Final Project: Universally Designed Writing Center Practices

All students come to sessions with a variety of differences, and so what tutors do with a student with a disability should be no different from what they do with any other student.”—Kiedaisch & Dinitz, 2007, 50

In many ways, the space of the writing center is already universally designed. Writing centers have historically been known for engaging with alternative pedagogies; supporting students with different and multiple ways of learning and composing; and valuing students as valuable creators of knowledge. If the resources (e.g. funding) is available, writing centers also tend to be spaces that encourage flexible practices with multiple rooms, different furniture arrangements, and mobile furniture. Despite these great advancements in both practices and spaces, we often default to tutoring practices that are framed for students with particular abilities.

The above video is an example of a standard writing center session (Enter the center, sit down, read aloud, discuss). Who does this standard privilege? Who may be excluded from this space or these practices?

The standards for writing centers are F2F (face-to-face) interactions and the read-aloud model. That is, a student enters a writing center with a written text, meets one-on-one with a tutor, and reads their text aloud—stopping every once in a while to comment on particular points in the paper. These two standards assume a number of things about the bodies that enter a writing center. First, the F2F standard assumes that the best environment for students is in physical, face-to-face environments. Some students may have trouble physically getting to a writing center, and—like the students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) that I discussed in Project 1—some students may be uncomfortable with such close, intimate settings. Second, the read-aloud model privileges able-bodied students who hear, speak, can focus for 30- to 60-minute periods of time, and learn best through listening. Students who do not respond to these practices, then, are treated differently. With increasing numbers of students with documented (and undocumented) disabilities, we must recognize inaccessible tutoring practices and universally design new standards that are accessible to wider student populations.

How Can Universal Design Help?

In order to truly support students’ different bodily experiences and embodied writing practices, writing centers must be pedagogically accessible. Enter Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL offers a way to apply the equitable and flexible spatial principles of Universal Design to writing pedagogies. According to CAST, UDL pushes against a “single, one-size-fits-all solution,” advocating instead for approaches that are flexible, multiple, and adjustable. The principles of UDL—multiple means of representation, multiple means of actions and expression, and multiple means of engagement—can help expand our perceptions of students’ learning and composing practices. These principles can also positively affect tutoring practices.

Tutoring Practices Get a UD Makeover

A major step in universally designing tutoring practices is moving away from the standard read-aloud model, which values print texts. Jody Shipka argues for a broader understanding of texts, expanding the definition to include print and digital texts, embodied performances, photographs, videos, physical objects, and repurposed or remediated objects (p. 300). This definition speaks to the multiplicity of UDL and allows for a richer understanding of pedagogical accessibility: if students want to compose essays, collages, videos, or webtexts, these all fit within multimodal pedagogies. Similarly, if students with disabilities are limited to particular modalities—e.g., a blind student who relies on auditory or sensory modes to write or a deaf student who relies more heavily on visual modes—universally designed practices can more easily adapt to these needs, incorporating rather than accommodating or retrofitting them.

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session: Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session. Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices: “What are you working on?” vs. “What are you struggling with?”

Expanding our sense of texts allows for a more realistic representation of what students are working on when they come into a writing center. In the graphic above, I included one of the main questions tutors ask students: “What are you working on?” Most often, a student is working on a paper, which requires working at either a table or a computer. Reading aloud a paper is certainly an option, but outlining main ideas or just having a discussion about struggles and strengths can be just as useful. Sometimes, students need help with non-traditional texts, such as presentations, videos, or oral presentations, and the standard read-aloud does not work as well. For these particular projects, reading aloud doesn’t suffice.

Often, talking through a text could be more beneficial than reading it word for word. McKinney (2009) encourages talking—rather than reading—as a way to interact more holistically with all features of a multimodal text (p. 39). This practice is useful for texts that consist of more than just alphabetic text, but it could also benefit students with disabilities. For example, reading a paper aloud for errors may not be as effective when working with deaf students, students with ADHD, or students with pragmatic language impairment (PLI). Students with PLI may struggle with reading and expressing themselves, which can affect listening comprehension (Babcock, 2011 p. 7). By talking about a text, students have more opportunities to engage with the text in ways that reflect overall comprehension and understanding of their particular rhetorical choices.

