Mindful Writer/Embodied Writer: Universal Design and Multimodal Argument

Contributors: Kate Chaterdon and Katie Silvester
School Affiliation: University of Arizona
Emails: chaterdo@email.arizona.edu, kls1 at email.arizona.edu
Published: 15 May 2015


As issues of multimodality and access increasingly play an important role in first-year composition (FYC) courses, writing instructors must consider how their multimodal assignments and course designs are engaged, understood, and put to use by diverse students. As Stephanie Kerschbaum (2013) noted in Melanie Yergeau, et al.'s award-winning webtext, "Multimodality in Motion," composition instructors should be wary of the phenomenon of "multimodal inhospitality," which pays lip-service to multimodal environments in the writing classroom, while simultaneously "render[ing] those environments inaccessible."

Taking Kerschbaum's warning to heart, this article explores some possible ways that we have tried to make our multimodal FYC classes more inclusive, on an embodied and practical as well as theoretical level. Some of the ways we have sought to achieve greater inclusiveness is by:

  • framing the course on the principles of Universal Design (UD);
  • engaging students in critical discussions of disability and embodiment, in order to make disability “visible” in the classroom (Brueggemann, 2001);
  • encouraging students to apply the principles of UD to the digital texts they create for the class; and
  • asking students to reflect on the texts they have created for class through the lens of UD.

One message we hope to convey is our unique perspective on multimodality and access in FYC we gained as Graduate Associates in Teaching, or GATs. Having completed a rigorous GAT orientation, year-long preceptorship, and continuous professional development (i.e. brown bags, conferences, working groups, etc.), we felt a lack of reference to issues of accessbility, different learning styles, and disability in our graduate teacher training. For example, the common text we use to select readings for our FYC classes was devoid of any disability writers. And, few brown bags or other professional development opportunities have contributed to our knowledge base around issues of access. While there has been substantial support for integrating visual and spatial rhetorics into our course design and assignment sequence, much of this support addresses the multimodality of rhetoric conceptually and theoretically rather than as embodied practice.

What we offer in this article, then, is an antidote to the scarcity of resources on multimodality and diversity written for and by FYC teachers. That is, we offer a description of how two novice teachers have attempted to engage issues of multimodality, access, and difference in FYC with limited resources. We provide a candid look at FYC students' responses to our attempt and their emergent views on access and disability in society. Ultimately, we argue that our attempt to engage issues of multimodality and access was inevitably limited. We find that, while students were willing to explore these issues with us, their views pivoted on a compassionate and mindful rhetoric rather than a critical or ethical one. Seeking the latter from our students, we argue that there is a need, especially among novice teachers, for greater exposure to teaching materials, research, and training related to multimodality and diversity.  

In the following, we draw on universal design and disability studies perspectives to develop a sequence of assignments focused on multimodality, access, and disability in society. The sequence of assignments is situated within the final unit of a second-semester FYC course emphasizing argument and research. In this unit, we ask students to consider how they might critically revise a popular public argument for a diverse audience using multimodality to be more inclusive. We talk about the readings and assistive technologies we used in the class and analyze students' responses to the sequence of assignments. Finally we suggest changes we would make to the curriculum based on our findings and provide recommendations for other novice teachers interested in developing a more inclusive rhetoric of multimodality. 

Universal Design and Disability Studies

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning (2012) defined UDL as “a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn." It is derived from a concept—Universal Design—originally developed in the 1970s for use among architects and designers. According to the Center for Universal Design (2008), UD is a framework for the creation of user-friendly spaces and objects, including public facilities, work places, homes, consumer products, and communications. The goal of UD is to remove barriers to people's inclusion in public life by providing essential accommodations for the widest range of individual ability and preference. Eventually, educators began to apply the concept of UD to education in an effort to make education more accessible to and inclusive of all students, especially in the digital age. Three guiding principles of UDL were developed. They are: 

  1. Provide multiple means of representation.
  2. Provide multiple means of action and expression.
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement.

Because the existence of a homogenized group of students is not assumed, the use of these principles is appropriate for the multimodal writing classroomindeed for any classroomthat is comprised of learners with a variety of learning styles and needs. Not only can these principles be used by the instructor to inform the overall design of the course and curriculum, they can also be applied by the students as they create their multimodal projects for the class. Asking students to apply the principles of UDL, and not simply learn about them, not only helps students better understand the principles, but also makes the classroom a more inclusive space (especially when students are required to present their multimodal projects to the entire class).

