You are here

CHID 430 A: Topics in Disability Studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 2:30pm - 4:20pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
DIS ST 430 A
Joanne Woiak

Syllabus Description:

DIS ST / CHID 430 Topics in Disability Studies: Disability Histories


Course evaluation link: Thank you for taking the time to fill this out! It will close on 12/15.


Instructor: Joanne Woiak



Wednesday Class Meetings, 2:30-4:20pm:


Office Hours:


Download full syllabus (Word doc)  

About the Course

Getting Started

The course is designed to provide flexibility in how you access the content and how you show your engagement with the material. Mondays will be pre-recorded lectures and films. Wednesdays will be synchronous class meetings for discussion of the course materials.

Joanne's course introduction video (Panopto)

To begin the course, on the Canvas website go to the Course Introduction module.

Course Description

“It is time to bring disability from the margins to the center of historical inquiry.” This course engages with topics and themes in the histories of disability, especially in the United States. We will explore historian Douglas Baynton’s 2001 idea that historical analysis should more fully encompass the lives of disabled people as well as the ways that the concept of disability has worked with—and against—other forms of discrimination in American society. Our goals are to think critically about science and medicine in relation to claims about human differences, and to deepen our understanding of the history of disability and ableism. How does disability as a category of analysis inform other social categories such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality? We’ll focus especially on the interconnected social constructions of disability and race. Our readings, many of them interdisciplinary, are grouped thematically and each section explores experiences of oppression and activism. The topics include histories of medicine, ableism, and racism; citizenship and rights; and community, culture, and family.

Learning Goals

  • Understand the history of disability and activism in connection with other social categories.
  • Gain a theoretical background in the field of disability studies (DS) and apply the concept of the social construction of disability.
  • Investigate how normalcy is constituted through gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability.
  • Consider how classifications have shaped and/or been shaped by medical science/practice.
  • Develop skills in critical thinking and writing about diversity and intersecting identities.

Readings & Lectures

All of the required readings are on the course website as pdf files or links. Please let me know if there are any problems accessing those.

It’s expected that you do the required reading before Wednesday class begins and be prepared to discuss your ideas, queries, and opinions. Consult the course website regularly for readings, film & podcast links, lectures, supplementary texts, and updates to the assignments.

The pre-recorded lectures will be posted in Canvas on the afternoon they are scheduled, usually by 2:30pm. You can view the lectures from the Panopto Recordings folder or by going to the Module for each week.


  • 30% Reading Responses – do 6 weeks
  • 15% Discussion Posts – do 6 weeks
  • 5% Essay Proposal
  • 10% Annotated Bibliography with updated proposal
  • 10% Draft Essay
  • 5% Peer Review
  • 25% Final Essay (projects in other formats are welcomed – consult with me in advance)

Learning Remotely

Course Introduction module

Student Support Resources page

Classroom Community - Discussion Guidelines

This is an advanced seminar in which discussion of the required texts is an important method of instruction. Please read all of the week's texts before the start of Wednesday class and be prepared to talk about them.

 Discussions and assignments are intended to help you to develop ideas about the themes of the course and to sharpen your skills in critical thinking, textual analysis, synthesis of knowledge, and written and oral communication. Students must be prepared to engage with a heavy reading load of texts from a variety of disciplines and sources. Participation involves expressing your own knowledge, opinions, and reasoned arguments, as well as constructively listening and responding to your classmates. You are expected to show that you have analyzed the readings and that you are forming ideas and opinions about the themes of the course.

My aim is to create a respectful, open learning environment, where people should feel comfortable sharing ideas and speaking their opinions. Many of the topics covered raise sensitive questions of ethics, identity, and policy. You will be expected to critically examine your own beliefs in comparison with those of others and as they relate to issues in disability studies. Students in the class have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. For some, the information may be completely new; others may have previous knowledge of disability, sexuality, and gender issues or oppression. Please keep in mind that this course is being taught from an anti-oppressive point of view, and the principal goal is to teach and apply the academic disability studies approach. 

Academic Integrity

You must document where you found ALL the information, ideas, opinions, etc. that you borrowed and utilized in your essay. Direct quotations, paraphrases, information, interpretations, and opinions taken from another person’s work must be identified. Cite the sources of all material by means of in-text citations or footnotes (give page numbers), and provide a bibliography at the end of your paper listing all sources you consulted. Any standard documentation style is acceptable, as long as you are consistent and give all the required publication information.

All work submitted for course credit must be an original effort. Plagiarism means presenting the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own, for example by turning in someone else’s work or failing to document material you have quoted or borrowed.  You are responsible for understanding all aspects of University regulations regarding academic integrity.


