The Multimodal Advocacy Project asks students to 1) advocate for a social issue they care about and 2) make purposeful decisions about multimodality that necessitate an awareness of the relationship between audience and accessibility. In the context of this project, accessibility means creating multiple modes of communication to reach diverse audiences. This is an inclusive approach, one that includes not only audiences with disabilities but also audiences with other identities and literacies. For example, the project encourages students to describe images of infographics, write transcripts of videos, and include additional languages for project topics that include linguistically diverse communities. Because students cared deeply about issues they were advocating for, reaching a broad audience became personally exigent to them.
This project is influenced by the intersection of composition studies and disability studies, which “asks us to think carefully about language and its effects, to understand the role of the body in learning and writing, to view bodies and minds as inherently and wonderfully divergent, to consider issues of access and exclusion in policies and in the environment, and to re-engage with theories of difference and diversity" (Lewiecki-Wilson & Brueggemann, 2008, p. 1). Work in disability studies and Universal Design for Learning (see Dolmage, 2015; Meyer et al., 2014) encourages instructors to engage a diversity of student learning styles and to provide options for student choice and multimodality.
When designing this assignment, I also considered “how we teach using multiple forms and formats, how students communicate through different modes, and how multimodal pedagogies offer students a way to ‘learn by doing’” (Hitt, 2015, p. 104, quoting Shipka). In other words, the Multimodal Advocacy Project provides multiple modes of active student learning to encourage engagement and writing transfer (Anson & Moore, 2016; Nowacek, 2011; Yancey et al., 2014). Active learning occurs when students make composing choices that are applicable in their own contexts, which also helps them understand the stakes of identifying a clear purpose, audience, and context, as well as how to make their work more accessible with these concepts in mind. Students need to actually apply these concepts to their own rhetorical situations, not just analyze them in the work of others.
In this webtext, I explain how the larger purpose of the Multimodal Advocacy Project is to create collective access, followed by an explanation of the assignment sequence and how I assessed student projects. To illustrate the potential of this project, I include two student project examples and highlight how they are particularly effective and accessible. Additionally, I provide an analysis of student reflections on their learning and composing processes to further demonstrate how this project guides students to make meaningful connections between concepts of audience and accessibility, which, in turn, helps them become more thoughtful and effective communicators.
Accessible composing choices need to be an integral part of the composing process. While work exists on incorporating multimodality into assignments (Alexander & Rhodes, 2014; Lutkewitte, 2014), it too often lacks attention to the accessibility of modes. In an increasingly multimodal world that is increasingly inaccessible to many people, students need to think through how different genres and modes necessitate different forms of accessibility. As Stephanie Kerschbaum pointed out in her writing on commensurability in the the collaborative webtext "Multimodality in Motion" (Yergeau et al., 2013): “Multimodality almost universally celebrates using multiple modes without considering what happens if a user cannot access one or more of them.” Hence, the Multimodal Advocacy Project sequence (see Figure 1 or download the PDF) includes rhetorical elements of accessibility, such as accessible fonts, image descriptions, and captions, not just as add-ons or for extra credit. Previous scholarship has made valuable contributions to composition studies by pushing us to think practically and creatively about accessible design (Butler, 2016; Eyman et al., 2016; Zdenek, 2018), but not enough work exists that encourages students to consider accessibility as a core component from the beginning in their multimodal composing processes.
While I explained to my students that “we learn to write by writing,” we also learn accessibility by actively participating in the creation of it. This can be facilitated by members of a learning community continuously negotiating learning needs together—perhaps through email check-ins, written reflections, group discussions, and conferences. This interdependence “offers a more inclusive approach to a student-centered classroom by placing collective access at the center and making students responsible to and for one another” (Konrad, 2018, p. 182). Collective access, a principle from the intersectional disability justice framework, is a shared responsibility for our access needs (Berne et al., 2018, p. 228). We need to make the world more accessible for one another because we all have different access and communication needs.
The project asked students to address their intended audience for their particular cause as well as audience members who have a variety of communication styles and needs with the understanding that nothing is ever perfectly accessible. Access is an ongoing process that needs to be adapted through rhetorical dexterity. The Multimodal Advocacy Project asks students to create collective access as they collaborate on their projects.