Disability scholars in composition studies, including Patricia A. Dunn and Kathleen Dunn De Mers (2002), Jay Dolmage (2007), and Bess Fox (2013), have commented on the benefits of using UD in diverse, multimodal, composition classrooms. Dunn and Dunn De Mers (2002), in particular, noted the importance of applying the principles of UD to the multimodal writing class in their web text "Reversing Notions of Disability and Accommodation: Embracing Universal Design in Writing Pedagogy and Web Space." In this text, Dunn and Dunn De Mers argued that “Universal design can help us break out of...limiting word-based pedagogies and assumptions,” and instead embrace a more embodied concept of writing and writing instruction. Some of their suggestions for how teachers might do this include assignments like “sketching-to-learn,” “multi-modal reading logs,” “panel discussions,” and “talking a draft.”  Jay Dolmage (2007), in his chapter from Disability and the Teaching of Writing, "Mapping Composition: Inviting Disability in the Front Door," argued that composition instructors need to proactively (not retroactively) consider universal design, because "disability can be produced by our uses of space" (p. 16). He said that we not only need to consider UD in regards to physical space, but also in regards to discursive, disciplinary, and institutional spaces as well. 

In addition to Dunn, Dunn De Mers’, and Dolmage's work with UD in the writing class, Bess Fox (2013) has also made connections between disability studies and embodied writing in her article, “Embodying the Writer in the Multimodal Classroom through Disability Studies.” Fox argued that disability theory can provide a lens through which “the physical nature of writing and meaning-making in the multimodal composition classroom” is emphasized (p. 266). Specifically, she suggested five activities that instructors can use to illustrate for students “how all writing—multimedia and traditional—is messy, physical work” (p. 277). These activities include: “the critical revision of a multimodal project using the principles of UD,” “a multimodal bodygraph,” “the usability analysis of a website or multimedia composition,” “a critical reflection on assistive literacy technologies,” and a “multimodal literacy narrative informed by key concepts in disability studies” (p. 280). The suggestions we make in this article build on these authors' notions of universally designed, embodied writing instruction by exploring ways that students might enact these concepts in their own work.

Below, we provide a brief description of how we embraced UD in a multimodal argument unit that focused on the critical revision and usability of various public texts. In the unit, we asked students to consider how certain well-known, historical texts might be revisioned for contemporary audiences, keeping in mind the principles of UD and a critical reflective stance on embodied modalities. The unit was framed using disability studies as a theoretical lens. We drew on disability in order to emphasize the physicality of writing, or how writing is an embodied practice (Fox, 2013).

Our Multimodal Redesign Project

To be clear, we did not introduce students to disability studies perspectives until the last unit of a three-unit course with a set sequence of assignments. One reason for this was that our own ideas about and pedagogical impulses toward disability perspectives in the writing classroom were and still are emerging. Implementing a disability studies unit into our already set sequence of assignments was a little risky and a bit of a challenge, but one that we welcomed for the opportunity it provided to critically reflect on the ways disability has and has not been made visible in our writing classrooms.

The course was originally themed around the rhetoric of social movements. In units one and two, students explored various social movements of interest to them (e.g. Women’s Movement, Environmental Movement, Occupy Wall Street, The Arab Spring, etc.). In unit one, they wrote a rhetorical analysis of a public document tied to a specific social movement. In unit two, they were encouraged to deepen their understanding of certain texts associated with their social movement through library research. In the third unit, we introduced concepts of multimodality, embodied writing, and access in society through the Disability Rights Movement. Students were asked to return to one of the texts associated with a social movement they had explored earlier in the course. Through the lens of disability studies, they worked to redesign these texts for contemporary audiences, keeping in mind certain applicable principles of universal design. They presented their work and reflected on the process.

At the beginning of our third and final unit, we introduced students to a couple of prominent public speakers with disabilities through various TEDTalks. In particular, we viewed, listened to, and discussed a talk by Aimee Mullins entitled “The Opportunity of Adversity.” In her talk, Mullins argued that negative perceptions and language associated with disability color the way we think about disability. She says, "It's not just about the words. It's what we believe about people when we name them with these words. It's about the values behind the words, and how we construct those values. Our language affects our thinking and how we view the world and how we view other people." She argued for the power of language to transform perceptions. 

