LSJ/CHID 332, Winter 2008
Disability and Society: Introduction to Disability Studies


Presentations for the architectural accessibility survey
Denny Hall (PP 1.3Mb)
Eagleson Hall (PP 38Mb)
William H. Gates Hall, School of Law (PP 6.3Mb)
Gould Hall (PP 41.5Mb)
Hansee Hall (PP 2.5Mb)
Smith Hall (PP. 3.5Mb)
Suzzallo Library (PP 1.5Mb)
Thomson Hall (PP 800kb)

Essay #1

Value: 15%
Length: 3 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12-point font
DUE: Sunday Feb. 1, 11pm

Submit electronically to the course dropbox:
link to dropbox


  • Your answer must refer substantially to at least TWO texts from the required course readings, weeks 1-4. No additional research is required or recommended.
  • Give citations to specific passages from the texts that you use to support your points, e.g. (Linton 23). Do not use long quotations–put ideas in your own words.
  • The opening paragraph must have a clear thesis statement that sums up your main arguments about the material.
  • Include a bibliography of sources cited (MLA or APA style is fine).
  • Respond to all of the prompts below as thoroughly as possible. Evaluation of your essay will be based on how complete and appropriate your analyses of the texts are. Your answers should show that you comprehend the main points made by the authors, and that you can synthesize the material we have covered so far.
  • Grading will also take into account quality of writing and documentation, so be sure to proofread your work.

Explain the differences between the individual interpretation of disability (i.e. the medical, moral, and tragedy models) and the social/cultural interpretation (i.e. the social model). Why is disability predominantly perceived as an individual problem by the general public and certain professions? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the social model as a framework for analyzing disability? Why is it generally preferred by disability studies scholars, activists, and disabled people themselves? Discuss a few specific examples from the texts to illustrate your arguments, such as definitions and language used in different contexts, representations of disability from different perspectives, and historical events or lived experiences described by the authors.

Architectural accessibility survey group project

Total value: 15%

DUE (REVISED): Sunday Feb. 22 by 11pm, all group and individual work must be submitted to the course dropbox (


Overview: The assignment is to conduct an architectural accessibility survey of a University of Washington building or other government building. This survey will be done with a group of 4 or 5 students. The survey results will be presented in a 2-page report and in a portfolio or slideshow.


Part 1. Form your groups (due Sun. Jan. 25)

We will randomly assign you to a group of 4-5 students by January 25th. However, you are free to create your own groups if you choose. If you have a group, please let Megan Morris know by the afternoon of Jan. 25. There are two grades that each student receives from this assignment—one is a group grade based on the survey presentation and report and the second is an individual grade based on the group process report that each of you turns in at the end of the assignment. Part of this assignment is to learn to work together in a group task and students are responsible for the participation or lack thereof of their fellow group members. Therefore the group needs to negotiate at the beginning as to responsibilities and expectations of all members.


Part 2. Choose the building (due Thurs. Jan. 29 by the start of class)

Your first task as a group is to choose the building that you wish to assess for accessibility. Any state government building is acceptable, which includes all campus buildings. When you have decided, one member of the group should email Megan Morris your selection. We will assign buildings on a first come, first served basis—in other words, no duplicates—so it behooves your group to select quickly.


Part 3. Assess the building for accessibility

We have a packet of federal accessibility survey forms that are appropriate for governmental buildings (posted as a pdf on the course website). You will use these forms to gather the data necessary to write your final report on the accessibility. Please complete the form as a group when you do the accessibility survey and turn it in with the report and presentation. Please take a look at the forms before you start actually evaluating the building so that you know what you are looking for. We expect you to pay attention to both the tangible aspects of accessibility (such as whether building meets the specific physical requirements) and the intangible (consider for instance the points made in the Mutua reading). Once you are clear on what you are doing, go to the building with necessary equipment to record your findings—i.e., tape measures, cameras if you choose, survey forms, etc. Remember to be as unobtrusive as possible. This is to be sure that you don't disturb classes in session, students or staff working, or otherwise create disruptions. If someone asks, you should explain politely what you are doing and if there is any anxiety on your part or someone in the building, show him/her your assignment. If you can't get into an area, just note that on your report. It goes without saying that you need to be respectful of persons and property. And have fun!


Part 4. Prepare your presentation and 2-page report of your findings (due Sun. Feb. 22, 11pm)

Your group will receive a grade that is a combination of your online presentation and your final report. The final report is a 2-page summary (in the form of a memo) of your findings that should be addressed to the building facilities coordinator and applicable Dean or other Administrative head of the building. Finding this person may be challenging; if you run into difficulties, don't hesitate to contact one of the instructors. Dr. Brian Dudgeon as the Chair of the UW Standing Committee on Accessibility should be cced on the memo. One of the challenges in being part of a group is deciding who will do what in the group. Part of the process is deciding whether all of you will design the presentation, or only some of the group. Similarly, it is up to the group members to decide how to write the report—i.e., by all or some or one of you. All of these ways are acceptable; we leave it up to each group to work it out. But remember, there is one grade that all in the group will receive.