This is a small but useful adaptation of the read-aloud model. Another way to begin universally designing tutoring practices is to add another question to the initial meeting between tutor and student: “What are you struggling with?” This is often a question that is asked, but it is generally for the tutor to consider while reading the paper. A more universally designed practice encourages tutors to ask students about their writing struggles in order to co-construct the student as a leader in the discussion. It also opens up opportunities for students to decide how they might address that struggle, helping to “provide options for recruiting interest” by optimizing “individual choice and autonomy” (CAST 2011). By determining what students are struggling with—starting the project, focusing, connecting ideas, grammar/spelling, seeing the “big picture,” etc.—both tutors and students can work together to better meet the students’ needs. I call this process developing a “multimodal toolkit.”

Developing a multimodal toolkit involves developing rhetorical strategies that push against fixed communicative interactions and present more opportunities for students. The idea is not to max out all sensory options but to provide flexibility. Konstant (1992) suggests being flexible and using multiple channels: “Try ways of reaching the student through more than one channel at a time. Use combinations of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques—the multisensory approach. Say it and draw it; read text aloud; use color to illustrate things” (p. 7). Konstant (1992) takes an early cue from UDL when she argues that everyone has learning practices that work best for them (p. 6). Similarly, Dunn & Dunn De Mers promote using a “variety of visual, aural, spatial, and kinesthetic approaches to tap into the intellectual chaos that goes into writing.” This means pushing against singular notions of how to interact with both students and texts, and it requires a negotiation between tutor and student. In her work with deaf students, Babcock (2008) suggests explicit dialogue: “Most of all, try to find out what the deaf person needs and wants out of the session, and gear your tutoring toward that” (p. 35). Although most students have more nuanced understandings of their composing processes than we often realize, some students may need a bit more help. If students are unaware of what they want or need, knowing some multimodal practices can be useful.

Both multimodality and UDL ask us to acknowledge that all students have multiple ways of learning and knowing and to be flexible to those different needs. Dunn & Dunn De Mers (2002) suggest flexible practices such as multimodal reading logs, discussions, talking through a draft, and sketching-to-learn. The second graphic is meant to represent some of those multimodal options. For example, if a student is having trouble getting started with their project, the tutor can suggest looking at models of similar projects (e.g. assignment sheets and sample structures of similar genres), organizing the notes the student has on the topic, reading more sources, or writing a letter to a friend explaining the project’s importance. All of these provide ways different from simply reading aloud that can help generate ideas. Similarly, if a student is having difficulty focusing, the tutor can suggest writing in a new mode, setting small deadlines, working on two main goals within the tutoring session and outlining goals that the student can work on later, and getting up and moving around to get re-focused. All of these point to the guidelines outlined by CAST for multiple means of action and expression, providing learners with options for how they navigate particular learning environments.

Universally Designed Writing Center Practices for Students with AS

In project 1, I focused on accessible practices for students with AS because of the highly social and intimate nature of FYC, combined with an increasing number of students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) in postsecondary settings. Like first-year composition (FYC), writing centers are expected to serve diverse student populations, and because of their focus on individualized instruction, they can also be highly social and intimate environments. It is useful to revisit some of the challenges and strengths that students with AS may share in order to gain a better sense of how more universally designed tutoring practices can meet their needs.

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face and UD Tutoring Practices that Address Them

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face: How UD Tutoring Practices Can Begin to Address Them

As seen in the second graphic, students with AS are often challenged by nonverbal communications and following social conventions, which makes peer interactions difficult. Though not something I’ve discussed much with practices, space is a major issue of UD that can affect practices. If there are multiple rooms in a writing center, a tutor can suggest meeting in a quieter section. At the Syracuse University Writing Center (SUWC), there is a small room of cubicles at the center’s entrance that can be used for quieter sessions, which could benefit students with AS, students with ADHD who need help focusing, or any student who may prefer to be in less populated areas. Students also have the option to work in a large open room where there are multiple tables, chairs, and computer stations arranged for tutoring (the videos above show a visual representation of this space). Adreon & Durocher (2007) also list “academic content, organization, time management, and study skills” (p. 274) as issues that students with AS often struggle with. Some UD practices that may support these challenges are providing clearly outlined instructions, setting mini-deadlines within sessions, practicing different writing strategies, and using different modalities to talk about the text.

