2008, p. 37). She has appeared in other TV shows with LGBT themes: Matlin’s role as the mayor in several years of the show “Picket Fences” included a scenario in which she carried a baby for her character’s brother and his partner (, 2007).

With the inclusion of a deaf woman, season 4 became “The L Word’s” most diverse ever. It added an older lesbian, Phyllis, played by Cybill Shepard, and an African American lesbian, Tasha, played by Rose Rollins. This research project focuses primarily on the Marlee Matlin character in Season 4, because even though the Jodi character remained in Season 5, that season was not available on DVD until Oct. 2008 (after this presentation was written).

Marlee Matlin says that after she won the Academy Award at such a young age, naysayers said she’d never work again – because she is a deaf person who wanted a traditional acting career (McQueen, 2006). But she has proved them wrong. She has appeared in many more movies and has become a go-to actress for guest spots. In addition to these numerous guest star roles, she played other long-term characters on shows such as “The West Wing,” 2000-06. We argue that her appearance all over TV in the past 20+ years has revolutionized representations of deaf people on TV.

And “The L Word” is significant because it is the first time TV has acknowledged the intersection of a “disability” and the LGBT community. (The reason disability is in quotes is because the deaf community usually resists the association of deafness and disability.) But in terms of audience reaction to a deaf TV character, we believe the average non-disabled person doesn’t know the difference between disability and deafness. Matlin herself makes the connection between deafness and disability in her role as a spokesperson for the International Labor Organization (ILOTV, 2007).

So “The L Word” gives us a rich text in which to examine a complex deaf character on TV. Too often deaf characters on TV are only in one episode and the plot revolves around some image of deafness as a deficiency. Whereas in “The L Word,” the Jodi character is on equal footing with the other characters and brings some aspects of deaf culture into the show. She is in a romantic relationship with a hearing person, she is a famous artist, she is a friend and teacher and she interacts in the world using both sign language and spoken English. The "L Word" writers also show us that at least one of Jodi’s former partners was a deaf woman who not only is frustrated that Jodi has moved on but implies she is resentful that she may be leaving the deaf community. And it is possible that by speaking so much in the role, Jodi (Marlee Matlin) is single handedly making hearing people more comfortable hearing deaf speech on TV. She is quite brave to use her voice because she has often talked about how she was taunted as a child for her deaf speech (Lofaro, 2006) and faced backlash in the deaf community when she spoke, instead of signing, during the Academy Awards.

Another significant aspect to Matlin’s representation on “The L Word” is the prominent role of her sign language interpreter. In another radical move, the Jodi character’s interpreter, Tom (played by Jon Wolfe Nelson), becomes a supporting character in the show in season 4 and 5 (Advocate, 2008). Nelson is an actor and sign language interpreter, who built a career doing both; he interprets Broadway theatre for deaf audiences and had played Matlin’s interpreter on “The West Wing,” so she requested him for “The L Word” (Eng, 2008). The Tom character also addresses another diversity complaint about the show – that there were no prominent gay male characters on the show, so Tom filled that spot and in season 5 begins a relationship with the transgendered character, Max.

This interpreter-deaf person relationship is somewhat unusual in the show. For all the important information Marlee Matlin’s character is “teaching” audiences about deaf people, the Jodi character is modeling something that rarely exists in sign language interpreting.

Interpreter/Jodi relationship 1

The Jodi character is a professional, and like most of the other characters on “The L Word,” is upper middle class, a well-respected artist and has a great deal of control over her professional and personal life. Jodi holds her own with the others on the show, primarily because she is like them in most ways—well-educated, gainfully employed, white, feminine, and attractive.

Based on conversations with Gallaudet undergraduate students during Season 4, Jodi’s propensity to talk and interact with hearing people as much or more than with deaf people is tolerated because of their pride at having a deaf character included in the first place. These students are so thrilled to have some deaf and ASL representation on this popular show, that they are less critical about how realistic the representation is, or even about whether the representation matches “their deaf culture centric” view of the preferred communication method for social interactions – signing with others who are fluent in sign.

