Note on Classroom Use

Keywords for Disability Studies is intended for use in a wide range of interdisciplinary teaching environments. The essays are written clearly with a minimum of specialized language, and they do not assume prior knowledge of the field, so they should be readily accessible to undergraduate readers. By defining terms and concepts in their historical contexts, they provide a foundation on which more topical course readings can be based. At the same time, the essays offer syntheses of previous scholarship and critical perspectives that will help guide graduate work on issues related to disability in humanities or social sciences courses, as well as professional fields such as law, business, social work, nursing, and medicine. We hope to make students and teachers in all of these fields more self-conscious about the language and concepts they use, and also to provide opportunities for dialogue across disciplines.

One of the most important pedagogical functions of Keywords is to provide conceptual frameworks for disability studies courses across the disciplines. By assigning a set of 2-3 Keywords essays at each session, instructors can encourage students to think about the broader issues behind a given set of readings. For example, students who have been asked to read Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime in tandem with Michael Bérubé’s essay on “Representation” might be encouraged to think about the political and aesthetic stakes in depicting a person who seems to be on the autism spectrum, as well as the formal means Haddon uses to do so. Carol Padden’s essay on “Communication” or Ralph Savarese’s essay on “Cognition” offer students further opportunities for interpreting the representation of Haddon’s protagonist and his environment. Likewise, students reading Elizabeth Emens’ essay on “Accommodation,” Alison Carey’s essay on “Citizenship,” and Maya Sabatello’s essay on “Rights” will encounter conceptual tools that can be used to interpret such documents as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the British Disability Discrimination Act, or the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Keywords essays may be used quite straightforwardly as companion pieces, but we also encourage instructors to take some time in class to examine their claims and strategies. Students at all levels will benefit from being taught how to approach the keyword essay as a specific genre of writing and mode of inquiry. This might be done via close analysis of the contents, organization, and rhetorical structure of individual essays; comparisons across essays on related topics; or by asking students to propose new entries and write keywords essays of their own. Students should be encouraged to see Keywords not as a reference guide whose aim is to define or fix the meanings of terms, but rather as a set of essays that offer new lenses for understanding texts and contexts assigned in the classroom and beyond. As the book’s cover suggests, we invite instructors to use Keywords for Disability Studies as a toolkit, not just a compendium of important concepts and terms.

Sample Assignments:

1) Choose two keywords in the volume and relate them to a current event, literary text, historical or biographical document, commercial, or performance. Write an essay explaining how your perception of the event or the text changes in light of each of the two terms, and how the event or text might change your understanding of the terms. Examples might include thinking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s disability in terms of “Invisibility” and “Passing,” Moby-Dick in terms of “Trauma” and “Prosthesis,” or a musical performance in terms of “Access,” “Aesthetics,” and “Senses.”

2) Choose one keyword entry in the volume and read the sources cited by the author. Write an essay analyzing how the author of the keyword entry responded to previous scholarship, what new ideas emerge from the keyword entry itself, and what other aspects of the term might have been emphasized.

3) For courses that involve service learning or community outreach components (including those not directly related to disability issues): make a report about your experiences and interactions with others. Choose at least two keywords from the volume to help interpret your experience and the experience of those with whom you have come in contact.

4) Carefully explore and describe one aspect of your built environment, whether it is your dorm room, a favorite café, a park, a library, a bathroom, or a shopping mall. Using entries on “Access,” “Design,” “Embodiment,” “Space,” and “Accommodation,” describe the ways that people with different kinds of bodies would experience the space you have chosen. Then imagine how the space might have been designed differently.

5) Using the essays on “Education,” “Communication,” “Diversity,” and “Cognition” as your starting point, analyze features of your own school, your own classroom, and the syllabus for your course. How might a disability perspective shed light on those concepts within the context of your own education? What are the implicit assumptions about the abilities one must possess in order to navigate a given educational environment?

6) Choose a piece of technology that you find particularly useful. Using the entry on “Technology” and at least two others in the book (e.g. “Senses,” “Prosthetics,” “Blindness,” “Ability,” “Work”) as conceptual guides, explain how that object might be designed with particular kinds of bodies and abilities in mind.

7) Choose a group of two to three terms in the book that seem closely linked: for example, Sex/Sexuality/Queer; Reproduction/Family; Ability/Disability/Impairment; Performance/Narrative/Representation; Rights/Citizenship. Write an essay about how the different terms overlap, as well as important distinctions among them. Using an example from primary material covered in the course, explain how those distinctions matter.