Also important to mention is the possibility of creating Online Writing Labs (OWLs) or Electronic Writing Centers (EWCs). Though this is not possible for all writing centers, creating online spaces where students can interact with tutors can be beneficial—not only for students with AS who may feel uncomfortable meeting F2F in one-to-one sessions, but for a number of students who may be unable to physically access the center or may just be more comfortable interacting online. The SUWC, for example, offers an EWC where students meet with a tutor through iChat or AIM to discuss a paper. The most important thing to remember with such a solution is its flexibility: students have the option to choose what they are most comfortable with.


As we continue to see advances in technologies, changes in educational practices, and increases in disability diagnoses, writing center practices must be more accessible to students of all abilities. Universally designing tutoring practices can make writing centers more accessible to the diverse student populations that they seek to serve. Providing students with the resources to communicate within different modes, to practice and learn new literacies, and to harness their rhetorical abilities should be the goal of all writing centers. When we adopt universally designed pedagogies that support these resources, we acknowledge two things. First, all students have different abilities and knowledges. Second, all students can benefit from engaging with texts in different ways—visually, aurally, and kinesthetically—and in different contexts. Applying the flexible principles of UDL can make writing centers more pedagogically accessible, allowing us to better prepare students to become effective twenty-first-century communicators.

And as Kiedaisch & Dinitz (2007) remind us, employing UD allows writing centers to model multiple, flexible, and pluralistic approaches to learning:

[W]e acquire a new avenue for rethinking and redesigning our writing centers so that they become places where considerations of identity are woven into the fabric of every session, places open to being changed by their constant and varied encounters with diversity, places that are not only examples of but also agents for instituting a pluralistic approach to education. (p. 57)


Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 271-279.

Autism Society. Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved from

Babcock, R. D. (2011). When something is not quite right: Pragmatic Impairment and compensation in the college writing tutorial. The Writing Lab Newsletter 35(5-6), 6-10.

—. (2008). Tutoring deaf students in the writing center. In C. Lewiecki-Wilson and B. J. Brueggemann (Eds.), Disability and the teaching of writing: A critical sourcebook (28-39). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

CAST. (2011). The National Center of Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

Dunn, P. A., & Dunn De Mers, K. (2002). Reversing notions of disability and accommodation: Embracing Universal Design in writing pedagogy and web space. Kairos (7)1. Retrieved from

Kiedaisch, J., & Dinitz, S. (2007). Changing notions of difference in the writing center: The possibilities of Universal Design. The Writing Center Journal 27(2), 39-59.

Konstant, S. B. (1992). Multi-sensory tutoring for multi-sensory learners. The Writing Lab Newsletter 16(9-10), 6-8.

McKinney, J. G. (2009). New media matters: Tutoring in the late age of print.” The Writing Center Journal 29(2), 28-51.

Shipka, J. (2005). A multimodal task-based framework for composing. College Composition and Communication 57(2), 277-306.

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 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 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.

Visual Rhetoric & Disability on Display

With a degree in Professional Writing and Editing, I have a fair amount of background knowledge of visual rhetoric. Within this week’s readings, I saw two distinct threads emerging within this focus of the visual: sensory images and perceptual images.

"Color Theory Quick Reference Poster" via

"Color Theory Quick Reference Poster" via Paper Leaf Design

[If you click on this image, it will link you to the Paper Leaf Design website, where you can see a larger image of the poster and also one that considers design factors like value, space, and size.]

In terms of sensory images, I’m referencing the readings about CSS and color theory and how images—specifically design and colors—impact how we react and respond to a particular text. The CSS Zen Garden website demonstrates how the exact same textual information can be represented differently through visual design, eliciting different emotions: calm, passion, energy, etc. Likewise, Chapman’s article on color theory demonstrates the different considerations of warm, cool, and neutral colors, and how different colors may work better in different contexts depending on both our purposes and our audiences. For example, if we design something that is meant to calm our viewers, we don’t want a page of reds and oranges. And although I think these sensory images are important to consider, I also think it’s important to consider that color is contextual—for example, I find red to be a warm, calming color. Also, in terms of visual design, technical considerations like typography, white space, tables, and alt-text are equally as important for making an accessible experience for diverse viewers. Even though I could geek out for a while on this content, I was really drawn to the readings that discussed perceptual images.