This analysis of the Jodi/Tom interactions is based primarily upon Ransom’s own experiences as an interpreter and as a member of the U.S. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). This organization, along with the U.S. National Association for the Deaf (NAD), trains and certifies American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in the United States. RID was established in 1964.

In the real world, most deaf people do not have their own “personal interpreters” at their beck and call in all situations and circumstances. In some ways, the Tom character harkens back to an older model of interpreting for deaf people. A few decades ago, most ASL interpreters were family members and/or friends of deaf people. These hearing people became interpreters because their ability to understand and use both American Sign Language and spoken English. As such, they made little effort to distinguish between their roles as interpreters between the deaf and hearing communities and their roles as siblings, parents, or friends.

Another model that could be used to examine Jodi and Tom’s relationship is called “diplomatic interpreting.” Cook (2004) describes diplomatic interpreting as “an association built on a foundation of mutual trust characterized by the interpreter’s intense interest in and commitment to the work of the Deaf professional. There is a degree of connection found between the two individuals that frequently results in a seamless presentation” (pp. 58-59). Cook reports that precedents for diplomatic interpreting are found among spoken language interpreters. According to Cook, these types of close knit relationships are most often seen when there is a Deaf professional working among hearing colleagues.

There have been extensive efforts by RID and NAD to increase the professional nature of interpreting during the past 20 to 30 years, including allegiance to a Professional Code of Conduct. Interpreters are required to get training and abide by a Code of Ethics. Interpreters are required to participate in continuing education activities in order to maintain certification.

As a result of the increased professionalization of interpreting, the more common contemporary interpreting scenario involves requesting and securing interpreters on an “as needed” basis. Many interpreters are hired through agencies and services; their fees are paid by businesses or government agencies to provide interpreting services for specific occasions, for instance during employment interviews, training activities, and medical appointments and during medical procedures.

While the Tom interpreter character reflects an older model of interpreting, or perhaps the diplomatic interpreter model, we believe he may also be modeled after Marlee Matlin’s actual interpreter, Jack Jason, who is her business partner and almost always accompanies her during professional interactions (Rojas, 2011). Jason is a CODA (child of deaf adults) who considers sign language his first language. He met Matlin in New York City at the time of the promotion of the film, “Children of a Lesser God,” when Matlin needed someone fluent in sign to show her around the city. However, the Matlin-Jason relationship is unique; most deaf people, even well-to- do deaf people, do not hire full-time personal interpreters.

Perhaps “The L Word” writers while responding to some of the criticisms from the LGBT community for portraying West Hollywood, upper middle class lesbians with little diversity and little relationship to the lives that many working class lesbians live, the producers and writers have unwittingly extended their original biases to the Jodi character, and thus creating an unrealistic interpreter/friend character. It has never been made clear on “The L Word” who pays Tom’s salary. Does he work for the university, the art department, or Jodi personally?

Tom is seen interpreting in professional meetings, at parties, and even in intimate face-to-face conversations between Jodi and Bette. Tom even interjects his own opinions into some of the conversations he interprets, when, for instance, he implores Jodi to give Bette a break, after Bette and Jodi have had a serious falling out and Bette attempts to reach out to Jodi (Episode 4.12, “Long Time Coming”). There are several other episodes where he interjects his thoughts on the Bette-Jodi relationship or Jodi’s exes.

For example, Episode 4.5 “Lez Girls” includes an intimate scene between Jodi and Bette as they hang outside while others are partying inside Phyllis’ house. Jodi gives Bette a sensual “shot gun” hit of marijuana and Tom is there looking on. This is rather jarring for viewers, who said in recap comments that they wouldn’t want Tom there for their intimate moments (, 2004), and for those who know about the ethics guidelines for interpreters.