In addition to considering the power of language to transform perceptions, we also discussed Bess Fox’s (2013) notion of the “embodied writer.” We began with the platitude that writers have bodies; we are all embodied writers. We asked students to consider the embodied modalities they use to compose. We discussed modalities as particular forms of sensory perception and ability: vision, hearing, taste, touch, and mobility. And, we discussed how not just our writing lives, but all of our experience is determined, in part, by our bodies. We discussed how each of our embodied experiences is different from others’ experiences. We also asked students to consider the extent to which their experiences might be authored by others. Aimee Mullins talked about how language “authors” our bodies, how the value behind the words affects our thinking and how we view the world and other people. We asked the students to reflect on how bodies can be “authored” by putting to them the following:

  • In what ways does Mullins understand adversity to be an opportunity?
  • How does Mullins understand her experience to be “authored” by others?
  • How does she author her own experience of adversity publicly and for others in ways that are nuanced, critical, and more inclusive?
  • How might you construct and make available your own public arguments in ways that are nuanced, critical, and more inclusive?

These questions helped set the tone for our unit on the Disability Rights Movement and its intersection with public argument. Our unit considered how bodies get written by larger social discourses and how peoples' multiple means of sensory perception (modalities) relate to larger society. The point of this unit was to consider the notion of public argument as a form of access that could be constructed in more or less inclusive ways. By way of an example, we asked students to think about the classroom as a social space. What modalities does this classroom privilege? In what ways is the classroom not accessible? In short, we asked students to think about their own public arguments as embodied practices. Students were charged with considering multiple modalities in the construction of their public argument. They were asked to revise old arguments with the aim of creating better access to them. To that end, we asked students to deploy digital technologies (mostly assistive technologies) in their presentations and to reflect on their rhetorical choices by considering how they managed multiple forms of representation, expression, and engagement.  

The Readings

In addition to studying the Mullin's talk and analyzing the classroom as a social and embodied space, we introduced various readings, films, video clips, and multimedia about disability in society. Many of the readings and texts that we assigned in class came recommended by the University of Arizona (2015) disability resources website. Some of these texts are listed below with links:

By using disability studies as the scaffolding for the development of the public argument unit, we were able to both frame our critical discussions of disability in the classroom and plan assignments and lessons that put an emphasis on inclusiveness and multiple means of representation, action/expression, and engagement. In other words, the principles of UDL informed the design of this course both at the theoretical and the practical level. Readings and public talks by prominent disability studies writers, speakers, and scholars played an important role throughout the unit and helped to contextualize the unit in the social history and discourse of disability in the U.S. Frequent trips and meetings with representatives within our university’s disabilities resource center helped us to revise our unit plan with multiple learning preferences and literacies in mind.

In the next section, we provide a brief summary of our Unit 3 assignments and some examples of how students engaged disability and universal design in their projects.

The Assignments

Students’ final projects were to take the form of a public argument that incorporated universal design as part of a more inclusive rhetoric. This assignment met two of our third unit goals. The first goal was to have students think critically about disability in society and about themselves as embodied readers and writers. The second goal was to have students imagine public arguments that were attentive to the principles of universal design and took a critical reflective stance on embodied modalities. A major assumption of this second goal was that public arguments are basically multimodal forms of communication that involve the use of multiple modalities, primarily visual and auditory modes, to convey messages to embodied readers/listeners.

The final project consisted of three smaller assignments. Rather than have students create entirely new public arguments, we suggested they consider a redesign of an already circulating public text. We hoped this option would encourage students to link the rhetorical work and research they had completed in previous units to the last unit. We also saw it as an opportunity of doing what the scholarship preaches, for as Fox (2013) wrote, “If disability studies is to help multimodal composition fulfill its promise of showing students how all writing–multimedia and traditional–is messy physical work, it needs to be fully integrated into the multimodal composition classroom" (p. 277). While we did not fully integrate a disability studies lens from beginning to end, the multimodality of social movements was a tacit assumption we engaged throughout the course by rhetorically analyzing and researching the various written, visual, and gesticular texts associated with public arguments. We attempted to more explicitly link the course theme of social movements, a disability studies approach, and multimodality.