This project is situated in the course after working through academic reading and writing strategies, rhetorical analysis, and exploratory research. When I created this project, my goal was to make students’ work more purposeful and transferable beyond the course and to increase their investment and motivation. I want their work to matter to them, and I want them to enter the academic conversation in ways that have stakes beyond a course grade. The project asks students to use and expand the skills they learned in the preceding segments and turn their exploratory research into a condensed, accessible, public-facing project. They need to identify their audience and context when they decide which writing genre they will use and what modes different genres afford to make their project engaging to their audiences. Further, they need to make their project accessible to allow a variety of audiences to engage with it.
The assignment sequence for this project (Figure 1) is scaffolded and spans over several weeks to help students design their projects and reflect on their composing choices along the way. It includes encouraging students to work through the affordances and limitations of various genres and modes. One assignment asked students to analyze a short video by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (n.d.) titled “Zach Anner & The Quest for the Rainbow Bagel” and discuss how Anner and the producers of this video use specific rhetorical appeals and multimodality to advocate for more accessible urban mobility and transportation options. This video also serves as a model for the Multimodal Advocacy Project as it provides rhetorical approaches and accessible features that make it engaging and effective for the purposes of advocacy. To help students make their composing decisions more accessible (e.g., via captioning, sound, image descriptions, fonts), one assignment asked students to read “Creating Video and Multimedia Products That Are Accessible to People with Sensory Impairments,” published by the University of Washington’s Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) (Burgstahler, 2014), and apply the suggestions there for Universal Design to their projects.
The topics that students chose included a variety of social issues, and they could interpret the themes of accessibility and advocacy loosely as long as their topic related to access, inclusion, and/or social justice. Students provided permission to share their work through an IRB-approved (19.039) study about pedagogy, accessibility, and multimodality. One of the projects I appreciate for its accessible design, clarity, and meeting of the course goals is an infographic advocating for international student needs that a student made into a Wix webpage to add some more accessible features (Figure 2).
Another student created an infographic about how undocumented immigrants can access healthcare. After discussing her work with a writing center tutor, this student decided to make an additional version of her infographic in Spanish, complete with image descriptions and a whole script of the infographic in both English and Spanish (Figure 3).
Some other examples of impressive student work include a poster about mental health issues among college students and information about the university’s counseling services that the student wanted to hang up in the dorms on campus. Another is a letter to corporations advocating to make their services more accommodating to people with autism spectrum disorders and sensory processing disorders.
The last part of the sequence asks students to reflect on what they learned about rhetorical concepts through creating their projects (shared with permission through the aforementioned IRB-approved study). One of the reflections questions asks students: “What did you learn about the following concepts through working on your project: Context, Audience, Purpose, Rhetorical appeals, Genre, Modes, Accessibility?”
Table 1 includes student responses to the reflection question above that demonstrates how they made connections between concepts of audience and accessibility, even though the question does not explicitly prompt them to do so. These student responses demonstrate how this project helped them make those connections themselves. For example, responding to what they learned about the concept of audience, Student A stated, “Knowing who your audience is, is important in order to build a connection with them through the text.” Then, in response to what they learned about the concept of accessibility, the same student stated, “I learned that it’s important to make sure that all aspects of my project were accessible to everyone, otherwise not everyone will get the message.” Here, Student A demonstrated their awareness of their audience for their project and the importance of making all aspects of their project accessible to their audience. While Student A could have been a bit more specific about their intended audience, their reflection demonstrates an awareness of how their audience has a diversity of accessibility needs.
As shown in Table 1, many other students noted that centering access in their composing choices helped them to identify a specific audience and modes that could enable more effective communication. Students cared about this because they cared about the cause they were advocating for and wanted to communicate that to wide audiences. As demonstrated in the Accessibility column in Table 1, students mentioned some aspect of audience when reflecting on accessibility (e.g., "intended audience," "everyone," "all readers," "viewers").