By way of contrast, notice how a real life Interpreter Coordinator in an August 2008 email reminds interpreters to be very careful about how they conduct themselves:
Due to a few recent incidents, I’m compelled to send out a reminder about professional demeanor while on assignments. None of this is new information as you’ve all learned it in your ITPS [Interpreter Training Programs] or in the school of common sense. However, it seems some folks have become overly comfortable working for us at ____and have let adherence to these principles lapse.
The coordinator cites specifics including dress code, personal conversations, partaking in food being served, and first and foremost reminds interpreters NOT TO INTERJECT THEIR OPINIONS into conversations they are observing or interpreting. On a related note, Rodriguez and Reguera (2002) examined the codes of ethics for sign language interpreters in 12 countries. There were several variations among all countries represented; however, they found there were two codes all countries have inscribed in their code of ethics: The first is impartiality and neutrality and the second shared code is confidentiality.

And even though the title of Cook’s 2004 article begins, “Neutrality, no thanks,” she seems like she is challenging the impartiality and neutrality ethic, but a close reading indicates she is not. Cook instead examines the unique closeness between the deaf client and his/her interpreter in the diplomatic interpreting role. She does not advocate for or cite any instances where this closeness was used or should be used as an excuse to advise the deaf person or gossip about shared experiences during an interpreted setting.


Tying these observations to the question of whether “The L Word” has improved or moved forward the representation of deaf people on American TV or has the show taken representations backward? Not surprisingly, there is no clear answer to this question. “The L Word” writers and producers should be commended for including a deaf person as a regular for two seasons. It is never possible to adequately convey any group of people through one character. Certainly, as a result of “The L Word,” its audience is learning more about sign language, deaf speech, and the unlimited abilities, versatility, and complexities of deaf people. To use Moore’s term, the audience is given a “tourist pass” to enter the world of one deaf lesbian. But, at the same time, people are inappropriately learning that communication and access is always seamless, easy, and that having an interpreter always present is a realistic option for most deaf people.

Since “The L Word” went off the air, Matlin has continued in a variety of TV roles, and one type of TV role – as reality show contestant - may have inadvertently explained the Jodi-Tom relationship. With reality TV growing in popularity, Marlee Matlin joined the fray. She became a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2008 and on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011. Because reality TV doesn’t employ Matlin as an actor, her interpreter Jack Jason was no long behind the scenes on a sound stage but became visible to large TV audiences as he interpreted for her on-camera.

His name became known and he was profiled in The Los Angeles Times in May 2011, where he discussed how he became more than an interpreter to Matlin (similar to “The L Word’s” Tom character). “He's not simply an interpreter for hire. He's a confidant, a business advisor and, in a sense, serves as the voice for Matlin, whom he calls the ‘most visible deaf person in the world’" (Rojas, 2011). Jason explains how he jumped out of the interpreter role in a business meeting to take on a role as adviser and business partner to Matlin:

For more than 20 years, Jason has served as Matlin's conduit to an industry and a viewing public that sometimes doesn't grasp the concept of a deaf actress. Behind the scenes, he pitches her to casting directors and tweaks roles built for a hearing actor so that she can be a contender. Jason remembers the moment when the balance between being an interpreter and advisor shifted. It was in a long-ago meeting with movie executives in which he blurted out an idea for a version of ‘Wait Until Dark’ with a deaf character. That moment, Jason says, was when ‘I broke the mold. I stepped out of my interpreter role’ (Rojas, 2011).

What he doesn’t mention is that he is violating the guidelines for proper interpreter behavior. But the story of how he became Matlin’s interpreter shows that his relationship with Matlin seems to be more like what Cook (2004) calls “diplomatic interpreting,” in which the interpreter has a strong interest in the work of the deaf professional and based on their mutual trust, they move past an “interpreter for hire” only relationship. Jason met Matlin when he was a NYU graduate student in film, and he says he has always had an intense interest in the entertainment industry because he taught himself spoken English through watching television as a child.

So the kind of relationship Jack Jason and Marlee Matlin built for themselves is outside the bounds of what sign language interpreters usually provide for deaf clients. But that unique relationship has been seen in one place – in “The L Word’s” Tom and Jodi. So even though the Tom-Jodi relationship reflected few real experiences of the average deaf person, it did accurately mirror the interpreter-deaf client relationship of an Academy Award-winning actress and her interpreter turned business partner.