Below, we have represented the imperatives of each of the smaller assignments of the larger Unit 3 project with numbered bullet points: 

  1. Redesign a public argument text. Redesign a well-known, historical or currently popular public argument using principles of universal design and multimodality to consider issues of access and inclusivity. Your redesign will take the form of a new text which you will present to the class.
  2. Present your argument publicly. Give a 10-minute defense of your multimodal redesign project making sure your presentation is accessible. Be able to discuss the rhetorical choices you made in redesigning your public argument text and in presenting it to the class.
  3. Write a reflective essay/"bodygraph." Write a 4-page reflection that draws on course readings, writing assignments, and major projects to think more critically about what it means to be an embodied reader/writer. (See below for a fuller description of what we mean by this term bodygraph.)

In what follows, we break down each of the assignments into its particulars. We describe what we asked students to do, and we provide examples of how students differently interpreted the assignment through their presentations and reflections.

The Redesign Project

In our assignment handouts, students were provided with various options for creating, rewriting, developing, and producing new and competing versions of public arguments using assistive technologies and employing a UDL framework.

Some suggestions we gave are as follows:

  • Create an updated version of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments (discussed in Unit 1). Rewrite the famous speech to speak to contemporary feminist concerns and present it using readily available assistive technology like Panopto.
  • Rewrite a section of Henry David Thoreau's Walden (from Unit 1) as a modern day environmental treatise on ecological living. Visually represent your new model of ecological living as a concept map using C-Map tools or other assistive technology and present it to the class.
  • Develop a narrative in Storify that illustrates why marijuana should or should not be legalized (or present a competing version of some other current public argument). Present a video/audio grab of your computer screen (try Jing or Panopto) that documents your thought process as you lead us through the narrative in real time.
  • Produce a captioned Vimeo project that encourages people to get involved in a local issue. Your Vimeo must provide an alternative advocacy campaign to those already in existence.
  • Create an updated illustration of a political cartoon and present it as a scannable PDF document.

Throughout the unit, students were introduced to various assistive technologies such as Panopto (a video/screen grab technology), Movie Captioner, and the scannable PDF as multi-modal forms of access. Throughout, we provided students various examples of how they might be able to incorporate multimodality via assistive technologies into their redesign projects.

The Presentation

The presentation gave students an opportunity to present their redesign projects to the class for feedback. It was also an opportunity for students to explain the rhetorical choices they made in their critical revisions and how these choices were informed by their understanding of multimodality and universal design. Presentations were brief at no more than 10 minutes. Almost every student chose to present using PowerPoint rather than some other medium, although other presentation styles and technologies were introduced. When it became clear in the workshopping and drafting phase that students were opting to do PowerPoint presentations, we encouraged them to keep in mind the University of Arizona Disability Resource Center's (UA DRC) guidelines for creating accessible PowerPoint presentations. These guidelines, in the end, were made part of the evaluation process. 

Other requirements for the presentation included the following:

  • In your presentation you must introduce yourself and the title of your public argument project and situate yourself in the field of study (i.e. you need to explain why you are interested in your topic and why you take the stance that you do). Also make sure to briefly note some of the current research and/or social context that supports you in the stance that you take in your critical revision project.
  • Following a brief introduction of your project, reveal the medium of your public argument. What text or form does your critical revision take? If you have decided to revise a longer text, such as a speech, essay, or video, give us a brief excerpt or show us just a clip. Explain how and why you chose to revise certain features of the text as opposed to others.
  • Finally, tell us how your public argument contributes to your chosen social movement in a new way. Don't forget to tell us that you are aware that your project and your presentation of it may have some limitations. Describe what those limitations are and how you tried to overcome them using universal design principles. 

A particularly successful presentation created by a student named "Anna" involved a PowerPoint on the controversy over bilingual instruction in the U.S. Based on research she conducted earlier in the course on the English-only movement, Anna argued that bilingual lesson plans offered arguments against English-only teaching policies. Consequently, she opted to redesign an English-only K-12 language arts lesson for bilingual students. Using the video, audio, and transcription features of the assistive technology Panopto, she was able to capture her PowerPoint presentation of the revised lesson plan as a digital file. She uploaded the file to our course management site in both English and Spanish so that students could view, listen, read, and comment on her project after class via multiple modes of engagement, action, and expression.

Image 1. This image is a screen capture of Anna's presentation in Panopto, an assistive technology that allows for key word searching, audio, captioning, and self-paced engagement.
Image 1. This image is a screen capture of Anna's presentation in Panopto, an assistive technology that allows for key word searching, audio, captioning, and self-paced engagement.

