About Us: Disability Stories, Disability Rights Syllabus

SEMN 162 About Us: Disability Stories, Disability Rights

Mural that reads, nothing about us without us is for us.

Dr. Bruce Mills
Office Hours (208 Humphrey House)
1:15-2:15 M, TTH 3-4, and by Appointment
Phone: 337-7037 (Office)
Email: bmills@kzoo.edu

Office Hours
Mondays – 1:00-3:00
Wednesdays – 9:30-11:00
And by appointment

About Us: Disability Stories, Disability Rights

We entertain through story. We teach through story. And, through stories, we can become advocates for ourselves and others. In the disability community, this truth about the power of storytelling has emerged in the slogan, “Nothing about us without us.” In other words, any understanding of disability and any policies related to addressing disability calls for the creativity, insight, and urgency that comes from lived knowledge.

For this class, we will engage in the rich source material written and produced by those with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, and mental health issues. We will explore how individuals within disability communities wish to be named and the politics associated with names and media representations. We will read selected pieces from About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times as well as other essays and stories on the history of disability rights. In addition to these readings, we will view and discuss Crip Camp (2020), Vision Portraits (2019), and other films. Finally, we will learn from advocates and storytellers in the Kalamazoo community who work for organizations that serve those with various types of disabilities and mental health issues and who can speak from their own experiences.

Ultimately, we will be exploring how a community might develop spaces and places that create a more welcoming, expansive, and inclusive sense of home and belonging.

Course Goals

Our discussion, reading, and writing goals will be centered on materials related to disability. Our class work is designed to help us:

  • Practice skills that enable us to think critically, speak with distinctness, and write clearly and correctly,
  • Develop listening and interpersonal abilities that invite storytelling and foster collaboration with people of diverse experiences, voices, and ways of knowing,
  • Learn about the history of disability, disability rights, and the language and concepts associated with disability studies,
  • Provide the opportunity for written and verbal reflection in order to deepen an understanding of how to work across difference and how to develop effective strategies for building interpersonal and community relationships.

Program Goals: Tier One Writing Expectations

First-year seminars serve as the writing course for incoming students. K-College has established the following goals for fostering writing competencies that prepare students for writing in discipline-specific courses and, eventually, for the SIP (Senior Individualized Project). We hope that every first-year student will develop greater competency in these areas:

  • Achieving clarity through revision,
  • Constructing an argument using evidence,
  • Gaining experience in research strategies, and
  • Cultivating an authentic and versatile style of written communication.

Required Text

About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times, ed. Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
(One copy of book on reserve at the library; I also have three shareable copies available.)

Handouts throughout the term.

Requirements and Grading

The development of writing, speaking, and collaborative skills calls for practice in a variety of forms. The following requirements offer a range of ways to enhance these abilities.

Structured Reflection Journal20
Focus Papers (3-4 pages each; 2 @ 15 pts)30
Collaborative Presentation  15
Annotated Bibliography5
Final Research Project20
Participation/Informal In-Class Writing10
Total Points100
Letter GradeNumerical Grade
C-70-72.75 and so forth

First-Year Forums

First-Year Forums are intended to help entering K students continue their academic and personal growth. They are interactive, intentionally developmental, focused on learning, and built on aspects of the K-Plan. The Forums fall into five groups:

  • Group 1:  Social Justice and Civic Engagement
  • Group 2:  Intercultural Understanding
  • Group 3:  Personal Decision-Making and Habits
  • Group 4:  Career and Professional Development
  • Group 5:  Academic Success and Independent Scholarship

All first-year students are required to attend one Forum in each group. Many attend more. If you do not attend at least one Forum in each group, two points for each Forum group missed will be deducted from the final Seminar grade.

Beyond Google: College Research Workshop

Our Seminar will participate in a workshop intended to help you develop and improve your research skills that enhance your growth as an independent scholar. Your work will be part of a focused class project. We will be doing our Beyond Google workshop on Friday, October 28 (Friday of week 7). If you are interested in what this workshop will entail, see the Beyond Google: College Research Strategies page.

Class Policies

Attendance and Participation

This is a discussion class. Your willingness to speak up, listen closely to each other, provide thoughtful responses, and raise constructive questions fosters the type of learning that is ideal in a seminar. This is a way of saying that we jointly create a knowledge from shared readings and experiences—even as I play an important role in guiding our work together. If you are going to be absent and know ahead of time (e.g., athletics, a student conference off campus or class trip, religious observance, etc.), please let me know in advance. If you consistently begin to miss class and/or arrive late, I will contact you (first through email) to check in to see how you are doing. While I will reach out and seek ways to provide support, it is important to understand that, at a certain point, excessive absences (five or more) will jeopardize your ability to pass the seminar.   