Advocate. (2008, Jan. 29). The L Word 5.0. p. 56. (2007). The L Word recaps, Lez Girls.

Akass, K. & McCabe, J. (2006). (Eds.) Reading The L Word. London: I.B. Tauris.

Anonymous. (August 2006). Email message to freelance and contract interpreters.

Cook, A. (2004). Neutrality? No thanks. Can a biased role be an ethical one? Journal of Interpretation, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Alexandria, Virginia.

Eng, J. (2008, Dec. 30). Jon Wolfe Nelson Readies for L Word's Final Sign-off.

Esther, J. (2008, Jan. 1). In the hear and now with Marlee Matlin. Lesbian News, pp. 36-37.

Holland, T. & Fuller, B. (2004). Wonderfalls DVD. [Episode commentary by director and executive producer.]

ILOTV, (2007, Dec. ). Marlee Matlin, ‘leading lady’ for people with disabilities. [YouTube video].

Internet Movie Database. (2008). Queer as Folk entry.

Lofaro, T. (2006, Oct. 7). Matlin defies her critics: Actress is comfortable appearing in adult drama. Ottawa Citizen, p. K6.

McQueen, A. M. (2006, Sept. 15). Matlin lives in the hear and now. The Ottawa Sun, p. 39.

Moore, C. (2007). Having it all ways: The tourist, the traveler, and the local in The L Word. Cinema Journal, 46:4, pp. 3-23.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2008). NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.

Penn, D. (2007, January). New season – new faces on The L Word. Lesbian News Magazine, pp. 28-32.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2008). Education and certification process.

Rodriguez, E.S. and Reguera. (2002). An international perspective: What are ethics for sign language interpreters? A Comparative Study among Different Codes of Ethics. Journal of Interpretation. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Alexandria, Virginia.

Rojas, R. (2011, May 21). Jack Jason gives voice to, but doesn't talk over, Marlee Matlin. Los Angeles Times.  

Scribegrrrl blog. (2007). I want Marlee Matlin to run for President. Accessed Dec. 29, 2007.

Showtime channel. (2004, Jan. 29). Showtime renews critically-acclaimed series “The L Word” for the second season. [Press release]. (2007). Bye-Bye, Bey-Bey. [Picket Fences episode 87, aired April 24, 1996]. Accessed Dec. 29, 2007.


1. An expanded version of this section later appeared in the article: Ransom, L. (2009). Representing us at any cost? RID Views, Vol. 26, Issue 4, pp. 54-55.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Haller SDS presentation 2011 - Social media and disability rights activism: Is the Internet finally providing ‘liberating technology?’

Social media and disability rights activism:
Is the Internet finally providing ‘liberating technology?’
Presentation for Society for Disability Studies conference
June 18, 2011, San Jose, CA
By Beth Haller, Ph.D., Towson University

Some history:
In the 1990s, media and disability scholar Jack Nelson (1994, 1999, 2000) wrote often about the technology he felt would be change the lives of many people with disabilities. In particular, he saw the Internet as a game changer, with its ability to allow people with disabilities to better access the social world without leaving their home computer.

The Internet was heralded as the “liberating technology” that allowed people with disabilities to be less isolated, as well as a way for people with disabilities to interact with others with fewer barriers (Sussman, 1994).

I won’t talk about it but at this same time, there was a lot of discussion as well about emerging virtual reality and what it might provide for people with disabilities. Cal State Northridge began a conference on technology and disability back in 1985. Early papers at the conference looked at the topic of virtual reality and other kinds of tech for PWD.

The CSUN conference on tech continues and has expanded to include exhibitors and “features more than 300 general session workshops and more than 150 exhibitors displaying the latest technologies for persons with disabilities” (CSUN, 2011).

But what Nelson was looking at specifically was the Internet’s power to transform lives. However in the early 1990s, when Nelson was making his predictions, only email, basic Web pages, bulletin boards, real-time online chats, and rudimentary virtual reality existed.

