Blog Post

Intro: Issues of Access(ibility)

Intro: Issues of Access(ibility)

Hi everyone! After seeing all these great blog posts, I wasn’t sure what to say—so many interesting people doing so many different interesting projects! So let’s see…

My name is Allison, and I’m a second-year PhD student in the Composition & Cultural Rhetoric program at Syracuse University. I’m also pursuing a Certificate of Advanced Study in Disability Studies (SU is home to the nation’s first disability studies program).

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the intersections of composition and dis/ability—how students with diverse abilities access sites of composition (writing center spaces, classroom spaces, etc.) and how they compose themselves as rhetorical beings. Last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how multimodal pedagogies—that account for students’ different learning needs, incorporate different modalities, and encourage the use of different technologies—parallel with principles of universal design. I’m really interested in the parallels between UD and multimodality because, in many ways, multimodal pedagogies are more accessible to students with diverse backgrounds, literacies, and bodies—at the same time, though, discussions of multimodality don’t seem to explicitly address issues of accessibility. 

My interests in access(ibility) heavily influence my interests in DH. This year, I’m working on a few different projects relevant to DH. First is a digital archival project that archives texts that came out of the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. The FWWCP, based out of the UK, consisted of different groups of “ordinary” working class people—across lines of gender, race, and ability—who wanted to share their stories with others. The Fed Archive is an attempt to protect these narratives from falling to the wayside and to contextualize the project itself.

Another project I’m working on is “This We Believe.” Influenced by the work done by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) during the Great Depression, this project (FWP 2.0) is an attempt to continue discussions of democracy and how we shape and re-shape our cultural understandings of “America.” This is a digital project that gives students, teachers, and everyday citizens opportunities to record their own brief (2-minute) narratives about what democracy means to them.

And finally, an ongoing project is how we can universally design both teaching and tutoring practices. With tutoring, in particular, I’m exploring ableist assumptions and inaccessible tutoring practices within writing center sessions. Even though writing center practices value students' different knowledges and composing processes, we often default to practices framed for students with particular abilities. The standard read-aloud model, for example, privileges able-bodied students who hear, speak, and can focus for long periods of time. Students who do not respond to these practices, then, are treated differently. What I’m interested in exploring are different strategies and practices that account for students’ different bodily experiences. My guess, although technology certainly isn’t a save-all, is that there are some particular technologies and digital practices that can make writing center (and classroom) interactions more accessible to students.

 

An example of how accessibility is not just a physical but also a pedagogical concern (via crippencartoons.co.uk)

 

I look forward to reading more of your all’s blog posts, and I'd be very interested to know of particular strategies (especially tech-based) that you all use for creating more accessible pedagogies. 

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7 comments

Even though writing center practices value students' different knowledges and composing processes, we often default to practices framed for students with particular abilities. The standard read-aloud model, for example, privileges able-bodied students who hear, speak, and can focus for long periods of time.[...] My guess, although technology certainly isn’t a save-all, is that there are some particular technologies and digital practices that can make writing center (and classroom) interactions more accessible to students.

Allison, I thought this was a really interesting point! I'm not a tutor, but I am a graduate instructor in history, and spend a lot of time working with my students one-on-one about their writing. I have a lot of students taking my course just to fulfil a Gen Ed; they don't read much for pleasure, and it shows in writing that's at best stilted and unnatural-sounding, and at worst highly ungrammatical. I've always encouraged my students to read their work aloud as they're in the process of drafting it, to get them to see those "bumpy" spots, and never thought (my own privilege, of course) that there might be students for whom this cognitively doesn't work. I'd love to hear more from you on this topic, about different ways of tackling this/introducing new classroom methodologies for getting students to better formulate their ideas and analyses.

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Hi, Yvonne,

That’s such a good question and such a tough issue! The read-aloud issue is relevant to so many learners—ELL learners, for example, are less likely to hear the issues, as are students with dyslexia or even students with ADD/ADHD who may struggle with rhetorical listening. I like to assign a lot of different types of writing—academic and newspaper articles, blog posts—in order for students to examine sentence-level issues (like stilted sentences). Asking students to dissect these readings for the language can draw attention to how arguments are made and supported, how particular linguistic choices affect the piece. A particularly effective way to look at linguistic choices is to read short creative works—like prose poems—that depend on every word to make a conscious point.