The "Bodygraph" Assignment

The bodygraph reflective essay was a lesson we adapted from Fox (2013), who suggested that students try writing reflections that describe the way their bodily communication is a product of larger social discourses (p. 279). The bodygraph would allow students to think more critically about what embodied writing means and how it is informed by larger social discourses and histories. It was our intention that the bodygraph might be a way for students to write back to those discourses and histories through their redesign projects and critical reflections.

To that end, we asked students to focus their reflections around their experience of the class or on their critical revision of a public argument, rather than on disclosing sensitive personal histories (although we did not close off this option for students who wanted to engage in more extensive personal reflection). In other words, we did not force or require students to disclose deeply personal histories as part of their grade in the class. However, we did give students options as to how they might address their embodied experiences of writing and engaging in a disabilities perspective by tying their reflections to their experience of specific course assignments and thinking about the ways that particular assignments asked them to (re)consider access in society. To do this, we asked students to discuss the conventions of argument and presentation that they encountered in the third unit and to discuss how and why they chose to break with some conventions and not others. Again, we asked them to consider how they employed nuanced, critical, and inclusive practices in the construction of their public arguments and public selves. They were required to cite at least two of the required disability readings in their essays.

Students Reflect on Embodied Writing

Looking back, we understand that we were asking a lot of our second-semester, FYC students. We were asking them to engage in a critique and analysis of writing as an embodied practice while also revising public arguments to be more inclusive for contemporary audiences. In addition, we asked our students to work across multiple platforms, assistive technologies, and genres in their attempts to revise their public arguments. Lastly, we asked students to reflect on the physicality of their own writing practices. We asked all of this from them in a single unit in which we introduced the lens of disability studies and embodied writing for the first time. 

Naturally, students struggled to make sense of the unit, its conceptual schema, and especially of disability studies as a lens. At the same time, they struggled to make sense of the genres in which we were asking them to write and make revisions. Despite careful scaffolding of the unit and our attempt to link the unit to previous units that contextualized bodily rhetoric in social and historical contexts, we found that students continued to perpetuate notions of the disabled person as “other” and embodied writing as a skill rather than a lived experience. For example, in their reflections, most students held fast to the academic notion of a disembodied author-self; they understood embodiment as something that "other people" experience; and they thought of embodied writing as a rhetorical strategy they could use to persuade others of their point-of-view.

In the subsections below, we discuss how students understood "embodied writing" as a mindful, rhetorical strategy. Finally, in the "Moving Forward" and "Conclusion" sections, we identify some of the limitations of this view and think about what we would do differently next time to encourage students to develop a more critical and revisionary lens via disability studies and universal design.

Embodied Writing as Compassion

Many students wrote about how the disability studies unit and critical revision assignment encouraged them to look at the world of spaces and places differently in terms of access and inclusivity. Woven throughout their responses were references to modality, particularly related to how people use various modalities to access and participate in educational spaces such as the writing classroom. Overall, students commented on how the unit shaped their sympathetic concern for and awareness of disability in society. In other words, our writing class, with its emphasis on the physicality of composition and the role of disability studies in seeing space differently, led to compassionate thinking. Students began to equate embodied writing with compassion.

One student wrote,

This project was the definition of embodied writing. In order to make the project as a whole successful, the writer needed to acknowledge and realize how difficult it would be to have a disability. I can't help but think how hard it must be to attempt to learn something that was not being taught to you in a way that you could not understand. When we took the time in class to go to a certain part of the campus and write down the lack of accessibility for the disabled, it blew me away. My group went to the modern languages building and we noticed that throughout the entire building, there were only two possible ways for someone of special needs to be able to enter the building, without having someone else there to help escort them. These aspects of limitation were racing through my head when doing this project. I could not help but use emotion to the fullest extent to tie the project together. 

Another student concurred, "This assignment has gotten me to be more mindful of everyone around me. I have a new appreciation for accessibility and a better understanding of what it is like to have to rely on multiple modalities."

In their attempts to define what embodied writing means, many students reflected on the connection they saw between argument and sensory awareness. Few students commented on the larger histories and structures that differentiate embodied ways of knowing along unequal lines. Although we worked hard to illustrate the social context of disability and embodied experience in society through selected readings and structured class discussion, our students held fast to a notion of embodied writing as the awareness of disability created by pathos. 