|A||Knowing who your audience is, is important in order to build a connection with them through the text.||I learned that it’s important to make sure that all aspects of my project were accessible to everyone, otherwise not everyone will get the message.|
|B||The audience can be more specific or broad than what I originally thought.||Accessibility is important so that everyone is able to see and hear what you want to be heard.|
|C||I learned that this is a way more specific thing than I originally thought.||Helps you reach a greater audience.|
|D||The audience needs to be taken into consideration if you plan on changing minds.||Describing important photos I show will be good for a blind audience member.|
|E||That the writing needs to be very specific to the audience that I am trying to reach.||It is very important for all of your audience to be able to access your project in order for it to be effective.|
|F||At first my audience was pretty broad because I chose the city as a whole as my audience but I had to condense my choice of audience and be more specific about who I would present this project to.||Making sure the audience is able to see the infographic and if not then add an audio text describing the infographic for those who aren’t able to see.|
|G||I learned that having a specific audience is important if you want to reach anyone with your work. Determining my audience helped me determine many other factors of my work, like how it was written, the information used, etc.||I learned how important it is to make things as accessible as possible. As a healthy, white woman, I know that I don’t face as many struggles as others who may not be like me, so it is important to recognize that and put that into my work.|
|H||Everything I had to write was meant for an audience so I had to make sure it was appealing for who I wanted it to go to.||I learned how to make my project accessible to all readers by making captions so it can be read aloud and then I made all the text big enough and clear. I made it accessible in ways where people can access it from anywhere.|
|I||When selecting an audience, it is crucial to make it specific enough that a real group of people is being reached but not so specific that only an extremely small population would even have interest in the topic.||When it comes to making everything, accessible this is crucial to actually reaching the intended audience. There is a specific audience in mind, but this does not mean that the specifics should start creating limitations as to what type of individual can interact with the work.|
|J||I learned how to make my information accessible to all different needs of my audience instead of just one as I normally would have, and I think that’s very important.||I learned how to adapt my information to the different viewers so that it is accessible to everyone.|
Further, students’ deeper understanding of their rhetorical situations allowed them to realize how the rhetorical, accessibility, and advocacy work they produced in this project can transfer beyond it. Another student wrote, “I can apply my new knowledge and awareness of accessibility to my real life outside of class if I am in a situation where accessibility is limited.”
This demonstrates how the Multimodal Advocacy Project can address the larger goals for this project: active learning, transfer, accessible composing, and collective access. While multimodal and advocacy assignments aren’t new, the most innovative part of this assignment is how it guides students to make connections between audience and accessible composing choices, situating them as active and collaborative creators of collective access, and hence, more thoughtful and effective communicators.
I used what I call credit-based assessment to reinforce the process pedagogy that I value. Students received a 2 (complete), 1 (incomplete/late), or 0 (missing) for all assignments in the sequence based on following the instructions in each assignment. The sequence asked them to build their project in steps, receive feedback in a peer review, revise, receive feedback from me, and revise again. The feedback I provided was based on how I perceived they demonstrated the following goals:
- Advocate for change by clearly addressing the problem, your proposed solution, and clear guidance for implementing this change.
- Incorporate the information you gathered in your exploratory project in a condensed and useful way for your audience.
- Demonstrate awareness of genre conventions by making choices that are accessible to your audience.
The sequence also asked students to write a reflection and self-evaluation of their work. An additional possibility for evaluation would be to have audiences outside of class respond to students’ projects.
This assignment can be adapted to a variety of learning contexts with the goals of applying course content in meaningful and accessible ways. Instructors can ask students to situate themselves as stakeholders with a specific purpose and identify other stakeholders in their rhetorical situations. This creates a personal connection to their work and pushes them to seek information to provide ideas, questions, and/or solutions for themselves and their audience that have identifiable stakes, including accessibility for audiences.
A potentially challenging part of this project is the technological aspect. To address this, the collaborative group work of this project is an integral part of the process as it asks students to brainstorm genres and modes together, consider how to create them, and to trouble-shoot tech problems. Collaborations with digital humanities labs and specialists can be helpful. Students can choose modes they are comfortable with and are encouraged to ask their peers about free tools to help them create any modes that are new to them. Instructors might benefit from resources like Cheryl Ball et al.'s (2022) Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects and Jodie Nicotra’s (2018) Becoming Rhetorical: Analyzing and Composing in a Multimedia World. While valuable resources, these texts do not center accessibility, which is why I provided students several resources for making the modes of their digital composing more accessible, like the Universal Design one mentioned previously. Sean Zdenek also provides many creative and accessible examples of multimodality on his website, soundwriting, visual design, inclusive media, rhetoric.
Students researching and collaborating to select useful modes and how to make them accessible is an integral part of the project’s purpose. Or, to put it more poetically, this purpose is “to help build a world where accessibility is understood as an act of love instead of a burden or an afterthought” (Disability Visibility Project, 2019). The Multimodal Advocacy Project promotes this conceptualization of access as a way to care for each other—a practice especially needed during times of rapid technological advancement, which can neglect marginalized audiences. Collective access is central to effective and caring communication.