Presentation: Your group must choose how to present your information. The instructors must be able to post your presentation on the course website for your classmates to view and comment on. You can create your presentation as an online portfolio (for example using Catalyst tools), or you can create a PowerPoint slide show. An effective display will likely include images from your research along with easily read text that describes and briefly analyzes your key results. Try to be concise: you should need only a few slides or pages to summarize your information effectively. Whatever format your group chooses to present the information, the goal is to tell your audience what you did, what you found, and what you recommend for improving accessibility.

2-page report (memo): It is common for major studies to start with an executive summary that succinctly describes the findings of the study. Think about your 2-page memo in this way. Dr. Dudgeon doesn't have time to read through all your details of the evaluation—i.e., how wide is the door in the McCarty Hall lobby—but he does want to know of any problems in the building and any ideas your group has about how to fix them. If your group found 100% compliance—great. You can report that as well. The summary can include some of the same things as your presentation but it should be in narrative form. Included in this summary should also be suggestions for how to "fix" problems that you find with low-cost, relatively simple/easy solutions. Be creative but be realistic! Included in your summary should be an interpretation of how the space does or doesn't represent the "majority" culture and certain types of bodies and cognitive abilities. Ask yourself how welcoming the building is to others including individuals with disabilities.


Part 5. Complete your group process report (due Feb. 22, 11pm)

Each member of the group must turn in their own group process report. The report should include a brief narrative that tells us what the group did to pull together the survey, memo, and presentation. In other words, what was your process to complete the assignment? Included in this should be a brief description (one or two sentences) of what each member of the group did.

Media project

MEDIA PROJECT: How is disability represented in our culture?

Total value: 20%

DUE: Sunday March 8 by 11pm, submit your portfolio URL to the course dropbox

Overview of the project: Each student will research various kinds of media sources about disability, choose 4 texts that can be linked thematically, write an interpretation of them, and present this completed work in an online portfolio to be viewed by the entire class. Your media items must include fiction, non-fiction, and "new media." It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the Catalyst Web Tools needed to create a well-designed portfolio ( The instructors will be available outside class time to answer questions about your research and presentation.

Requirements for this project:

            You must collect 3 media items (out of 4 total) and submit descriptions and preliminary interpretations of them for feedback on these days:

Sun. Jan. 25, Feb. 8, and Feb. 22 by 11pm to Catalyst Collect It box (see course website).

             On Sun. Mar. 8, 11pm your completed portfolio of FOUR media items and interpretations is due. The portfolio must include all of these:

· A copy of each item (or an image or segment from it if possible).

· A brief written description accompanying each item.

· A written analysis interpreting the items together. This should be about 2 double-spaced pages of text. Examine your items through the lens of the disability studies approach, focusing on issues such as stereotyping, identity, and the individual and social models (see next page). Present your items according to a unifying theme of your choice. Give references to specific material from the course readings to support your arguments.

 Media items or "artifacts":

            Disability is everywhere in our culture and everyday life, once you know to look for it. During this quarter, each of you will collect a total of 4 media depictions of disability. Consider these items as "texts" consisting of words and/or images. It's your job to interpret their meaning and significance, and tie them all together with a common theme. As you read the news, watch TV and movies, read fiction, look at art, surf the web, and move through your everyday activities, be aware of the disability content of items such as blogs, online magazines, news reports, TV shows, movies, books, advertisements, cartoons, visual or performance art, etc. The course readings will give you more examples of what to look for. Be original! Don't select all mass media items and hero/pity stories. Seek out some alternative sources that depict disability in progressive or ambiguous ways. Complexity is good. Aim for a mix of sources and messages.

 You must include at least one item from each of these categories:

· A piece of fiction (e.g. movie, TV show, short story, piece of artwork…)

· A piece of non-fiction (e.g. news report, advertisement, biographical narrative…)

· A web-based "new media" piece (e.g. blog, wiki, online magazine, YouTube…)

 Objectives and interpretations:

            The goal of this project is to explore how disability tends to be portrayed in different media and for what variety of purposes. Your interpretations must utilize the disability studies approach you're learning in this course. In your chosen media items, what "stories" are told and by whom? Whose perspectives and experiences are represented, whose are not? What audiences read these texts, and how do they interpret them? What are the predominant messages, images, stereotypes, etc.? What do these tell us about the relationship between disability and society? What kinds of alternative representations emerge when the voices of disabled people themselves are heard? Do the necessary research and answer these questions about each media item you've selected:     

· Who produced it, for whom, and why?

· Where was it produced, where was it found?

· Whose voices are heard, whose are not?

· What message(s) about disability does it convey and how?

· How can it be interpreted using the individual and/or social models of disability?

· Does it mean different things to different audiences?

· Does it succeed in its aims? Is it a favorable, harmful, or ambiguous representation?

