Disability and Accessibility in Writing Programs

Elizabeth Brewer


Anne-Marie Womack 

Full Paper Available

Disability Theory

In my talk for the Conference of Writing Program Administrators this Saturday, 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 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.

3. Encourage breaks during work and attention to the body—movement, eye rest, meditation, whatever accommodates individual bodies (see list below).

4. Curate a library of resources on embodied practices (see list below).

5. Hold workshops on embodied practices.

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

7. Display posters & pamphlets on embodied practices.

8. 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.


Building a Library on Embodiment

Most importantly, allow your faculty to request that the WP purchase certain books, but here are some ideas for starters. They have all been game-changers in my life or my colleagues. 

1. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus. Robert Boice Ph.D. stresses the effectiveness of moderation in work and bodily awareness in writing practice.

2. The Coaches Guide for Women Professors: Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life. Rena Seltzer guides faculty in achieving work life balance and dissects the specific issues facing women in academia.

3. The Black Academics Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul. Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy explain organizational and time-management tips that can help scholars make time for their bodies.

4. The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. Amit Sood M.D. offers an alternative to mind-quieting through meditation, asking people to focus constantly running thoughts and to train the mind to interpret more positively.

5. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books on meditation—including the more philosophical Wherever You Go, There You Are and the more scientific Full Catastrophe Living—are great guides to mindfulness.

6. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, 3rd edition (Davies and Davies) has given me and many others control over various muscles pains, particularly those caused by overuse.

7. For the back specifically, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Gokhale) discusses simple posture fixes in sleeping, sitting, and standing. Foundation (Goodman & Park) provides simple exercises that rehabilitate a weak back.


Programs for Building in Breaks to Work Time (Wallen*)

1. Big Stretch Reminder (for Windows) allows you to configure your breaks exactly how you want them: time between, length, what breaks are for, intrusiveness of reminders, display countdown indicator, use sounds for reminders, choose between RSI advice or even set up your own message.

2. Workrave (for Windows and Linux) reminds you to take micro breaks, long breaks, and even limits your daily usage. Allows you to specify time between breaks, how long each break is, and even offers a tiny status window that remains on your desktop to allow you to see when your next break is coming. Workrave also offers a selection of exercises you can do during breaks.

3. PC Work Break is a multi-type break system that will remind you to take micro breaks, stretching breaks, eye exercises, and even walks.

4. PYV is web-based and allows you to select from three different modes: 20-20-20 (Every twenty minutes, look twenty feet away for twenty seconds), 60-5 (sixty minutes followed by five minute break), and custom.

5. Eyeleo (for Windows) helps you take two kinds of breaks: Short breaks (dims the screen and walks you through a few quick exercises for your eyes) and Long breaks (disables your screen for a specified period).

*Citation Information: For these descriptions, I started with descriptions provided by Jack Wallen in “Five Free Apps to Help Remind You to Take a Break” and shortened them for my purposes.



Accessible Computer Supports

1. Amara: Create captioning for videos.

2. Fang Screen Reader Emulator (for Firefox): Allows sighted users to audit sites for screen reader usability.

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.

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