Special thanks to my hard-working and thoughtful students and to Dr. Rachel Bloom-Pojar and Dr. Annika Konrad for inspiring this assignment and helping me to help my students work through it. Additional thanks to the editors and reviewers of Kairos for providing such a transparent and productive editorial process.
Alexander, Jonathan, & Rhodes, Jacqueline. (2014). On multimodality: New media in composition studies. Conference on College Composition and Communication; National Council of Teachers of English.
Anson, Chris M., & Moore, Jessie L. (Eds.). (2016). Critical transitions: Writing and the question of transfer. The WAC Clearinghouse; University Press of Colorado. https://doi.org/10.37514/PER-B.2016.0797
Ball, Cheryl E., Sheppard, Jennifer, & Arola, Kristin L. (2022). Writer/Designer: A guide to making multimodal projects (3rd ed.). Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Berne, Patricia, Morales, Aurora Levins, Langstaff, David, & Sins Invalid. (2018). Ten principles of disability justice. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 46(1–2), 227–230. http://doi.org/10.1353/wsq.2018.0003
Burgstahler, Sheryl. (2014). Creating video and multimedia products that are accessible to people with sensory impairments. University of Washington. https://www.washington.edu/doit/creating-video-and-multimedia-products-are-accessible-people-sensory-impairments
Butler, Janine. (2016). Where access meets multimodality: The case of ASL music videos. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 21(1). https://kairos.technorhetoric.net/21.1/topoi/butler/index.html
Cerebral Palsy Foundation. (n.d.). Zach Anner & the quest for the rainbow bagel [Video file]. TedEd. https://ed.ted.com/featured/n1X3RfBg
Disability Visibility Project. (2019, February 1). Access is love. Disability Visibility Project. https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2019/02/01/access-is-love/
Dolmage, Jay. (2015). Universal design: Places to start. Disability Studies Quarterly, 35(2). https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/4632/3946
Eyman, Douglas, Ball, Cheryl E., Boggs, Jeremy, Booher, Amanda K., Burnside, Elkie, DeWitt, Scott Lloyd, Dockter, Jason, Dolmage, Jay, Gardner, Traci, Georgi, Sara, Hinderliter, Hal, Ivey, Susan, Keller, Michael, Kelley Rachael, Kennedy, Sarah, Kennison, Rebecca, McClanahan, Pamela, Ries, Alex, Roberts, Kassi, … Zdenek, Sean. (2016). Access/ibility: Access and usability for digital publishing. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 20(2). https://kairos.technorhetoric.net/20.2/topoi/eyman-et-al/index.html
Hitt, Allison Harper. (2015). From accommodations to accessibility: How rhetorics of overcoming manifest in writing pedagogies (Publication No. 3702294) [Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Konrad, Annika. (2018). Arguing for access: Everyday rhetorical labor of disability (Publication No. 10976528) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin–Madison]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, & Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. (2008). Rethinking practices and pedagogy: Disability and the teaching of writing. In Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson & Brenda Jo Brueggemann (Eds.), Disability and the teaching of writing: A critical sourcebook (pp. 1–9). Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Lutkewitte, Claire (Ed.). (2014). Multimodal composition: A critical sourcebook. Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Meyer, Anne, Rose, David H., & Gordon, David. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. CAST Professional Publishing.
Nicotra, Jodie. (2018). Becoming rhetorical: Analyzing and composing in a multimedia world. Cengage Learning.
Nowacek, Rebecca. (2011). Agents of integration: Understanding transfer as a rhetorical act. Southern Illinois University Press.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Robertson, Liane, & Taczak, Kara. (2014). Writing across contexts: Transfer, composition, and sites of writing. Utah State University Press.
Yergeau, M. Remi, Brewer, Elizabeth, Kerschbaum, Stephanie, Oswal, Sushil K., Price, Margaret, Selfe, Cynthia L., Salvo, Michael J., & Howe, Franny. (2013). Multimodality in motion: Disability and kairotic spaces. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 18(1). http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/18.1/coverweb/yergeau-et-al/
Zdenek, Sean. (2018). Designing captions: Disruptive experiments with typography, color, icons, and effects. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 23(1). http://technorhetoric.net/23.1/topoi/zdenek/index.html