First, Anne Marie Seward Barry provides us with a technical (biological) understanding of perceptions and images. Seward argues that even when we think we are seeing the world for what it truly is, our brains and eyes consult with our other senses and memories to give us a final “image” of the world (15). That is, “perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves” (16). Now, this might not be news to anyone in this class, particularly since we read that chapter by Sousa long ago who explained how perceptual filtering occurs. However, Barry argues that even though we may know that there is no 1-to-1 connection between visual image and mental image, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that there is. This is because visual images are so direct, so holistic, that it’s easy to think that what we see is what there is. Barry emphasizes this when placing importance on perceptual image as something that shapes our identities and allows us to communicate with others (102). This importance, which I think is tied to the difficulty of convincing ourselves to believe something other than “seeing is believing,” is what drives the heart of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s argument, too.

“In the Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography,” Garland-Thomson writes, “The history of disabled people in the Western world is in part the history of being on display, of being visually conspicuous while politically and socially erased” (56). This sense of display, of spectator/spectacle (56) is highlighted through photography:

Popular photography catapults disability into the public sphere as a highly mediated image shorn from interactions with actual people with disabilities. Photography’s immediacy, claim to truth, and wide circulation calcifies the interpretations of disability embedded in the images, at once shaping and registering the public perception of disability. (58)

The value we place on the image, circulated through photography, influences how we individually and collectively think or respond to images of disability. To look at this more closely, Garland-Thomson examines four visual rhetorics of disability: the wondrous, the sentimental, the exotic, and the realistic (58).

  • Wondrous: This genre focuses on physical differences in order to elicit amazement, awe, admiration, and—more recently—sentimentality for the “courageous overcomer” (61).
  • Sentimental: This genre also focuses on physical differences but in an attempt to elicit sympathy, charity, pity, or inspiration (63).
  • Exotic: This genre positions disabled figures as unfamiliar, distant, sensationalized, eroticized, or entertaining (65). And though I think we could all agree that exoticizing or fetishizing groups of people (re: Orientalism) is a problematic portrayal, this genre’s one redeeming quality is its goal to disrupt the “asexual, vulnerable, courageous image of disability that charity rhetoric has so firmly implanted” (66).
  • Realistic: This last genre attempts to regularize the disabled figure to diminish points of difference. Garland-Thomson writes that “realist disability photography is the rhetoric of equality,” (69) as it attempts to position images of disability as familiar and mundane. Understanding how images create or dispel disability as a system of exclusions and prejudices is a move toward the process of dismantling the institutional, attitudinal, legislative, economic, and architectural barriers that keep people with disabilities from full participation in society. 75

With these different visual rhetorics of disability, we gain a better sense of the power of the image. Though we end on realist disability photography, there is a long tradition of images of disability that seek to exacerbate difference. Going back to Barry, this photographic tradition has had plenty of time to influence collective cultural perceptions of disability. And as Garland-Thomson points out, sentimental images still circulate widely, particularly with connection to material consumption.

One video I kept thinking about during these readings is the “Closer to Home” video created and sponsored by Autism Speaks and the Ad Council. If you haven’t seen it, it’s truly a horrifying example of the power of visual image. In 30 seconds, they manage to create a visual that induces fear of autism, that it may “happen” to any one of us when we least expect it. As the man speaking continues to “morph” into an older version of himself, autism simultaneously becomes closer and closer to him. I think the message is disgusting, but it’s certainly a powerful example of visual rhetoric and how image can work to persuade people to think/act.

The readings also reminded me of my own experiences teaching visual rhetoric. I teach argument-based writing and when we talk about pathos, the emotional appeal, I always bring in ads. Organizations that I consistently use materials from are Operation Smile and Smile Train because the mail they send—images of children with cleft palates—creates an emotional, visual argument with a single glance. Often, there is the image of the child with a cleft palate crying, juxtaposed with a picture of a child who has been “fixed” by surgery and is now smiling. Here, we engage in the culture of staring Garland-Thomson talks about, but, if we decide to donate, we also participate in the capitalist culture of (literally) buying into sentimental images of disability. I don’t have an issue with these organizations, per se, but I do think it’s interesting how organizations use these images (devoid of individual, cultural, or temporal/spatial contexts) to rhetorically sell disability as something that we, as donators, can cure. The power of these images also speaks back to Garland-Thomson’s point about obsession: “As a culture, we are at once obsessed with an intensely conflicted about the disabled body” (57).

