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Zdenek, Sean. Centering Disability Studies in Composition and Technical Communication. CE, May 2020. Posted 08/28/2020.

Zdenek, Sean. “Transforming Access and Inclusion in Composition Studies and Technical Communication.” College English 82.5 (2020): 536-44. Print.

Writing in a special edition of College English on “Transdiciplinary Connections in Composition Studies and Technical and Professional Communication,” Sean Zdenek argues for the transformational effects of disability studies on issues of access and inclusion in both fields. Zdenek cites scholarship from both composition studies (CS) and technical and professional communication (TPC) to argue that they share the goal of moving beyond both “add-and-stir” methods of addressing disability and the view of access as synonymous with “consumption” (537, 539). Central to both areas, Zdenek proposes, is disruption of norms in which disability is the marked condition to be accommodated as an individual problem.

Central to critiques in both CS and TPC is the common practice of dealing with disability as an “add-on” or “afterthought” rather than as a basic foundation for access. Rather, in this view, disability should be a governing principle addressed “from the start” (537). Scholars cited by Zdenek see inclusion of disability studies as a “bridge” between TPC and CS because it speaks to crucial concepts inherent in rhetorical interactions, such as “adaptation, creativity, community, interdependency, technological ingenuity and modal fluency” (Tara Wood et al., qtd. in Zdenek 538).

Zdenek finds “theoretical foundations” for centering disability studies in the work of CS scholars who focus not just on the need to improve inclusion but more importantly on the importance of reimagining the “norms” and assumptions governing questions about access (537). Brewer et al. advocate for “a culture of access,” citing the Computers and Composition Digital Press and the Composing Access Project as examples of how such a culture could develop (538). TPC, Zdenek writes, can provide “practical interventions” and “expertise in workplace practices and interface design” (536), which he believes should align with CS’s values as the field moves beyond the classroom and embraces understandings of communication beyond the “printed page” (538).

Both fields, he argues, can find transformation through centering disability studies; for example, TPC, he says, tends to imagine “users” as able-bodied and to tacitly endorse an untenable “hierarchy” separating “‘normal’ and ‘assistive’ technology” (539). Zdenek quotes Jason Palmeri to argue that in fact, “all technologies are assistive” (qtd. in Zdenek 539).

Zdenek traces extant “overlap” between TPC and CS on issues of more inclusive access and encourages collaborative research into these topics (539-40). Important to both fields is the “consumer/producer binary” in which enabling participation is overshadowed by strategies to facilitate passive consumption. A disability-centered focus, in this view, would foreground the need to make communicative action easier for all users. Zdenek contends that TPC can offer CS effective critiques of technology as well as “interventions grounded in rhetorical and design principles that strive to build more accessible digital media and user experiences” (540).

In Zdenek’s view, disability studies has resisted critiquing “computer technology” (540). He suggests practices in TPC that further such critique while building the culture of access, such as “perform[ing] usability studies with diverse users” and “interven[ing] . . . through web accessibility audits and digital retrofitting,” among other practices (540-41). More inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels of research and participation, in Zdenek’s view, is essential to these efforts (541).

As an examples of an area he sees as a space for research and collaboration, Zdenek cites “caption studies,” which he argues “cuts across and unites our diverse fields” (541). Similarly, he proposes attention to the challenges of producing adequate “alt-text” and “image recognition projects,” which he sees as driven by the “values of automation, efficiency, surveillance, profit, and ableism” (541).

Ultimately, he contends, critical disability studies should be a “methodology” that is “not (exclusively) a study of disabled people” (Sami Schalk, qtd. in Zdenek 542), but rather a theoretical approach that centers the reduction of stigmatization and bias. CS and TPC, Zdenek writes, “are more alike than different” in their commitment to this goal (542).

 

 


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Wood, Tara. Disabilities and Time Management in Writing Classes. Dec. CCC. Posted 01/18/2018.

Wood, Tara. “Cripping Time in the College Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.2 (2017): 260-86. Print.

Tara Wood proposes that the field of writing studies can productively use the concept of “crip time” to rethink the ways in which normative assumptions underlie many routine activities in writing classrooms.

Wood’s qualitative study, conducted at a large Midwestern research university, began with twenty students with “registered disabilities” but expanded to include thirty-five students because of the interest her work generated (266). She notes that her final study population included not only students registered with the university disability office, but also students registered with other official offices who might or might not have registered at school, students who chose not to register, and students in the process of registering. Some registered students did not request accommodation (282n1).