I argue that for all its promise, the Web 1.0 days of the Internet only provided “liberation” for some tech-savvy people with disabilities, rather than the whole community en masse. But I have more hope for Web 2.0 and social media and social networking.

For this paper, I analyzed some current disability activism that uses social media and argue that the promise of the Internet and cyberspace as a “liberating technology” is finally being fulfilled through social media and the social networking it provides. The add-on of mobile phone technology and its applications, as well as the ease of joining social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have combined to truly bring together the global disability community for activism, information exchange, and enjoyable social interaction (Dobbs, 2009).

I argue that social media has reinvigorated some disability rights activism, as well as fostering more interaction within the disability community regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, disability or geography. Social media allow disability advocates to use vast global networks of “friends” or “followers” to better promote the issues or events important to them.

First a word about the structure of these media:

One thing that is different about social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is that they are simple to use. In the past, anyone wanting to have a Web presence had to know some basic html or how to use Web design software. But the pre-set templates used in social media mean that in a couple of minutes anyone can be online with a Facebook page or Twitter account. They are easier to use than even basic blogger software. And I would argue FB and Twitter are less daunting because you can’t write that much.

However, there are some accessibility issues especially for people with visual impairments, intellectual disabilities (Fairweather and Trewin, 2010) or who use screen readers. I am not an apologist for FB but I think the same tech that makes FB so easy to use – pre-set templates – is what confounds screen readers. On the flipside, FB makes communication easier for people with hearing impairments or speech disabilities.

The power of social media for activism comes down to several aspects – the ease of sharing information through posting links and pictures and thoughts and the ease of having that same information sent to the networks of many other people. What would have been called “forwarding” in Web 1.0 but is called the Share button on FB or the Retweet button in Twitter. And for YouTube, the ease of putting information in a visual format that makes it more accessible to many people worldwide.

Those who study the impact of social media on activism in general put forward several theories about what social media provide;
 Tech writer Noorin Ladhani says: “Online social activism through social media should not even be compared to the physical act of social activism. Instead, it needs to be considered and evaluated as a vehicle for free speech, information sharing, and online organizing (2011, p. 57). She adds FB makes it much easier to organize people rather than the email or phone lists used in the past.

The benefits of Activism 2.0, according to those who study the intersection of cyberspace and communication (JasonF, 2011), are:
 Using social media to coordinate group gatherings
 Assembling organized numbers of people
 Using social media to warn like-minded people about those who are against the group’s activist stance
 Real time updates allows a group to adjust to any actions against it
 Getting messages to people not directly involved but still interested in the activism
 Enlist support and/or coverage from the media and others around the world

Those who watch political advocacy say “in today's social media age, any issue advocacy or public affairs campaign that relies solely on traditional media and paid advertising will simply not succeed” (Lawrence, 2010).

As you might expect, this has many implications for disability activism. For example, as recently as a few weeks ago, British activists used social media to organize a protest against disability cuts, The protest brought London traffic to a halt for an hour (BBC News, 2011).

Disability activist and writer Laura Hershey explained how social media like Facebook fosters ongoing connections between disability rights advocates from around the world. Hershey, who had spinal muscular atrophy, explained, “it's not so much about meeting new people as staying connected with longtime fellow advocates: ‘When you see people once or twice a year, or even less often, it's hard to keep up with them. Facebook lets us stay in contact, even see each other's photos of home, families, local actions, travels, etc’" (Dobbs, 2009).

New Mobility reported that “social networking can, in many cases, propel [disabled] people into additional civic involvement when attending every meeting or demonstration is unrealistic.” Basically social networking provides some added accessibility for people with disabilities to participate in activism.

"Participating in quasi-political action through Facebook is easy," says power chair user TK Small, a 44-year-old Brooklyn attorney, disability radio show co-host and real-life advocate who is also a member of 11 Facebook activism groups (Dobbs, 2009).