I’m thinking that the Garland-Thomson chapter would be perfect to share with my students: not only to disrupt their own understandings and media constructions of dis/ability, but also to open a discussion about the importance of visual images as a medium that constructs and distributes knowledge.



Barry, Anne Marie Seward. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.

Chapman, Cameron. “Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color.” Smashing Magazine. 28 Jan. 2010. Web.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “The Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. Eds. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. NY: MLA, 2002. 56-75. Print.

Zen Garden: The Beauty of CSS Design. David Shea. 2012. Web.  

Mind Mapping: Visual Outlines & Word Clouds

Mind mapping is one of those things where I don’t recognize the term but I recognize it when I see it. I’ve never used any mind mapping software—Inspiration, XMind, MindMeister, FreeMind—but I have engaged with the general principles of mind mapping: mapping out ideas in a more creative, non-linear, and highly visual way. Essentially, mind mapping is a graphic organizer that allows us to visually assess our ideas: analyzing and understanding old ideas while inventing and generating new ones.

Mind mapping can be useful for a number of writing projects: from dissertation outlining to brainstorming ideas for a paper to project management. The articles I found seem to associate software like Inspiration to primary and secondary school settings, and I would be worried about asking college students to use “kid” software. However, mind mapping offers such great opportunities for writing students—visual learners, students who struggle to organize their main points or connect their thoughts, even students who just need to see their writing from a fresh perspective—that I think it’s worthwhile to find some options that may be more suitable for older audiences.

At first glance, seems like a pretty fast and easy way to create clean mind maps. You can create pretty complex maps just by using two controls: “Command  + Enter” and “Tab” to create parent and child bubbles. Also, you can physically rearrange bubbles, change the font sizes and colors, adjust the box colors, and draw connections to various boxes. If you want to save or share your mind map, you just create an account. I played around with it a little bit and created a mind map of what I thought were the main points from my reading response for this week: Outline

Visual representation of my last reading response via

Another fun resource is Worlde. I’ve seen lots of writing folk use applications like Worlde to create word clouds that indicate how frequently particular words appear in a text. This could be particularly useful for revision purposes. Once a student has written an essay or brief paper, they could import that paper into Worlde and visually see which ideas are most prominent. This visual representation allows us to see which words/concepts are privileged and which concepts may not be receiving as much attention is intended. In terms of sentence-level revision, a word cloud also allows students to see what words they depend on most (Wordle does have the option to remove common words like “the” and “a,” but it can highlight how frequently you use a word like “therefore”). The following word cloud is my last reading response, minus the references:

Word Cloud of Blog Post

Word cloud of last reading response via

The word cloud shows that I was emphasizing people and actions rather than (what I thought was) the major concepts from the readings: providing accessible and equitable environments. The word cloud becomes even more interesting when compared to the graphic: contrasting what I think my response is about vs. what it is actually about. Also, Taxgedo seems like a pretty snazzy word cloud generator, but it was a bit too glitzy for my purposes.

So what does this mean for teaching and for our students?

Mind mapping seems like a valuable tool for any stage of the writing process: getting students to think about brainstorming, unconventional forms of outlining, and revising. I love asking students to do reverse outlines because it’s an activity that gets gears turning about what is actually written, but it’s difficult to get students to look critically at their own work. If they use a graphic organizer that represents that work visually, students have a clearer picture of that work.

It seems like mind mapping could work for a variety of students. Visual learners could certainly benefit from something like this, as could students with pragmatic impairments who may struggle connecting thoughts and expressing ideas through clearly sentences. According to an article from ADDitude Magazine, mind mapping is useful as a generative and organizing tool for students with ADHD and LD. However, something this visual wouldn’t work for students who are blind or who have low vision. And though I didn’t discuss this, I was thinking of Prezi as a graphic organizer similar to mind mapping: It’s a zooming presentation that moves from point to point in non-linear, iterative processes based on spatial relationships. While this makes a presentation more interactive, if the images and points zip back and forth too quickly, students may lose attention and some may even feel negative physical side effects. I know I’ve sat through Prezi presentations that make me feel sick to my stomach!