 Written analysis:

            Make a significant and coherent argument about the meaning(s) of your 4 chosen media items. In other words, tie them all together to make a few key points about how and why disability gets portrayed and interpreted. Compare and contrast your items in terms of what messages they communicate to what audiences, how they make their meanings, and why they are effective and/or problematic. You are like the curator of a museum exhibit, who must make decisions about which artifacts to display, how to organize them, and what you want your viewers to come away with. Your project should reflect the diversity of views on disability, especially when you choose complex items open to multiple, conflicting, or ambiguous meanings. As you're starting your research, plan out what kinds of portrayals you're interested in evaluating and what kinds of texts you can effectively compare and contrast. We're looking for as complete a description and analysis as possible in the equivalent of a few written pages. Use references to specific material from the course readings where that helps support your points.

 Portfolio presentation:

            Your finished project will be published on the web for other students to view and comment on if they wish. So aim to find unique, remarkable items that we can use for future class discussions (i.e. do some research beyond the well-known pop culture depictions). Make sure that you include one text from each category fiction, non-fiction, and new media. Spend some time finding a creative way to display your items on the portfolio pages for maximum impact and readability. The procedures for posting and organizing your work (images and written components) on the Catalyst Portfolio site should be straightforward. Your project will be evaluated for how complete and sophisticated your analysis is using the disability studies framework, a significant linking theme, and relevant material from the course readings. Your grade will also take into account how original and interesting your chosen items are and how well designed your display is.

Essay #2


Value: 20%

Length: 4 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12-point font

DUE: Tues. March 17, by 11pm

Submit electronically to the course assignments Catalyst dropbox: 


            For this essay you will analyze disability studies scholarship and develop your ideas about one of the disability issues or concepts that you learned about in this course. A list of topics is provided on this handout. The prompts are intended to be fairly open-ended, suggesting for each topic some questions to answer in your argumentative essay. You must choose what examples to focus on and what sources are most useful and appropriate. If you have an alternative topic idea you must get it approved by the instructor before beginning your work. Your analysis of your chosen topic must make extensive use of at least one scholarly source outside the required course readings. You must also cite material from at least two required course texts to support your thesis as thoroughly as possible.

            The goal of this final assignment is to apply and evaluate some of the disability studies concepts in relation to a current controversial topic that you're interested in exploring beyond the course texts. Your evidence, arguments, and conclusions should demonstrate that you are critically engaging with the material and that you appreciate the nuances and complexities involved in disability studies, disability policy debates, the disability community, and the disability rights movement.


  • Your essay must include substantial references to and analysis of at least TWO relevant texts from the required course readings AND at least ONE additional scholarly text (i.e. a published article that thoroughly cites its sources, not a web-based text) from your own research or from the supplementary materials provided on the course website and on reserve in Odegaard Library. You may want to use more than the minimum number of sources.

·         The opening paragraph must have a clear thesis statement that sums up your main arguments about the material.

·         Give citations to specific passages from the texts that you use to support your points, e.g. (Linton 23). You may use in-text references or footnotes.

·         You must include a bibliography of sources cited (use one consistent style).

·         Evaluation of your essay will be based on how complete, appropriate, and sophisticated your analyses of the texts and concepts are. Your answers should show that you comprehend the main points made by the authors, and that you can compare and contrast ideas from different sources.

·         Grading will also take into account quality of writing and documentation, so be sure to proofread your work.

TOPICS (choose one):


1. Impairment: What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the conceptual distinction between "disability" and "impairment" in disability studies? Why have some scholars and disabled people begun challenging this distinction and what alternative theories of impairment do they present? How are impairment and embodiment explored in personal narratives of life with disability? What do you think about these developments in the field?


2. Bioethics: How do private decisions and public policies about pre-natal genetic testing and/or end of life (known as assisted suicide or death with dignity) impact the disability community? What arguments are made about the ethics of one or both of these practices? How do different writers address the underlying issue of quality of life for persons with disabilities, and how do their arguments relate to disability studies and disability rights?


3. Identity: What is meant by "disability identity" and how is this important to the disability community (or the Deaf community)? What are the connections between disability culture and political activism? Evaluate two or more disability studies texts or disability narratives that present different perspectives on personal identity, cultural identity, and/or identity politics.


4. Technology and cures: Is there a unified perspective within the disability community (or the Deaf community) about the use of assistive technologies and/or medical interventions? Why or why not? Evaluate two or more texts that present different perspectives on this issue. How do these texts help you to think critically about the distinction between the individual/medical model and the social model of disability?


5. Intersections: Why do some disability studies scholars argue that is it important to study how disability is related to other identities or markers of difference such as race and ethnicity, class, sex/gender, or sexuality? Evaluate some of the advantages and limitations of drawing analogies between the experiences of different marginalized groups in society.


6. Policy: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Americans with Disabilities Act as civil rights legislation? What criticisms have been voiced and by whom regarding recent court rulings on the ADA employment (Title I) provisions, such as the Sutton v. United Air Lines case? How might policies and attitudes about inclusion be different if disability were considered as a kind of human variation rather than as a minority group?


7. History: Why is it important to study disability as yet another category of "others" in the history of Western civilization along with race, gender, class, etc.? Why has disability been mostly neglected by historians and how can this be remedied? How does research in disability history relate to the field of disability studies? Support your arguments with references to one or two historical periods or major developments such as the history of institutionalization or the history of the disability rights movement.

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Last modified: 2/24/2009 2:18 PM