NY disability activist Mike Volkman (2009) says it was worth trading anonymity for advocacy through social media like Facebook. After he joined FB, he said the largest group he interacted with there were members of the disability rights community. About a third of his FB friends “are what Justin Dart referred to as ‘colleagues in justice,’" Volkman says.

For him, FB allows barriers of time and distance to melt away. FB creates a kind of “open space” for the disability rights community – “an unregulated, unprogrammed time and place where free-flowing ideas can spring up out of nowhere. We have people in every corner of the country, and we have new friends from far-flung places like Great Britain and even Mongolia who want to be a big part of what we are doing” (Volkman, 2009).

Social media becomes a way for disability rights organizations & activist to steer people across the Internet to their activities.

For this paper, I analyzed the social media presence of several disability organizations – National Adapt Freeourpeople on FB and Twitter and DREDF on FB and Twitter.

National ADAPT Twitter feed, which has 1700+ followers, and FB page, which has 1600+ friends, has become a repository for much of what is going with ADAPT nationally and locally, as well as connecting to other disability rights initiatives by posting links, pictures and videos.

When ADAPT protested Medicaid changes in DC in early May, it live tweeted much of what was going on, including the arrest of about 100 disability activists. Its Twitter feed included:
 Pictures from ADAPT protestors and others and information about those arrested
 It gave links to any media coverage.
 It gave information so someone who wanted to participate but couldn’t be in DC could follow along.
 People not in DC could even become active by calling Rep. Paul Ryan via the phone # ADAPT tweeted. Ryan’s budget proposal would cut Medicaid funding by more than $700 billion and shift control of the program to the states.

The tweets really try to build a cross-disability community. A May 3 tweet said: “Remember that ADAPT fights for all disabilities: physical, dd, psychiatric, blind, deaf, autism, MCS, everyone. That is why we are here.”

Later in May, local ADAPT groups held protests in Chicago, Philadelphia and Minnesota and the live tweeting continued with updates, photos and videos from those actions. For example, “Check out awesome raw video from @uptakemn -- really captured passion/support + security professionalism” (Sorem, 2011). The video was uploaded on a MN citizen journalism site The Uptake and was titled, “I’d Rather Go To Jail Than Die In A Nursing Home.”

Because FB is a more visual medium with thumbnails of pictures and videos to draw people in, many orgs use them for that purpose. After the May DC action, ADAPT’s FB page became a repository for protestors pictures as National ADAPT was tagged in many of the activists photos.


The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) has had a YouTube channel since 2009. DREDF’s activism takes place in the courtroom and through lobbying and public policy development primarily but the 32-year-old org has embraced social media.

It regularly tweets about disability rights and access cases in the news, government policy changes, and its own advocacy work. For example, in April 2011, it tweeted about the FB page it set up as an Action Alert for people to Call/Email Congress to Cosponsor the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act on Wednesday, May 4, 2011. This bill would allow parents to recover expert witness fees when they prevail in due process hearings and court actions under the IDEA. Through FB and Twitter, DREDF is reaching out to people with disabilities and their families about significant disability rights issues.

Its YouTube channel has training videos such as helping parents understand the special education process and how to advocate for their disabled child and it has posted its historic video (formerly a VHS tape), “The Power of 504”: “Award-winning 18-minute documentary video, which captures the drama and emotions of the historic civil rights demonstration of people with disabilities in 1977, resulting in the signing of the 504 Regulations, the first Federal Civil Rights Law protecting people with disabilities. Includes contemporary news footage and news interviews with participants and demonstration leaders.”

These are just a few of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of examples of disability organizations, disability activists, and individuals with disabilities using social media to further the cause of disability rights. The power of social media for activism will only grow in strength, I believe. As tech watcher Noorin Ladhani says, social media should be evaluated as a tool for change, not as the tool that will change the world.

As activist Mike Volkman says, “What we are doing now with Facebook really shows the true potential of what the Internet can do to transform our society. We are seeing changes that rival historically the invention of the printing press.” With social media, the Internet truly is becoming the “liberating technology” that was promised for people with disabilities.