Mind mapping wasn’t on my radar before, but I’m excited to show students alternative outlines and to potentially use one of these programs for a revision workshop. Also, I may have to check it out for some of my own papers—I’m always an advocate of outlining, and it may be nice to get a new perspective on outlining! Here are some resources I found that tell a little more about mind mapping:

Dunn, Jeff. “5 Innovative Mind-Mapping Tools for Education.” Edudemic. Edudemic. 11 March 2012. Web.

Fitzpatrick, Jason. “Create Polished Mind Maps at” Lifehacker. 16 March 2010. Web.

Hara, Billie. “Mindmapping Software Programs.” Profhacker: Teaching, Technology, and Productivity. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 16 Nov. 2009. Web.

Sandler, Michael. “How ADHD Students Use Mind Mapping Tools at School.” ADDitude. New Hope Media. Feb/March 2006. Web.

Collaborative Pedagogies

This week’s readings on higher ed focus on the way different collaborations can create richer pedagogies. These collaborations occur disciplinarily (Knoll), between students and instructors (Knoll and Harrison), among instructors (Bernacchio et al.), and between faculty members and other institutional organizations (Harrison).

In “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy,” Kristina Knoll pays particular attention to collaborative disciplinary work, focusing on how Disability Studies and Feminist Studies can inform each other, providing richer and more accessible pedagogies. Though she acknowledges the benefits of Universal Design, Knoll argues (from a feminist standpoint) for foregrounding individual experiences (122). That is, Knoll advocates a pedagogy that uses both accommodation and UD, arguing that both reproduce oppression and privilege when used on their own (124).

“Feminist disability studies theory and pedagogy urge us not only to take into account the many and varied bodily, mental, and psychological differences, but also to consider how race, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, and so on, can intersect with the disability experience” (Knoll 122).

Knoll also looks at the collaborations that occur between instructors and students when promoting a pedagogy that explores accessibility, ableism, sexism, and privilege. She practices what she calls “interdependency,” which demonstrates to students that not only are they dependent on the instructor, but the instructor is also dependent on the students in order to create a learning environment where everyone can succeed (129). Some examples of this are asking students to read materials aloud, placing students in control of particular activities, and asking students to work together to make the class accessible (such as having notetakers). Knoll writes that “when multiple individuals work together to make the environment accessible, it suddenly becomes significantly easier to meet all the various needs in the classroom, including the instructor’s needs” (129). Thus, collaboration not only becomes an integral part of the classroom, it is the driving force for creating an accessible learning environment for everyone involved. I definitely agree with this because if we try to employ UD practices yet don’t create a participatory learning environment, students still don’t have full access to the learning environment.

Bernacchio et al. move us toward the collaboration that occurs among instructors, reflecting on their Critical Friends Group processes in order to “model a learning community, develop habits of mind, and make graduate school accessible” (56). That is, in order to brainstorm ways to make their own classrooms more equitable, accessible, and flexible, these five faculty members met in a group to discuss their pedagogies through the combined theoretical lenses of Universal Design for Learning and McIntosh’s Interactive Phase Theory. Though this almost just sounded like a group of faculty members brainstorming in very structured settings, the major takeaway here for me is that these faculty members chose to collaborate outside of school to share and collect a “repertoire of instructional tools, strategies and practices that support equity and access” (65). This is an incredible testimony to the desire of instructors to go “above and beyond” traditional pedagogies and what sounds like a really useful collaboration.  I wonder if something with the same goals as the CFG could be adopted departmentally? My master’s program required a certain number of professional development hours each semester, and many of my peers participated in (less structured) collaborative groups where they discussed pedagogy successes, failures, and potentials to do more.

