Academic journal article Composition Studies

Disability Studies in the Composition Classroom

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Disability Studies in the Composition Classroom

Article excerpt

Issues of disability matter in composition studies and classrooms, first, because we have a long, proud history of making the invisible visible and of examining how language both reflects and supports notions of Other. Second, we also rightly pride ourselves on our attention to practice-and on our refusal to separate it from the theoretical assumptions that explicitly or implicitly inform it. Third . . . because we already challenge the binaries of theory/practice, writing/ thinking, and self/other, we should be well equipped-even eagerto embrace the critique of the (false) abled/disabled binary

-Brenda Jo Brueggemann, Linda Feldmeier White, Patricia A. Dunn, Barbara Heifferon, and Johnson Cheu

At the Computers & Writing 2014 conference the three keynote speakers addressed issues of inclusion, accessibility, and ethics. These are not unusual topics in the field of rhetoric and composition. Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, issues of disability and disability studies (DS) have emerged in a number of journals and conferences within our field, and more and more composition scholars have incorporated disability into their research and pedagogy. The focus of the keynote speakers at Computers & Writing demonstrates that disability and accessibility are still, and will continue to be, important issues within the field of rhetoric and composition. More specifically, as Margaret Price has noted, "disability has become more apparent in firstyear writing pedagogies." However, she continues, "'apparent' is often the operative word" ("Accessing Disability," 54). Price and other DS scholars have noted that too often, disability is added to first-year composition (FYC) in the form of a single reading, or simply tacked on to the end of the race-classgender triad of intersectional subjectivities to form race-class-gender-ability. Nirmala Erevelles has called this method of adding disability to a curriculum the "add-and-stir policy that once used to haunt race, feminist, and queer theory" ("Rewriting Critical Pedagogy," 66). Deb Martin explores this notion further in "Add Disability and Stir: The New Ingredient in Composition Textbooks," her chapter in Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggemann's Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Martin lays out a number of overly simplified or unproblematized ways in which disability is often represented in textbooks and curricula, such as adding a single text about disability or a single text by an author who identifies as a person with a disability. Composition instructors interested in fully integrating a DS perspective into their curriculum and avoiding the "add-and-stir" approach would do well to think critically about every aspect of their classrooms:1 the physical space, the pedagogical techniques in use, the projects and assignments students are asked to complete, the technology students are required to use, and the subject matter instructors suggest that students discuss.

Thinking critically about and potentially transforming every aspect of a classroom and course can seem, understandably, like an overwhelming, timeconsuming, and unwieldy task for instructors, even if they are interested in incorporating a DS perspective into their pedagogy. Should instructors, then, simply forgo incorporating disability into their classrooms because they do not have the time or freedom to do so as thoroughly as possible? The answer to that question is, in a word, no. But how might instructors bring a DS perspective into a composition classroom space without altering the curriculum itself and without devoting a full course to a disability theme, as many instructors do not have the opportunities to make these kinds of changes? And can this kind of integration of a DS perspective be done meaningfully, avoiding the addand-stir approach? Using as an example a FYC curriculum at a large public university, this article explores how a DS perspective can be incorporated into a composition classroom in meaningful, productive ways, without altering the curriculum itself. …

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