Feminist Pedagogy: Implications for UDL

“[F]eminist theory is still resisted for exactly the same reasons that scholars might resist disability studies: the assumption that it is narrow, particular, and has little to do with the mainstream of academic practice and knowledge (or with themselves).”

“Most fundamentally, though, the goal of feminist disability studies, as I lay it out in this essay, is to augment the terms and confront the limits of the ways we understand human diversity, the materiality of the body, multiculturalism, and the social formations that interpret bodily differences.” — Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, 2002, 3

As evidenced by recent collaborations between women’s (gender) studies and disability studies, feminist pedagogy has a lot to offer the way we think about crafting universally designed pedagogies.

Susan Jarratt, a well-known feminist pedagogue in my field, identifies the basic practices of feminist pedagogy as decentering authority, recognizing students as sources of knowledge, and focusing on processes over products (115). What makes feminist pedagogy distinctive, though, is “its investment in a view of contemporary society as sexist and patriarchal, and of the complicity of reading, writing, and teaching in those conditions” (115). Julie Jung identifies similar qualities of feminist pedagogy, set in opposition to qualities of a patriarchal society, which I have included in the following table for a quick compare/contrast:

Table comparing patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy as defined by Julie Jung

The Qualities of Patriarchal Pedagogy vs. Feminist Pedagogy

The similarities between patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy to normalized/standardized and universally designed pedagogy are readily apparent, at least in the way that we have discussed them this semester. A patriarchal pedagogy is the historically “normed” pedagogy, and, in many ways, is inaccessible to students: it is teacher-student, doesn’t foster a safe or collaborative environment, and devalues students’ differences. A universally designed pedagogy, as we have discussed, moves away from these inaccessible practices to make the classroom a safe space where everyone’s experiences and knowledges are respected and valued.

The connections in practice are not the only value of considering feminist pedagogy, though. Jarratt writes, “Feminist pedagogy needs both to talk about women as a group—women teachers, women students—but also notice differences within gendered categories, especially when it comes to student writing and reading practices” (117). Kristina Knoll similarly argues, from the perspective of feminist disability studies, for paying attention to the “multitude of disability experiences” (124) that students bring to the classroom. The value of recognizing individual differences is important, not to other students, but to recognize and respect students’ different experiences. This has value for better understanding how students can best learn in the classroom and for understanding how, as teachers, we can create environments that are more accessible to students with many types of differences.

Lastly, feminist pedagogy from a Rhet/Comp perspective has some interesting implications for UD/UDL. Feminist pedagogy examines the way language operates within a gendered world (Jarratt 118). This resonates similarly to the way disability infiltrates language: “In the English language, using disability as a metaphor, an analogy and a derogatory term is common” (Ben-Moshe 107). This is important to address, particularly in a writing classroom that highlights the value of language and rhetorical choices because, as Liat argues, this language is offensive, impedes communication, perpetuates false beliefs, and creates an exclusionary classroom environment (107).

Even in a brief summary, it is clear that feminist pedagogy—its student-centered practices, collaborative and egalitarian values, and its goals for critically examining a gendered/patriarchal (“normed”) society and its social practices—can contribute to a larger discussion of universally designed pedagogies.

Ben-Moshe, Liat. “‘Lame Idea’: Disabling Language in the Classroom.” Building Pedagogical Curb Cuts: Incorporating Disability in the University Classroom and Curriculum. Ed. Liat Ben-Moshe, Rebecca C. Cory, Mia Feldbaum, and Ken Sagendorf. Syracuse, NY: The Graduate School at Syracuse University, 2005. 107-15. Print.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal 14.3 (Fall 2002): 1-32. Print.

Jarratt, Susan C. “Feminist Pedagogy.” A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 113-31. Print.

Jung, Julie. Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2005, Print.

Knoll, Kristina R. “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 19.1 (2008): 122-33. Print.

Accessibility in the Classroom

Access should not be viewed as a constraint on architectural design but should be conceived of as a ‘major perceptual orientation to humanity’ (Davies & Lifchez, 1987, 49).

The above quotation comes from Rob Imrie’s article, “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment,” and it frames this week’s readings on physical barriers. Goldstein, Imrie, Strange, and Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson all address physical barriers that range from inaccessible campuses and classrooms to disablist environments to limiting perceptions of disability itself. By positioning access as an orientation to humanity rather than a retrofit—a component that is added to an already-built space—the authors articulate a number of ways to make classroom (and other social) spaces more universally designed and accessible for students.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Polling": Staircase retrofitted with two planks of wood to create an "accessible ramp."

"Polling" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): A building retrofits a staircase with an "accessible ramp," while the man talking symbolizes a disables attitude toward accommodation.

