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PWR1LF: #NoBodyIsDisposable: The Rhetoric of Disability

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 Number: PWR 1LF

Instructor: Lindsey Felt

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


"Were I to contract coronavirus, I imagine a doctor might read my chart, look at me, and think I'm a waste of their efforts and precious resources that never should have been in shortage to begin with," writes Alice Wong, a disabled activist tweeting under the hashtag #NoBodyIsDisposable. "Eugenics is happening right in front of us. Don't look away and wish for the return of 'normal' because normal was never great to begin with."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five people in the United States lives with a disability. New and emerging disability categories such as neurodiversity, psychiatric disabilities, chronic illness, disabilities of aging and the immunocompromised continue to broaden disability's umbrella. Now, COVID-19 is leaving behind survivors with lasting health complications who will join this community.

Our current moment has shined a light on the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as "normal," along with the arguments we make—or don't make—for which bodies should be valued. In this class we will move beyond historical notions that stigmatize disability as "abnormality" to study how contemporary perspectives on disability are shaped by legal and economic policy, technology and medicine, race, class, gender, and cultural discourse. This course looks at representations of disability across a diverse range of sources, including social media, film, news media, art, and popular culture. We'll consider for instance how Vision Portraits, a documentary chronicling the experiences of blind artists and their creative processes, and LA Times article, "How Do You Sign Black Lives Matter in ASL?", make claims about the ways disability shapes language. Readings by disability studies scholars and activists will help us study disability as a rhetorical tool for parsing ideas about able-bodiedness, normalcy, and health.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) You will analyze the rhetorical strategies of a selected text, image, or media object that engages with disability. Examples might include a speech, blog, podcast, personal essay, or advertisement. How does the creator use language, narrative, or imagery to construct an argument about disability? How does the context or audience shape the reception of this message?

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment serves as a primer for your research project, asking you to identify and investigate a topic related to an issue of disability that interests you. You will conduct a comprehensive examination of literature, weighing the different perspectives critics bring to your research focus. For example, you might examine the ethical debates around prenatal testing for genetic disorders, or online activist movements such as #CripTheVote, #SuckItAbleism, or #DisabilityTooWhite. Other topics might consider the public skepticism of service animals' legitimacy, or the influence disability has on the design of mobile apps or urban architecture.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) For this final project, you will craft an original argument in response to a research question you developed in the Texts in Conversation assignment. By drawing on a unique body of research that highlights your own stance, you will have an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing conversation around disability studies.