Due Dates

Unless I have revised due dates from our initial schedule or you have been in touch to request an extension, I will expect written work to be turned in electronically (email attachment in PDF or MS Word form) by midnight on the dates assigned. If you wish to request an extension, please do so two days in advance of the deadline. Note: Though I set up these guidelines, I still wish to offer greater flexibility when specific circumstances warrant more adjustment to due dates. So, if you face unexpected (and unsettling) obstacles to meeting deadlines, please let me know, and we will work out another turn-in schedule. (You need not disclose private/confidential information.) Like you, by the way, I will be dealing with a range of personal and academic commitments, so please avoid ghosting me.

Academic Honesty

This course operates under the College Honor System. That means: we treat each other with respect, we nurture independent thought, we take responsibility for personal behavior, and we accept environmental responsibility. Academic honesty is a critical part of our value system at K. When you borrow an idea, express the idea in your own words, thus thinking it through and making it your own, you should acknowledge the source in a note, or, in certain situations, put the exact words of the source in quotation marks and also provide an endnote. Ideas raised in class are part of the public domain and, therefore, sources need not be acknowledged. If you are ever in doubt about what to do, however, you should ask. For the full policy, see the Academic Dishonesty page. Improper use of another source (or plagiarism) may result in failure for the particular assignment or, if especially egregious, failure for the course. More than one instance of plagiarism may also result in suspension from the College. I will notify the Office of Student Development concerning instances of plagiarism.

Cell Phones, Lap Tops, and Tablets

This is a complicated topic, especially given how devices in class can both support learning and distract from it. I would like for us to reflect together on the following issues and questions rather than offer a “device policy” on the syllabus at this time. So… what are your expectations and needs? Things to consider:


Some of us benefit from digital support. Only making accommodations for certain students may force them to disclose their disability.


Research suggests that most of us overestimate our ability to multitask (listen / stay engaged while on our phone, for example). We can also distract others.


In a discussion-based class, what role might laptops/phones/tablets play?

Through our discussion, let’s come to some agreements and mutual expectations that work for us all—as informed by these considerations. (Note: thanks goes to Josh Moon, a colleague at K, for this advice, language, and questions.)


If you are a student with a disability who seeks accommodation or other assistance in this course, please let me know as soon as possible. I am committed to making every effort to providing reasonable accommodations. If you want to discuss your overall needs for accommodation at the College, and receive formal accommodations, please direct questions to Dana Jansma, Senior Associate Dean of Students, at (269) 337-7209 or through email at Dana.Jansma@kzoo.edu . For more information, see the Disability Services page. This website also contains resources for assistive technologies and neurodivergent students. 

Learning Commons

The Learning Commons is a network of peer support available to help you with a variety of skills and disciplines. The Writing Center, Research Consultant Center, and Center for New Media Design are on the first floor of Upjohn Library. Our English as a Second Language and Learning Specialist support programs are located there as well. The Math-Physics Center is in Olds Upton Hall. I encourage you to use their resources and peer consultants. The Peer Writing Consultants in the Writing Center, for instance, can provide another audience with whom you can think through your choices in relation to an assignment. You can find more information about each of these centers at the Learning Commons site.

Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL) Grant

In January, Kalamazoo College received a three-year Mellon grant. (For information, see the HILL grant announcement.) Entitled Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL), this initiative examines how many problems of our time—such as climate change, global migrations, and mass incarceration—can be analyzed through the lens of location and dislocation. To develop a deeper knowledge of these disruptions (physical, psychological, social, linguistic, and more) with the aim of generating the potential for change, HILL supports the formation of class clusters linked to specific places within and beyond Kalamazoo

Our class is part of the Kalamazoo cluster that explores dimensions of home and belonging. In the spirit of the grant, courses partner with Kalamazoo community organizations/members and with each other. The collaboration includes SEMN 132 – Radical Belonging, SEMN 163 – About Us: Disability Stories/ Disability Rights, SEMN 182 – Wheels of Change, ENGL 155 – Identities: Home and Belonging, CES 240 (Critical Ethnic Studies) – Language: The Colonial and Imperial Difference, and SEMN 495 – Finding a Home in the World. Instructors for each course will communicate how and when they will collaborate throughout the term.

When considering the effects of location and dislocation, we understand that these concepts impact students who, for any number of reasons, may feel displaced or out of place on a college campus. The project, then, seeks to construct a sense of home on and off campus. By erasing the distinction between the classroom and “real world,” we seek to embrace how ways of learning within the humanities can facilitate a space to think about and create collective futures. 

