G Dialog: Dialog on Disability and Accessibility
Reviewed by Ruth Osorio, University of Maryland, College Park, MD (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Facilitators: Jay Dolmage, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON
Amy Vidali, University of Colorado, Denver, CO
Sushil Oswal, University of Washington, Tacoma and Seattle, WA
This year, program chair extraordinaire, Joyce Carter, introduced the Dialogs to CCCC. The idea, she explains in her welcome address, was to replace keynote speakers with facilitated conversations about major issues in our field. These dialogs were meant to spark communication, build community, and move us toward action. And indeed, the Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition (CDICC) Dialog (#DialogG) did just that, which you can see in this fully captioned video.
Facilitated by Amy Vidali, Jay Dolmage, and Sushil Oswal, the Dialog on Disability and Accessibility sought feedback and guidance on the CCCC Policy on Disability: its content, its usage, its power, its limits, and its possibilities. The policy, first adopted in 2006 by the CCCC Executive Committee and reaffirmed in 2011, articulates CCCC’s commitment to accessibility, and, as many participants had written to Vidali prior to the meeting, the policy has had a measurable impact on access at our annual conference. But what about outside of CCCC? Dolmage posed whether we can use this document for ourselves, our students, our institutions, and our future. Participating in the dialog, I saw three themes emerge through our conversation: access, genre, and organizational strategies.
It was no surprise to me that access was not only discussed but enacted in the dialog. At the beginning, Vidali expressed that she wanted the Dialog to be a different kind of space and invited the audience members to move, engage, and express themselves in whatever ways felt most comfortable. The invitation was a powerful rhetorical move, as many of us wait for permission before taking care of ourselves in professional settings, myself included. At least one person moved and sat on the floor in response to Vidali’s invitation.
Access was modeled in other ways: American Sign Language interpreters were present; participants were given index cards to write questions and responses that could be read aloud by someone else; and microphones were passed around so voices could be amplified and heard by more audience members. Vidali, Oswal, and Dolmage summarized each participant’s question or comment before responding. From the get-go, access was not merely discussed but embodied by the dialog. The video of the event, embedded above, was captioned thanks to Carter and several volunteers. Even in this large, long room, I felt welcomed, included, and valued. I urge all presenters at future CCCC conferences to strive to do the same.
During another part of the dialog, Oswal recalled one of the main challenges of writing the Online Writing Instruction policy for CCCC was that “you don’t know how it will be useful for people, actually, on campuses and also in solving problems.” Other participants echoed this uncertainty about what the policy was supposed to do. Before we could figure out how we could use the policy, we needed to figure out what we wanted the policy to do. The questions of use and audience are central to issues of genre. Several people admitted that they didn’t know that the policy even existed, and those who did, confessed to never having used it. This led to a critical question: What can a CCCC policy do outside of CCCC?
Toward the end of the dialog, Tara Wood articulated this point explicitly, saying, “it’s a genre question.” She asked what we as scholars and teachers in this organization wanted: a policy statement or a best practices statement. She admitted that the binary is problematic and imagined a statement that both affirms our values and offers tangible practices. Oswal echoed Wood’s call and proposed that we use the policy in conjunction with the stories and experiences of people with disabilities at CCCC to push for increased access within CCCC. Wary of offering a best-practices checklist and positioning ourselves as the sole agents of accessibility on our campuses, Vidali encouraged people to join in by engaging with the values of the policy statement while organizing for access.
As genre theory suggests, genres are not static, detached texts that float around; they are constructed and enacted by people. Thus, conversations on genre naturally led to brainstorming on how we can use this policy in our lives outside of CCCC. Wood and Mariana Grohowski both suggested the policy should be a tool for faculty and graduate student instructor trainings on accessibility and teaching. Multiple participants mentioned the policy could be useful for faculty members who face resistance when requesting accommodations. I suggested further coalition building with other factions within CCCC so that access can become a component of all CCCC policies.
The idea that this policy only works if people use it was echoed by calls for further organizing. Patricia Dunn offered her own experiences sharing the policy, noting how colleagues are overwhelmed when reading the policy because while “they have good intentions, they have no idea where to start.” She reminded the audience that we don’t have to be disability experts to advocate for accessibility at our home institutions. An audience member, Matt, called for regional organizing. Disability studies (DS) scholars are often spread out, and we only gather once or twice a year for national conferences. Matt suggested that the Disability Studies Special Interest Group (SIG) map out all the DS folks so we can generate support, share resources, and brainstorm actions with people we are geographically close to throughout the year. The policy lives not in the words on the CCCC’s website but in the way it is brought to life in our classrooms, our department meetings, and our campuses. I left the dialog invigorated and ready to share the policy with my colleagues at University of Maryland.
DS embraces the mess and rejects linearity, so I will conclude where I began: access. Though the policy has helped the CCCC evolve into a more accessible, equitable space, the dialog made one thing clear: Our campuses and our conferences are still not accessible enough. Audience members mentioned that the locations of current and future CCCC’s meetings pose obstacles for people with disabilities, requiring participants to move from building to building in the short period of time between sessions. Outside of CCCC, some faculty members must pay extra for accessible parking, and others are forced to disclose their disability to department chairs in order to receive accommodations. Clearly, much more work needs to be done to construct accessible classrooms, offices, campuses, and professional organizations. This effort requires not just disability studies teacher–scholar activists, but everyone committed to justice and inclusion.
During the Dialog, Dolmage, Vidali, and Oswal mentioned several resources for people interested in advocating for access on campus and at CCCC:
- Disability Rhetoric
The website for the Disability Studies Special Interest Group offers tons of resources for teaching disability rhetoric and explains the process for being assigned a mentor.
- Disability Rhetoric Listserv
This listserv is a useful resource for discussing teaching, conference planning, and CDICC and SIG business.
- CDICC & DS SIG
Every year at CCCC, the CDICC and DS SIG host two open meetings. The SIG offers an opportunity to socialize and meet people doing similar research, and the CDICC is the driving force behind disability policy and advocacy in CCCC. For more information, check the CCCC program.
- Composing Access
Composing Access illustrates various ways to organize accessible conferences, panels, and presentations.
- Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements
This Kairos Praxis Wiki, created by Tara Wood and Shannon Madden, provides suggestions and examples for composing syllabus accessibility statements.