Embodied Writing as Rhetorical Strategy

In another reflection a student writes about embodied writing as a rhetorical device that helps to effectively convey a message by creating personal connections through empathy.  According to the student below, one could effectively become an embodied writer simply by being passionate about one’s own ideas and sharing this passion with others. The student wrote, "Another thing that made me an embodied writer was the fact that I used my own thoughts and beliefs on the subject to get across my message. Since I was so connected with my topic, I found it easier to connect with my audience through my presentation because I was so passionate about my side."

The idea of embodied writing as a tool for communication is expressed once again in the following student reflection:

Embodied writing is a literary tool used in writing that allows the author to play on audience members’ senses to construct the most effective and compelling argument. The author can use embodied writing to convey a message that is most meaningful to their audience. An author may use descriptive languages, visual presentations, or narratives to attract and influence different audiences. Embodied writing takes into an account certain audience members’ limitations such as deafness and being handicapped; an author is able to craft an argument that includes as many people as possible, which embraces cultural and physical differences.

The fact that most students make the connection between embodied writing and sensory awareness, but not to larger social histories and structures of inequality, could be a fault of our course design and our selection of readings and film which emphasized the “opportunity of adversity,” struggle, and victory. In a recent thread on a disability studies community listserv, we came across an exchange of ideas about proposing disability-themed rhetoric and writing courses. Amy Vidali (2015) shared her unpublished syllabus of an upper-division disability rhetoric course called Rhetoric and the Body which challenged students to think more critically about storytelling and the “limited nature of stories about disability.” Other units in the course encouraged students to consider “authorship and audience by examining how we speak for others’ bodies and how others speak for us” and by exploring “what normalcy is and what lives are (most) valuable.” This exchange of ideas on the disability studies community listserv, as well as the Disability Rhetoric website currently managed by Dev Bos at the University of Arizona, has helped us reconsider ways of selecting, introducing, and discussing texts that highlight a more critical understanding of rhetoric and the body in society

Embodied Writing and Mindfulness

Interestingly, students remarked again and again in their reflections about the mindfulness they experienced during the unit. A significant number of students wrote about how the unit got them to think more reflectively about access. One student wrote about the “mindful” appreciation for accessibility that was gained as a result of the redesign project and subsequent presentation and reflection opportunities. The student wrote, “This assignment has gotten me to be more mindful (emphasis added) of everyone around me. I have a new appreciation for accessibility and a better understanding of what it is like to have to rely on multiple modalities.” Another student wrote about how the public argument assignment required the class to develop rhetorical skills that they could use to help others develop mindfulness around issues of access and disability in society: “This unit required us to think about a public argument and then present it in a way that would get the audience to be more mindful (emphasis added) of issues.” Still another student wrote about the relationship between mindfulness and inclusive rhetoric: “We used mindfulness (emphasis added) when attempting to be more inclusive in our presentations.”

While many students equated “embodied writing” with “emotions,” “vivid experience,” “a personal connection,” or any otherwise embodied reception of and/or engagement with various public arguments, many more students wrote in their reflections about developing an awareness of disability in society that they likened to “mindfulness.” In other words, students understood embodied ways of knowing and composing as engendering a mindfulness of difference rather than of more critical perspectives. The students’ view of the connection between disability in society and mindfulness was interesting to us. It made us wonder to what extent we were preparing students in FYC to engage rhetoric and the body not just compassionately, but also critically and ethically. We continue to wonder what a more ethical, critical, and compassionate disability stance might look like in a multimodal FYC course.

Moving Forward and Conclusion

Based on our students' responses to the sequence of assignments we developed for our third unit, we have made some suggestions for moving forward with a disability studies (and UD) perspective in FYC. Here are some of our suggestions for other teachers interested in attempting a similar project:

  • Make sure the whole semester is properly scaffolded. One of our greatest obstacles in undertaking this project was that considerations of disability and accessibility became a primary focus in our class only during the third unit. We became aware, almost immediately, that scaffolding the entire semester on issues of disability and accessibility (as Jay Dolmage suggests) would have addressed many of the problems we encountered.
  • Have mindfulness play a bigger role. As discussed by Fox, and as evidenced by our students' reflections, there seems to be a lot of potential and possibility in combining discussions of disability with mindfulness. A more purposeful facilitation of mindfulness throughout the course might encourage a deeper engagement with the topics discussed.
  • Leave time for reflection. Directly connected to a greater facilitation of mindfulness, leaving time for consistent reflection (perhaps at the end of each unit) throughout the course may encourage the meta-cognitive awareness necessary for a deeper engagement with issues of disability and accessibility. 
  • Give options, but not too many. Upon reflection, we have considered the possibility that it may have been better to give our students fewer options of platforms to use for their presentations, or possibly even required students to use an assistive platform, like Panopto. We think that if more students had used an assistive technology rather than PowerPoint, then some of the concepts of accessibility we were trying to convey might have been made more concrete.  