Elisabeth Goldstein argues for the importance of implementing UD in higher education because of the diverse group of people that access campuses: “a widely diverse group of people (students, faculty, administration, alumni, visitors), with varying ages and physical and sensory abilities, makes up the campus community” (199). Goldstein considers a number of places that would benefit from UD, including building entrances, classrooms, furnishings, and sound and lighting. I am particularly drawn to her discussion of building entrances. She describes a building entrance as “the first impression one has of the site and orients the visitor the spaces within the rest of the facility” (200). If a building entrance is inaccessible to particular bodies, then, those bodies are marked as disabled—as unable to use these naturalized features in the ways they were intended (which, I think most of us agree, were ill-intended). Even if a classroom inside an inaccessible building is inclusive and welcoming, the message received from the building itself—Some bodies were not intended to use this building—can impact how a student engages within the classroom.

Rob Imrie argues that this received message, the idea that some bodies simply are not considered, is indicative of a larger “able-bodied” society (129). Imrie writes, “This has led some commentators to regard the built environment as disablist, that is, projecting ‘able-bodied’ values which legitimize oppressive and discriminatory practices against disabled people purely on the basis that they have physical and/or mental impairments” (129). Inaccessible buildings and classrooms reinforce this disablist environment. When Imrie discussed the able-bodied workforce, I immediately thought of how that translates to the college campus environment. Many campuses still create barriers for students with disabilities because college campuses were originally designed for able-bodied students.

This is where Universal Design can begin to play a role in creating built spaces that are more flexible and more accessible. However, UD cannot necessarily change the disablist attitudes Imrie discusses. UD cannot only influence physical environments: it must also affect attitudes. If a space is redesigned to be more accessible, this change inevitably has to reflect some changes in attitude and thinking, as well, because if a space is redesigned without critical understanding and respect of persons with disabilities, I’m not sure it could successfully be universally designed.

Carney Strange acknowledges the importance of understanding, arguing that instructors need to understand not only students with disabilities but also the larger social and physical conditions of the larger environments they inhabit (20). This is not a passive understanding, though. Strange argues that, through understanding, we can begin to create environments that are safe and inclusive, promote involvement, and offer full membership in the “community of learning” (23). Necessarily, this shifts away from acknowledging the inaccessibility of physical environments, moving toward a broader understanding of the inaccessibility of spaces and policies and practices. Spatial inaccessibility, then, becomes tied up in larger social structures.

Though Strange briefly mentions policy and practice, James Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson take them up in more detail. They describe disability law as a marker: “[T]he law writes on particular disabled bodies, no two of whom have the same needs, a generalized grid or map labeled ‘disabled student’” (298). Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue that this is a homogenizing attitude, that instructors must do more than what disability and accommodation laws can provide. For them, this seems to come down to flexible pedagogical practices that require instructors to be comfortable discussing difference, to understand the many differences between students with disabilities, and to “be willing to assist each (disabled) student to coconstruct the best individualized learning relationship” (300). That is, supporting students with disabilities in the classroom moves away from legal accommodations to constructing and negotiating a collaborative plan for what that student wants and needs.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Homework": Teacher asks blind student to read chalkboard.

"Homework" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): The teacher asks a blind student to read the chalkboard, an example of how accessibility is also pedagogical.

I appreciate this shift in accessibility from the physical to the pedagogical, because, as Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue, instructors often cannot change the physical environments. However, instructors can make their classrooms more accessible through their pedagogies—through adaptation, flexibility, and open discussions of disability. Addressing accessibility as implicated within larger structures—physical environment, social construction, policy, and pedagogy—becomes more critical and holistic. Depending on how much power we have over the physical design of our classrooms, it also becomes more action-oriented because we can address accessibility through the choices we make within our classrooms.

 

 

Goldstein, Elisabeth. “Applications of Universal Design to Higher Education Facilities.” Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Ed.  In Sheryl E. Burgstahler and Rebecca C. Cory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2008. 199-212. Print.

Imrie, Rob. “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment.” Ed. Tom Shakespeare. The Disability Reader: Social Science Perspectives New York: Cassell, 1998. 129-46. Print.

Strange, Carney. “Creating Environments of Ability.” New Directions for Student Services: Serving Students with Disabilities. Ed. Holley A. Belch.   San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. 19-30. Print.

Wilson, James C., and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “Constructing a Third Space: Disability Studies, the Teaching of English, and Institutional Transformation.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities  Ed. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. New York: MLA, 2002. 296-307. Print.

Presentation Styles

I didn’t have to blog this week (notetaker, what what?), but the readings about PowerPoints and various presentation styles made me think of Larry Lessig who, I would argue, is a great presenter. His style mixes the oral and visual in ways that are really effective. The repetition of key ideas and spelling out of entire thoughts is helpful for me because I struggle with processing large amounts of new, spoken information. You don’t have to watch the whole video to get the gist of his style, but if you’re a geek like me, you may just be interested in listening to him talk about copyright & IP laws 🙂