Course Examines Human Disabilities and American Culture

Posted: January 25, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Imagine being one of the nearly 600 million people in the world living with a disability. Your day-to-day life could be very different from those around you, and it’s quite possible you feel misunderstood by others who have preconceived notions about what it means to be a person with a disability.

Where do these perceptions come from, and how can these barriers be broken down so that your life can be understood by others?

Students enrolled in Marci Kinas Jerome’s new class, EDUC 203 Human Disabilities in American Culture, will examine aspects of American culture, such as movies and books, and how they influence people’s perceptions of individuals with disabilities. Students will also learn about what it is like to have a disability from guest speakers of all ages, professions and walks of life.

The introductory course is open to anyone who has an interest in the portrayal of human disabilities in American culture and is a gateway course for students who plan to enroll in the assistive technology program. The class will be offered in fall 2008.

“I wanted to teach this class because it is a topic that people are living but don’t ever really talk about,” says Kinas Jerome, assistant professor and severe disabilities consortium coordinator in Mason’s Helen Kellar Institute for Human DisAbilities. “We live in a world that is all about being politically correct, but I hope to give students a better understanding of people with disabilities, because as a future employer, parent or friend, you never know who is going to walk into your life.”

Throughout the semester, students will view films such as the 1989 “My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown” to compare how the portrayal of people with disabilities has changed over time. In addition, students will read books depicting people with disabilities and discuss how the books impact their perspective of disability in society.

Students will critique how a given work portrays individuals with disabilities, decide whether this portrayal is positive or negative and examine what kind of message it sends to its audience. They will also research a certain disability and present their research to the rest of the class.

“A lot of people think they know about a certain disability, but when they actually start researching the topic they realize they didn’t know as much as they thought,” says Kinas Jerome.

Each week, the instructor would like to have a guest speaker who has a disability, has a family member with a disability or works with someone with a disability. The guest speakers will bring a unique perspective about living with or knowing someone who has a disability and how it affects their lives, according to Kinas Jerome.

Many of the guest speakers will come from Mason’s LIFE program. The LIFE program is for young college-aged adults with disabilities who are living, working and going to school on campus.

Finally, because the assistive technology program is based on hardware, software and other living aids designed for people with disabilities, Kinas Jerome hopes to bring students into the technology lab to introduce them to the tools and strategies people with disabilities use in everyday life.

For more information, contact Kinas Jerome at

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