Tier-One Writing Expectations:
Writing Competencies (extended description)

The First-Year Seminar faculty has established the following goals for fostering writing competencies that will help prepare students for writing in discipline-specific courses in the major and, eventually, for writing the SIP.  We hope that every first-year student will develop greater competency in these areas:


  • stating and developing a thesis
  • writing coherent sentences and well-developed paragraphs
  • using correct grammar and mechanics
  • being conscious of overall structure and impact
  • becoming proficient at editing and proof reading
  • writing frequently to gain fluency
  • expressing ideas directly and economically


  • understanding the difference between opinion, argument, and evidence, and becoming aware of which of the three serves the writing project at hand
  • synthesizing others’ ideas with one’s own
  • using sources to support ideas and positions
  • using quoted materials effectively and correctly


  • understanding why doing research is important
  • learning how to do research, beginning with the earliest stages
  • putting newly gained knowledge and skills into practice
  • working as independent scholars and contributing to scholarly discourse throughout college and beyond


  • discovering one’s own way into material
  • making deliberate choices about structure, style, and voice, with a distinct awareness of audience, context and impact
  • writing in a natural, straightforward style
  • demonstrating or developing authenticity and ownership of the work



Orientation Week


Welcome: Nothing about Us Without Us

Telling Stories

Week 1: Belonging and Storytelling

Week 1 Items Due

Focus Paper #1, midnight, 9/16


Syllabus: Introductions, Expectations, Questions Creating Community / Home and Belonging 

Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story”


Rachel Kolb, “The Deaf Body in a Public Space” (About Us 46-49)

Brad Snyder, “How to Really See a Blind Person” (64-67)

Abby Wilkerson, “Should I Tell Students I Have Depression?” (113-117)

Elizabeth Jameson and Catherine Monahon, “Intimacy Without Touch” (206-11)

Week 2: Naming as Story / Story as Naming 

Week 2 items Due

Interview 1, Wednesday, 9/21

Journal #1, midnight, Thursday, 9/22


Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Introduction: Living Well in a World Not Made for Us” (About Us xxiii-xxxiii) and “Becoming Disabled” (3-8)

NPR Life Kit: How to Talk about Disability”


Jonathan Mooney, “You Are Special! Now Stop Being Different” (31-34)

John Altman, “I Don’t Want to Be ‘Inspiring’” (45-49)

Cyndi Jones, “What It Means to Be Healed” (76-78)

Emily Rapp Black, “My Paralympics Blues” (172-175)


Jennifer Bartlett, “Longing for the Male Gaze” (203-206)

Alice Sheppard, “I Dance Because I Can” (266-270)

Structured Reflection Journal Discussion: Issues from Journals

Week 3: Histories: Then and Now

Week 3 Items Due

Focus Paper #2, midnight, 9/30


Andrew Solomon, “Foreword” (ix-xvii)

Kenny Fries, “The Nazis’ First Victims Were the Disabled” (9-12)

Film: Crip Camp (2020) 106 minutes


Guest Speakers: McKenzi Baker K’22 and Kelli Rexroad K’22

Elizabeth Guffey, “A Symbol for ‘Nobody’ That’s Really for Everybody” (133-135)


Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (6-6:30 Pizza / 6:30-8:20 Film Viewing)


Discussion: Crip Camp

Luticha Dougette, “If You’re in a Wheelchair, Segregation Lives” (22-26) Alice Wong, “My Medicaid, My Life” (27-30)

Week 4: Disability Right I

Week 4 Items Due

Interview 2, Friday, 10/7


Guest Speaker: Dr. Petra Watzke

“Out of Order: A Personal Perspective on Academic Ableism” (Handout)


Fred Pelka, “Introduction” (1-29) from What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement (handout)


Pelka (continued)


Week 5: Disability Rights II

Week 5 Items Due

Journal #2, midnight, Monday, 10/10


Structured Reflection Journal Discussion: Issues from Journals





Week 6: Disability and Mental Health




Zack McDermott, “The ‘Madman’ Is Back in the Building” (98-103)

JoAnna Novak, “My $1000 Anxiety Attack” (159-162)

Gila Lyons, “When Life Gave Me Lemons, I Had a Panic Attack” (163-167)

Week 7: Family and Disability


Dan Simpson, “Space Travel: A Vision” (255-258)

Bruce Mills, “Croyden Avenue School” (Handout)


Preparation for Beyond Google Day



Week 8: “Getting Over the Hump” Week (Tentative Schedule)


Interviews: Paul Eklund, Disability Services of Southwest Michigan (videos)


Discussion: Vision Portraits

Film: Vision Portraits (TBD)


Work Day: Preparation/Practice for Presentations

Presentations and Reflections

Week 9: Class Presentation







Week 10: Conclusions: Home, Belonging, and Disability

Week 10 Items Due

Journal #4, class time, Wednesday, 11/16




Course Evaluations

Final Reflections



Finals Week

Week 10 Items Due