Lastly, Elizabeth Harrison looks at the collaborative efforts between faculty members and institutional organizations, such as Disability Service Offices, in order to better advocate for Universally Designed Instruction (UDI). To frame this collaboration, Harrison focuses on learner-centered education: “what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning” (Weimer xvi qtd. in Harrison 153). This student-focused learning asks teachers to do more with teaching, which is where the collaboration comes in. UD requires Disability Service Professionals to engage in a collaborative relationship with instructors, consulting them in disability-related issues that allow instructors to better identify and dismantle learning barriers (154). Harrison provides a series of pretty great worksheets that instructors can use to 1) identify their goals, 2) determine their learning objectives, and 3) design assessment activities. By going through these processes, then, instructors can move toward UDI that “support[s] the learning of all their many, different learners” (162). I really enjoyed this worksheets because the framework provided is very rhetorical: It asks instructors to reflect on their goals and motivations, what they value in their pedagogies, and investigate the accessibility of their own classroom spaces and practices.

This set of readings really emphasized the importance of collaboration within a variety of contexts and with a number of different collaborators—all with the intention of creating accessible pedagogies that can better serve our students. The only thing I didn’t see in these readings was attention to the collaborative efforts among students themselves. That is, no one was really focusing on how students could collaborate with each other in order to support each other’s learning processes, though Knoll does mention it briefly in her discussion of “practicing interdependency” (129). In Comp/Rhet, collaborative pedagogies often focus on how students collaborate with each other: to brainstorm, draft, and revise together; to compose/create knowledge, and to supplement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. However, Davidson was fresh in my mind during these readings, and I heard her arguments for 21st-century collaborative pedagogies echoed (quietly) within these readings: “Where they perceive the shortcomings of the individual, I sense opportunity for collaboration” (3) …



Bernacchio, Charlie, Flynn Ross, Kimberley Robinson Washburn, Jean Whitney, and Diane R. Wood. “Faculty Collaboration to Improve Equity, Access, and Inclusion in Higher Education.” Equity and Excellence in Education 40.1 (2007): 56-66.

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Harrison, Elizabeth G. “Working with Faculty toward Universally Designed Instruction: The Process of Dynamic Course Design.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 19.2 (2006): 152-62.

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

Project 1: Students with AS in the FYC Classroom

First-year composition (FYC) is one of few required college classes, which means FYC serves a diverse student population. Students are expected to practice and improve their critical reading, thinking, and writing abilities within a 15-week semester, which, theoretically, prepares them for the remainder of their academic written work. Beyond this pressure, there are other factors that make FYC intensive: It is often one of the smallest classes that first-year students take, and it is a fairly intimate class—students choose personal topics, share their work with other students, and work collaboratively throughout the semester. In many ways, these are the strengths of FYC, but these factors can also be downfalls. Because of the highly social and intimate nature of FYC, combined with an increasing number of students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) in postsecondary settings, it is important to brainstorm ways that students with AS can learn best within the FYC context.

Asperger Syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder that affects how individuals communicate and understand language, empathize with people and events, adjust to changes in environment and routine, and engage with body movements and behaviors (NICHCY, 2010). According to the Autism Society (2011), an AS diagnosis is often mild, and those affected frequently have “good language and cognitive skills.” Though students with AS may have good language skills, these skills are often filtered through social ability and how an individual is able to communicate in social situations. In a FYC classroom, for example, communication extends beyond written discourse, moving into arenas of both formal and informal oral communication (e.g. presentations, discussions, in-class activities, and peer review) that may prove difficult for students with AS. Because of its many characteristics, its relatively new disability status—it wasn’t formalized by the World Health Organization until 1992—and a general inattention to students with disabilities in higher ed, many instructors are unlikely to respond appropriately to AS: Does someone with AS need accommodations? What are the strengths and limitations of students’ learning and writing processes? Should changes be made to the curriculum or class environment?

In terms of college-level accommodations, the needs of students with AS vary widely. Adreon and Durocher (2007) argue that the majority of students with AS require the same types of accommodations as other students with LD, including preferred seating, note-takers, recorded lectures, opportunities to take exams in quieter settings, and extended time for exams (p. 276). In a qualitative study conducted by Smith (2007), he determines that many college accommodations for students with AS are not specific enough to meet their needs (p. 526). Adreon and Durocher (2007) agree, outlining some accommodations that may be more suitable to support the learning needs of students with AS, including course substitutions, permission to avoid collaborative activities, and flexibility in deadlines (p. 276). Because FYC is a mandatory course in many U.S. colleges, course substitution is not a viable option. And, as mentioned above, much of the work done in FYC classrooms—from in-class activities to larger class projects—is collaborative. By recognizing some of the more common characteristics of AS, we can construct pedagogies and classroom environments that support their learning needs.