Let me end with a Justin Dart concept that applies, I believe, to the use of social media for disability rights activism. He spoke of the disability community “rededicating itself to united advocacy" (2010), and social media can make that unity happen.


BBC News (2011, May 26). London pensioner and disabled protest disrupts traffic.  

Cal State Northridge (2011, Feb. 27). CSUN Disability Conference to Explore Global Assistive Technology, [press release]  

Dobbs, J. (2009, Sept.). “Why does Facebook matter?” New Mobility,

DREDF YouTube channel. (2009). The power of 504, part 1,  

Fairweather, P. & Trewin, S. (2010, June). Cognitive impairments and Web 2.0. Universal Access in the Information Society, pp. 137-146.

JasonF. (2011, April 12). Don’t worry activism isn’t changing, it’s getting better!
The Art of CyberDribble blog,  

Ladhani, N. (2011). The Organizing Impact of Social Networking. Social Policy, 40(4), 57.

Lawrence, D. (2010). How Political Activists are making the Most of Social Media. .

Nelson, J. (2000). The Media Role in Building the Disability Community. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p180.

Nelson, J. (1999, August). The media's role in building the disability community. Paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Nelson, J. (1994). The Virtual Community: A Place for the No-Longer-Disabled. Paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Atlanta, Ga.

Sorem, B. (2011, May 11). “I’d Rather Go To Jail Than Die In A Nursing Home”- Handicap Protest Budget Cuts, The Uptake, [Video],

Sussman, V. (1994, Sept. 12). Opening doors to an inaccessible world. U.S. News & World Report. P. 85.

United Advocacy. (2010). Justin Dart. From one came much. Continuing the revolution of empowerment.

Volkman, M. (2009, Sept.). Trading anonymity for advocacy. New Mobility,

Monday, June 6, 2011

Models of Narrative Themes about Disability in News Stories

Traditional Categories

Medical Model: Disability is presented as an illness or malfunction. Persons who are disabled are shown as dependent on health professionals for cures or maintenance. Individuals with disabilities are passive and do not participate in "regular" activities because of disability (Clogston, 1990).

Social Pathology Model: People with disabilities are presented as disadvantaged and must look to the state or to society for economic support, which is considered a gift, not a right (Clogston, 1990).

Supercrip Model: The person with a disability is portrayed as deviant because of "superhuman" feats (i.e. ocean-sailing blind man) or as "special" because they live regular lives "in spite of disability" (i.e. deaf high school student who play softball). This role reinforces the idea that people with disabilities are deviant -- that the person's accomplishments are amazing for someone who is less than complete (Clogston, 1993).

Business Model: People with disabilities and their issues are presented as costly to society and business especially. Making society accessible for people with disabilities is not really worth the cost and overburdens businesses. It is not a "good value" for society or businesses. Accessibility is not seen as profitable (Haller, 1995).

Progressive Categories

Minority/Civil Rights Model: People with disabilities are seen as members of the disability community, which has legitimate political grievances. They have civil rights that they may fight for, just like other groups. Accessibility in society is a civil right (Clogston, 1990).

Legal Model: It is illegal to treat people with disabilities in certain ways. They have legal rights and may need to sue to guarantee those rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws are presented as legal tools to halt discrimination (Haller, 1995).

Cultural Pluralism Model: People with disabilities are seen as multifaceted people and their disabilities do not receive undue attention. They are presented as non-disabled people would be (Clogston, 1990).

Consumer Model: People with disabilities are shown to represent an untapped consumer group. Making society accessible could be profitable to businesses and society in general. If people with disabilities have access to jobs, they will have more disposable income. If people with disabilities have jobs, they will no longer need government assistance (Haller, 1995).


Clogston, J. S. (1993). Changes in coverage patterns of disability issues in three major American newspapers, 1976-1991. Paper presented to the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Kansas City, Mo.

Clogston, J.S. (1990). Disability Coverage in 16 Newspapers. Louisville: Advocado Press.

Haller, B. (1995, Spring). Rethinking Models of Media Representation of Disability, Disability Studies Quarterly, 15:2.

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~