In terms of ideas and analyses, I really like to bring in different modes. In the writing center, for example, I’ll ask students how they like to work through their ideas—outlines? concept maps? dialoguing to brainstorm ideas?

The same ideas apply in the classroom. I like to try different types of peer review to gauge what works for different people’s learning styles—partners talking with each other (auditory learners), people reading and reviewing their own work (textual learners), students highlighting their claims and evidence so they can physically see the different parts of their papers (visual learners), students actually cutting apart their essays and piecing them back together to see the ways their organizational structures work (kinesthetic learners).

Does that begin to answer your question? I’m always happy to talk more about this!

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A particularly effective way to look at linguistic choices is to read short creative works—like prose poems—that depend on every word to make a conscious point.

Oh, that's a super interesting suggestion! In class, I do try to get people to do peer review of papers, and hopefully before the end of the semester I'll be able to squeeze in the exercise where they cut up their essays and put them back together. It's always a challenge to try to be able to fit as much work on writing as I would like, while still covering course content, but I think your suggestion about using poetry is a really interesting one! I teach medieval history, so there aren't so many newspaper articles or blog posts out there that would with my syllabus, but I bet I could find some medieval poetry/mystical writing that might fit the same function—asking students to look at how the language of something obviously fictional or metaphorical works might be less stressful than asking them to pin down a more stereotypically academic meaning.

And rhetorical listening is another term I've not come across before! Thank you—I think I've found something to go read up on!

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Hi Allison!
Your projects sound so interesting! I used the This I Believe assignment a couple times for an intro to college writing class—it asks students to write (and record) about one core belief that guides their life. I'm not as familiar with "This We Believe" but I checked it out and really like the focus on civic and cultural engagement and analysis and its connection to writing. Plus I love the Carver quote: "What do we talk about when we talk about democracy?" Particularly apt this time of year, right?  I especially like the idea of having them record themselves: I did the TIB project several years ago and it was purely text-based. If I were to revise it I'd love to add that multimodal element. How do students respond to the assignment?


And finally, your interest in universal design practices in writing centers is so important. I've worked in our university's writing center several times, including this semester, and I agree this is definitely something we need to focus on. I'm interested in hearing about different strategies you use to make your writing center accessible for all students.

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Hi, Elizabeth!

This We Believe is definitely a play off This I Believe with a democratic focus—how we nationally define our core beliefs. This We Believe is something that’s just starting, so we still need to build the website and write up the instructions (and provide some different technologies for people to use). So we’re just at the stage where we’re asking people if they’re interested, which will include teachers, students, community activists, and a number of different people who have stake in democracy.

I’ve approached the idea of accessibility within writing centers both in terms of spatial accessibility (lots of writing centers have flexible furniture and some have both table arrangements and computer clusters) and pedagogical accessibility (asking tutors to think critically about how they approach different learners and students. The very first step, to me, is asking students what they want to do and how they want to approach their work, rather than assuming the read-aloud model will work for everyone. There are a few interesting writing center scholars (Konstant, Hewett, Babcock, Kiedaisch & Dinitz) who address disability that I find really useful. Kiedaisch & Dinitz, in particular, have a great article about approaching writing center sessions from a UD approach—not trying to diagnose students but acknowledging that all students come into the center with different needs that we need to address. I tried addressing some of these issues in a RSA conference presentation last spring that may be sort of handy. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to talk about this more if you have questions and/or insights about universally designing writing center spaces and practices, too!

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Hi Allison!

Thank you for posting about this. I saw your post come through Twitter and I wanted to draw your attention to an event that you might find interesting.

We're throwing a thatcamp on the theme of accessibility and the digital humanities this coming Saturday, here in Ottawa at Carleton U (so not all that far from Syracuse). http://accessibility2012.thatcamp.org/

We will be trying out a fully accessible conferencing system courtesy of Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, in the hopes that we can widen access to our unconference to all who can't actually be present on Saturday. I'll be posting the exact link and access codes on our site in the next day or so; it'd be great if you can attend!

Cheers,

Shawn

 

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I'm so sorry to have missed what sounds like an awesome un-conference! I was actually in a writing center conference in San Diego (for nearly a week).

Thank you for letting me know about the event, though, and for including that link. I've been browsing the different posts, and it sounds like I missed out on some really interesting topics. I'll keep an eye on this site, though, so I don't miss more of these in the future!

Hope it went well!

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