It can be useful to understand a range of challenges and strengths that students with AS may share in order to gain a better understanding of our students’ needs. Students with AS are often challenged by nonverbal communications, such as gestures and body language, and following social conventions, which can make peer interactions difficult. According to Adreon and Durocher (2007), students with AS often have difficulties with “academic content, organization, time management, and study skills” (p. 274). And in terms of the classroom environment, students with AS tend to rely on sameness, which can lead to “inflexible behavior” when that environment is changed or when something within the curriculum is changed (Adreon and Durocher, 2007, p. 273). To address these challenges and better support learning, writing instructors should pay careful attention to scaffolding. For example, we can provide clearly outlined course schedules, set mini-deadlines within assignments to let students know how they can progress to complete a project, and practice different writing strategies in class.

Students with AS also have particular strengths that can be harnessed within a writing classroom. As Dillon (2007) observes, “Many students with AS are successful in college. They do not necessarily have intellectual or academic disabilities and may demonstrate exceptional abilities. In fact, preoccupation with specific interests has often led to gaining great expertise in a particular area” (p. 500). Here, Dillon transforms a “negative” into a “positive.” Many students with AS are interested in particular things to the extent that they may not engage with topics that lie outside their personal interests. However, this could be a useful trait in FYC because students always choose their own topics within assigned projects. So a student who is really interested in trains, for example, could write a personal narrative, a rhetorical analysis, and a research paper about different aspects of trains.

FYC revolves around rhetoric, and Bitzer’s (1968) conception of the rhetorical situation is always dependent on social context, audience, and individual constraints. No one skill is appropriate for every context; rather, particular skills have strength in particular contexts. It is useful to place students with AS within this context, too, and to think of strategies for developing pedagogies where they can learn best. For Smith (2007), students with AS learn best when schedules are clearly outlined, assignments and activities are explained, and students are given choices about what kind of peer involvement they will have (p. 517). For Madriaga (2010), this idea is articulated through the creation of “safe” spaces that allow students a release from auditory and visual overstimulation (p. 40). These authors suggest both structure and flexibility, which we can translate to the FYC classroom, particularly through multimodal pedagogies.

By promoting the use of different modes—textual, visual, and verbal—to present and create knowledge, multimodal pedagogies encourage students to learn in ways that are most valuable for them. Stein (2008) argues that multimodal pedagogies recognize students as “agentive, resourceful, and creative meaning-makers” (p. 122), which values the differences that students bring to the classroom. Within a multimodal FYC classroom, there are clear expectations and goals, detailed assignment prompts, and structured class activities that allow students to see the connections between activities and projects goals. However, there is also a lot of flexibility that can support different needs. For example, an activity like peer review initially seems like it could be a challenging activity for students with AS due to its intimate, social nature. However, peer review can be done in groups, in pairs, anonymously, through written or verbal discussion, in print or online. Students with AS can engage with the goals of FYC in structured yet flexible ways within a multimodal pedagogy that values difference and diversity, providing students with the options they need in order to learn best.

This video is a pretty cool example of a multimodal, collaborative project created by (British) children with Asperger Syndrome to educate others about AS. It provides a personal, more in-depth discussion of the characteristics, challenges, and strengths of having AS.



Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 271-279.

Autism Society. Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved from

Bitzer, L. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, (1)1. 1-14.

Dillon, M. R. (2007). Creating supports for college students with Asperger Syndrome through collaboration. College Student Journal, 41(2), 499-504.

Madriaga, M. (2010). ‘I avoid pubs and the student union like the plague’: Students with Asperger Syndrome and their negotiation of university spaces. Children’s Geographies, 8(1), 39-50.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. (2010). Autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from

Smith, C. P. (2007). Support services for students with Asperger’s Syndrome in higher education. College Student Journal, 41(3), 515-531.

Stein, P. (2008). Multimodal pedagogies in diverse classrooms: Representation, rights, and resources. New York, NY: Routledge.

World Health Organization. (1992). International classification of diseases, ICD-10 (10th revision). Geneva, Switzerland: Author.