Disability and Accessibility in Writing Programs

At the Conference of Writing Program Administrators in 2016, I gave a talk about writing program spaces on the same panel as Elizabeth Brewer. Here are our notes:

Elizabeth Brewer

Anne-Marie Womack 

Disability Theory

I apply 3 main concepts from disability theory to writing programs:

1. All bodies are culturally accommodated, but we call certain accommodations “special” or “abnormal.”

2. When environments are built as one-size-fits-all, they do the work of disabling people.

3. Universal Design benefits more people.

Communal Writing Program Space

Then, as a test case I examine the communal office/computer lab that so many Writing Programs have. I pose several ways to begin thinking about the embodiment of the people in these spaces and making the spaces accessible.

1. Think rhetorically about the space: how do people get there, how can people exist in the space, what does the space encourage people to habitually do with their bodies?

2. Improve workspaces to accommodate a variety of bodies—e.g. desks at several heights, chairs multiple sizes with and without armrests, standing desks.

3. Allow for time and space for breaks during work and attention to the body—movement, eye rest, meditation, whatever accommodates individual bodies.

4. Curate computer supports for accessible embodied practices.

5. Accommodate special diets depending on your population (Celiac, vegan, allergies, etc.).

6. Ask instructors how to support their embodied practices. Open a dialogue and create safe space so disclosure of disability & request for accommodations do not seem daunting.

Examples of Computer Accessibility Supports

1. Speech to text software (Otter, for example)

2. Screen Readers (NVDA and VoiceOver, for example).

3. Dyslexie Font: Dyslexie font manipulates letter openings, slants, and tails so that each character has a unique form to create greater letter recognition. A master’s thesis by Renske de Leeuw found that several reading errors decreased with Dyslexie font and that it created a pleasant or very pleasant reading experience for more than half of the dyslexic readers questioned. The font is free for personal use, and a similar open access font is available called Opendyslexic.

4. Beeline Reader: Another experimental program claims to enable readers with dyslexia, ADD, and vision disabilities to read more quickly. The Beeline Reader, a web browser add-on and PDF viewer, uses colors to match the end of one line to the beginning of the next, making it easier for the eye to find its place.

5. Break Reminders, described by Jack Wallen at Five Free Apps to Help Remind You to Take a Break

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