Grading scale

A  4.0: 97-100

B+ 3.3: 87

B- 2.6: 80

C 1.9: 73

D+ 1.2: 66

A 3.9: 95-96

B+ 3.2: 86

B- 2.5: N/A

C- 1.8: 72

D 1.1: 65

A- 3.8: 93-94

B 3.1: 85

C+ 2.4: 78-79

C- 1.7: 71

D 1.0: 64

A- 3.7: 92

B 3.0: 84

C+ 2.3: 77

C- 1.6: 70

D 0.9: 63

A- 3.6: 91

B 2.9: 83

C+ 2.2: 76

C- 1.5: N/A

D- 0.8: 61-62

A- 3.5: 90

B- 2.8: 82

C 2.1: 75

D+ 1.4: 68-69

D- 0.7: 60

B+ 3.4: 88-89

B- 2.7: 81

C 2.0: 74

D+ 1.3: 67

E 0.0: 0-59

Policies for submitting work and late work:

All work for this course will be submitted electronically via Canvas. Assignments received late will receive grade penalties of 5% per day. No extra credit or rewrites. You are encouraged to consult with the instructor about your ideas and questions regarding the assignments and class participation.


Syllabus Resources

Access and Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to me and we are trying to create an inclusive learning environment. If you anticipate or encounter barriers participating or demonstrating your learning because of any aspect of how the course is taught, I encourage you to contact me as soon as possible so that we can discuss options. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Note that while this is directly applicable to students who are registered with DRS, you do not need to disclose a disability or provide an accommodations letter to discuss accessibility and your needs in this course. Please feel free to talk with me about any aspect of accommodations or accessibility.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy.  Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Assignments Requirements

Essay: 4 versions will be submitted:

  • One-page topic proposal, due Week 5.
  • Annotated bibliography of at least 3 sources and updated proposal, due Week 7.
  • Draft essay and participation and peer review, due Week 10.
  • Final version of the essay: 7-8 pages that synthesizes class texts along with 2 outside sources to make a cohesive argument on a topic of your choice.
  • NOTE: You’re welcomed and encouraged to share your ideas and preferences for other modes/formats of expressing your ideas besides a traditional paper; please let me know.

Discussion Posts & Replies to Peers (total value 15%)


  • Discussion posts will have a weekly prompt, and consist of 2 components: post and reply.
  • Each week the assignment is worth 2.5 points.
  • If you write a post in more than the required 6 weeks, the lowest grade will be dropped.
  • The instructor will provide prompts that may consist of a worksheet or questions about the texts and films.
  • After you have posted your answer to the prompt, you will provide a thoughtful reply commenting on the post of one of your peers. Due dates and point values will be on Canvas.
  • In order to get full credit, both posts and replies should be thoughtful, respectful, and engage critically with the topics of the week and the ideas posed by other students.
  • You have the option to respond using the mode of your choice, whether that's audiovideo, text, or images.  If you use audio or video, be sure to include captions or a transcript. If you use images, be sure to include an image description.
  • Remember our community discussion guidelines.

Due Dates:

Posts will usually be due on Tuesdays at 11pm, with some exceptions.

Replies will usually be due on Sundays at 11pm.

Reading Responses (total value 30%):

You will be required to hand in Reading Responses a total of 6 times.

Note: there will be 7 Reading Response assignments, so you can skip any one of them or your lowest grade will be dropped.

Each response is worth 5 points. They are due on Fridays.

You will select ONE of the assigned readings for the week and submit answers to a set of questions.

You are required to compose thoughtful responses to the required readings. Refer to specific passages and relate texts to each other where possible. Keep in mind that your work will be evaluated according to quality, not just quantity.

Responses must show that you understand the main points of the text and how they relate to disability studies. Make sure your analysis is informed by what we have learned and that you give clearly stated reasons. You can draw on your own knowledge and experience, but you must also engage with readings and discussions.

You must answer all of the following:

  • First paragraph: Context (2 sentences) worth 1 point

    • Give the name of the author and title of the article or chapter.
    • Who is the author? What background do they come from?
  • Second paragraph: Description (5-6 sentences) worth 2 points

    • Summarize the article’s main points. What does the author want the reader to know and to do, and why?
  • Third paragraph: Analysis (5-6 sentences) worth 2 points

    • How effective is the evidence and reasoning?
    • Disability studies lens: How does this article challenge assumptions about disability or offer a new understanding? How does the text reflect a DS perspective?
    • How does it relate to other readings, or why is the article significant in relation to the topics or themes of the class?

Schedule of Topics, Readings, Activities

Schedule is subject to change - consult Canvas regularly


Part I What is disability

Sept 30 Introductions

Activities for Week 1:

  • Please view Joanne’s welcome video & the “Course introduction” module
  • Watch the film:
    • Lives Worth Living (50 minutes)
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 2: Discussion Post Week 1



Week 2 Making History: Disability and Normalcy

Activities for Week 2:

  • Lecture Monday Oct 5:

    • Disability and Normalcy in Historical Perspective
  • Finish watching the film: Lives Worth Living
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Oct 7, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 9: Reading Response Week 2


  • Kim Nielsen, “Introduction” to A Disability History of the United States
  • Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner, “Introduction” to Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson
  • Katherine Ott, “Disability Things: Material Culture and American Disability History”