At the end of our unit on the Disability Rights Movement and public argument, we found that in asking our students to apply concepts of universal design to the construction or redesign of multimodal public arguments, students were able to develop some increased mindfulness about access in society, although this mindfulness did not always result in thinking more critically about themselves as embodied readers or writers. While our intention was to have students, as active producers of public arguments, rhetorically address issues of access in their own multimodal compositions, the ultimate outcome of our unit had less to do with creating this critical rhetorical awareness and more to do with creating a general mindfulness of disability in society, or as Brueggemann et al. (2001) have written, making disability visible. 

While seeking to make disability visible in the writing classroom is a worthy goal, we would also suggest that teaching teachers how to frame multimodal composition assignments and expectations around issues of disability and access in society (and in writing) is key. In our effort to incorporate some of these interests into our own FYC classes, we have found external sources of support such as the disability studies community listserv, the disability resource center on our campus, and the Disability Rhetoric website, to be invaluable. However, we feel that now is the time to integrate these external sources of support for access, disability, and multimodality into internal structures of support for FYC teachers seeking to make their classrooms more inclusive. Such support could take the form of disability studies and universal design panels, talks, roundtables, and/or brown bags in GAT training programs, preceptorships, and orientations as well as examples of lesson plans and syllabus designs that take into consideration students' diverse learning styles and preferences. 

References and Additional Resources

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo, White, Linda Feldmeier, Dunn, Patricia A., Heifferon, Barbara A., & Cheu, Johnson. (2001). Becoming visible: Lessons in disability. College Composition and Communication52(3), 368-398.

The Center for Universal Design. (2008). About UD: Universal design history.  Retrieved from www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/index.htm

Disability Rhetoric | disabling writing, in a good way. (2015). Resources. Disabilityrhetoric.com. Retrieved from http://disabilityrhetoric.com/resources/

Dolmage, Jay. (2007). Mapping composition: Inviting disability in the front door. In Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson & Brenda Jo Brueggemann (Eds.), Disability and the teaching of writing (pp. 14-27). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Dunn, Patricia A., & Dunn De Mers, Kathleen. (2002). Reversing notions of disability and accommodation: Embracing universal design in writing pedagogy and web space. Kairos 7(1). Retrieved from http://technorhetoric.net/7.1/binder2.html?coverweb/dunn_demers/index.html

Fox, Bess. (2013). Embodying the writer in the multimodal classroom through disability studies. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 266–282.

Yergeau, Melanie et al. (2013). Multimodality in motion: Disability and kairotic spaces. Kairos 18(1). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/18.1/coverweb/yergeau-et-al/index.html  

National Center for Universal Design of Learning. (2012). About UDL: Learn the basics.  Retrieved from www.udlcenter.org

The University of Arizona. (2015). Disability awareness and simulation activities. Disability resources. Retrieved from http://drc.arizona.edu/outreach-education/disability-awareness-and-simulation-activities

Vidali, Amy. (2015, May 5). Re: Proposing Disability Rhetoric/Writing Course. Electronic mailing list message. Retrieved from <DS_RHET-COMP@lists.ucdenver.edu>

Yancey, Kathleen, Lunsford, Andrea, McDonald, James, Moran, Charles, Neal, Michael, Pryor, Chet, Roen, Duane, & Selfe, Cindy. (2004). CCCC position statement on teaching, learning, and assessing writing in digital environments. Conference on College Composition and Communication. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/digitalenvironments


For additional information on how to implement the UDL principles in your classes, please visit the CAST (an educational research and development organization) website at www.cast.org(external link) and see the UDL technology toolkit wiki at http://udltechtoolkit.wikispaces.com/About(external link) UDL.


Created by matthew. Last Modification: Wednesday 20 of April, 2016 14:27:03 UTC by kristi.