Wood gathered more than “2,000 minutes of audio” and transcribed more than 200,000 words (267). She avoids identifying particular students by their disabilities, but her notes reveal the range of situations covered by her research (282-83n3).

The data allowed Wood to meet a primary goal of letting the students speak for themselves. She cites scholarship on the challenges of “speaking for” others, particularly groups that have traditionally been silenced or unheard; many scholars report a “crisis of representation” as they consider their own positionality in studies of such groups (265-66). Wood indicates that in some cases the wording of her interview questions shaped responses, but notes that the focus of her article, issues of “time,” was not a topic introduced by any of her questions; rather, it arose as a concern from the students’ own discussion (267).

Reviewing scholarship in composition on “the intersection of disability studies (DS) and composition studies” (261), Wood notes that writing theorists have long been concerned about access but, in some cases, may have assumed that the process- and discussion-oriented pedagogies common to most writing classes do not pose the same problems as do lecture-based classes with heavy test-taking components (261). Wood contends that such assumptions elide the myriad ways that time affects students with disabilities in composition classes (261). Wood’s premise is that “time” as structured in writing classrooms reflects largely unexamined ideologies of normativity and ableism.

Quoting Margaret Price, Wood says of “crip time” that it is “a concept in disability culture that ‘refers to a flexible approach to normative time frames’” (264). As an attitude toward time, it “avoid[s] rigidity and lower[s] the stakes of writing” (270). Wood distinguishes such an approach from the kinds of responses to disability most common in academic settings, which focus on individual and sometimes “ad hoc” solutions (263) burdened by connection with “medical and legal models” (262). Wood presents crip time as a more systemic, philosophical response to the complexities presented by disability.

For Wood, the assumption that individual fixes devised by disability-service offices are adequate is one of several flawed approaches. She found a subset of instructors who deferred to the expertise of disability professionals rather than expressing a willingness to negotiate with students (271). Similarly, she reports a “disability myth” that students given extra time for assignments will “take advantage of an accommodation,” creating a situation that isn’t “fair to other students” (263). In contrast, the study explores students’ conflicted responses to the need for accommodation and the “pedagogical fallout” that can result (269). Wood also discusses “the tacit curative imaginaries” that cast disability as a “disease or illness” (270) and its correction as “compulsory,” with “able-bodiedness as the ultimate, ever-desirable end” (264).

Wood’s account focuses specifically on two components of writing classes, timed in-class writing and time requirements for assignments. Her interviewees reported on how their disabilities made producing “spontaneous” writing within set boundaries (267) a source of serious anxiety, which, in the views of some scholars, has itself been defined as an illness that “teachers must ‘treat’” (270). Wood quotes Alison Kafer to argue that teachers must become aware that their normative expectations for “how long things take” are “based on very particular minds and bodies” (268). In Wood’s view, crip time applies a sensitivity to difference to such assumptions (264).

Wood further details how some participants’ situations affected their handling of assignment deadlines. Students with OCD, for example, might resist handing in assignments because they need to “make [them] perfect” (275). Some students reported finding it difficult to ask for extra time (274). Students recounted a range of attitudes among their instructors, with some willing to negotiate time frames and other less willing (274).

Wood cites Patricia Dunn to contend that students with disabilities often display “a sophisticated metacognitive awareness of how to navigate the strictures they face in the classroom” (272). Some students in her study explain their strategies in working with instructors to plan the timing of their assignments (276-77). Others set their own deadlines (279), while one plans for the inevitable delays of illness by trying to “get ahead on writing assignments” (qtd. in Wood 273).

Wood quotes Robert McRuer’s contention that “being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor” (279). She argues that such links between assumptions of normativity and the power structures arising from capitalist valuations of productivity make it imperative that instructors recognize how such assumptions impede access (280-81). Wood attributes to Paul Heilker the view that subscribing to crip time is a way of promoting “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (278), since a more flexible classroom structure permits “disabled students to compose in their own ways” (281), thus affirming important components of their personhood (278, 281).

Wood qualifies her recommendations by stating that she is not arguing against deadlines per se but rather asking that teachers be “mindful” about the power dynamic in a writing classroom and the consequences of rigid time boundaries (275). In this view, decisions about time can best be made by listening to students (281) and working collaboratively with them toward strategies that, in the case of one student, are essential to “sustain[ing] her presence in academia” (277).

Ultimately, Wood contends, awareness of the possibilities opened up by concepts like crip time enrich the democratic, inclusive environment that educators can support when they follow Tony Scott’s advice to examine the “ideological assumptions” underlying their responses to pedagogical challenges (qtd. in Wood 281).