Part II History of medicine and disability as racist discourses


Week 3 Justifying Inequalities

Activities for Week 3:

  • Lecture Mon Oct 12:

    • History of Human Differences: Critical Perspectives on Medicine and Biology
  • Podcast with transcript:
    • “Disability and Slavery in the Caribbean” by Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy (Episode 20, June 2020), Disability History Association,
  • Assignment due Tues Oct 13: Discussion Post Week 3
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Oct 14, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 16: Reading Response Week 3


  • Douglas Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History”
  • Dea Boster, “Unfit for Ordinary Purposes: Disability, Slaves, and Decision Making in the Antebellum American South”
  • Kim Nielsen, “I Am Disabled, and Must Go at Something Else Besides Hard Labor”


Week 4 Mental Disability & Anti-Black Racism

Activities for Week 4:

  • Webinar (the first 56 minutes):

  • Podcast with transcript:
  • Assignment due Tues Oct 20: Discussion Post Week 4
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Oct 21, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 23: Reading Response Week 4
  • DUE this week: Essay topic proposal


  • Vanessa Jackson, “In Our Own Voice: African-American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovering in Mental Health Systems”
  • Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner, Unspeakable (Chapters 1 & 2 required, and if you have read these for other classes before, please & write about read additional chapters)
  • Eli Clare, “Freaks and Queers”


Part III Citizenship & rights


Week 5 Histories and Legacies of Eugenics

Activities for Week 5:

  • Lecture Monday Oct 26:

    • Disability and Deaf Eugenics
  • Film:
    • The Lynchburg Story: Eugenic Sterilization in America
  • Podcast with transcript:
  • Assignment due Tues Oct 27: Discussion Post Week 5
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Oct 28, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 30: Reading Response Week 5


  • Anna Stubblefield, “Beyond the Pale: Tainted Whiteness, Cognitive Disability, and Eugenic Sterilization”
  • Molly Ladd-Taylor, “Contraception or Eugenics? Sterilization and ‘Mental Retardation’ in the 1970s and 1980s”
  • Natalia Molina, “Medicalizing the Mexican: Immigration, Race, and Disability in the Early-Twentieth-Century United States”


Week 6 Retelling Activist Histories

Activities for Week 6:

  • Nov 2 lecture:

    • Disability Activism from the Depression to the 504 Sit-In and Beyond
  • Film:
    • Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) on Netflix or YouTube
  • NO reading response due
  • Discussion (TBD) on Wednesday Nov 4, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Sunday Nov 8: Discussion Post Week 6
  • DUE this week: Annotated bibliography


  • Susan Schweik, “Lomax’s Matrix: Disability, Solidarity, and the Black Power of 504”
  • Paul Longmore and David Goldberger, “The League of the Physically Handicapped and the Great Depression: A Case Study in the New Disability History”


Part IV Cultural, community, and family histories


Week 7 Disavowing Disability

Activities for Week 7:

  • Nov 9 lecture:

    • Immigrant and Deaf Histories
  • Film TBD:
    • Maybe: Through Deaf Eyes or The Golden Door
  • Assignment due Tues Nov 10: Discussion Post Week 7
  • No class meeting on Wed Nov 11 (holiday)
  • Assignment due Friday Oct 30: Reading Response Weeks 6-7


  • Douglas Baynton, “Defectives in the Land: Disability and American Immigration Policy, 1882-1924”
  • Tavian Robinson, “‘We Are of a Different Class’: Ableist Rhetoric in Deaf America, 1880-1920”

Nov 11 Holiday - No Class


Week 8 People First

Activities for Week 8:

  • Nov 16 Film:

    • Where’s Molly
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Nov 18, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Friday Nov 20: Reading Response Week 8


  • Phillip Ferguson, TBD
  • Allison Carey, “The Sociopolitical Contexts of Passing and Intellectual Disability”
  • Kim Nielson, Money, Marriage, and Madness


Week 9 Histories of Childhood & Education

Activities for Week 9:

  • Nov 23 Podcast or Lecture TBD
  • Discussion of the readings on Wednesday Nov 25, 2:30-4:20
  • Assignment due Monday Nov 30: Reading Response Week 9


  • Nirmala Erevelles, “‘Crippin’ Jim Crow’: Disability, Dis-Location, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline”
  • TBD


Part V Writing disability history

Weeks 10-11

  • Nov 30 Film: 13th
  • DUE this week: Essay Draft
  • Dec 2 Peer Reviews & Discussion on Wednesday Dec 2, 2:30-4:20
  • Dec 7 Essay consultations this week
  • Dec 9 Class discussion TBD


Catalog Description: 
Theoretical, critical, analytical, or comparative examination of an issue or issues in Disability Studies. Topics vary. Prerequisite: either DIS ST/CHID/LSJ 230, DIS ST 332, DIS ST 433, or DIS ST 434. Offered: jointly with DIS ST 430/LSJ 430.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:11pm