Academic Research

This annotated bibliography presents a selection of current academic research at the intersection of Disability Studies and Rhetoric and Composition. It emphasizes research that will help professors of writing across the disciplines create accessible and inclusive classrooms. Readers will note a particular interest in the potential for community-building across difference.  

Compiled by Sarah Hakimzadeh, Postdoctoral Associate, January 2020

Alexander, Jonathan and Jacqueline Rhodes. “Flattening Effects: Composition’s Multicultural Imperative and the Problem of Narrative Coherence,” College Composition and Communication 65 no. 3 (2014): 430-454.

Alexander and Rhodes warn instructors that composition pedagogies which emphasize identity might problematically flatten difference. When it comes to queer identity in particular, they demonstrate how some multicultural pedagogies and writing assignments encourage students to subscribe to liberal narratives of inclusion that too easily reduce others into versions of themselves and ignore the lived experiences of oppression. They argue that collapsing difference into identity precludes systemic critique of inequality and injustice.  

Bailey, Moya. “Work in the Intersections: A Black Feminist Disability Framework,” Gender and Society 33 no. 1 (2019): 19-40.

Bailey demonstrates how Disability Studies has largely avoided discussing race, and Black Studies has largely avoided discussing disability. Arguing that a single-issue approach to disability fails to adequately understand the lived experiences of people who are multiply marginalized, she then articulates a “black feminist disability framework,” an intersectional approach which explores how race, gender, class, and disability are intertwined. Using this framework, she discusses the dilemma of disclosure for black people.

Bishop, Wendy. “Writing Is/And Therapy?: Raising Questions about Writing Classrooms and Writing Program Administration,” Journal of Advanced Composition 13 no. 2 (1993): 503-516.

Bishop makes a call for composition teachers to receive basic counseling and psychoanalytic training in order to better understand their roles and responsibilities in their university.  

Browning, Ella R. “Disability Studies in the Composition Classroom.” Composition Studies 42.2 (2014): 96-116.

Browning provides a succinct overview of the medical versus social models of disability and calls for composition instructors to make disability a central part of their classrooms by considering the physical space, the pedagogical techniques they use, the projects students are required to complete, as well as the topics instructors ask students to discuss. She cautions against reinforcing the medical model’s construction of disability as individual defect by “retrofitting.” Instead, she recommends discussing how institutions have been constructed with a “too-narrow understanding of what a body is or how it functions.” With “rebuilding” rather than “retrofitting” in mind, she recommends asking students to critically interrogate ways that people with disabilities have been portrayed in various cultural narratives, especially fundraising organizations and public service campaigns, and to assign readings written by people with disabilities.  

Bruch, Patrick L. “Universality in Basic Writing: Connecting Multicultural Justice, Universal Instructional Design and Classroom Practices,” Basic Writing E-Journal 5 no. 1 (2004): http://bwe.ccny.cuny.edu/Issue%205.1.html.

Drawing from Nancy Fraser, Bruch calls attention to the two basic forms of injustice: ‘maldistribution,’ which refers to the unequal distribution of material resources, and ‘misrecognition,’ which refers to “cultural domination…nonrecognition…and disrespect” (Bruch quoting Fraser). He argues that in Basic Writing classes, literacy must be distributed to remedy misrecognition.  This, in turn, requires attention to Universal Design, which asks instructors to think about their classroom practices as oriented to the ideal of universal access. Bruch cautions against classroom pedagogies and theories which emphasize assimilation to already existing conventions.  Instead, he recommends incorporating classroom activities which transform the conventions by interrogating and refining them collaboratively.  

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “An Enabling Pedagogy: Meditations on Writing and Disability.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 21 no. 4 (2001): 791-820.

Brueggemann gives examples from her own composition classroom to explain how disability can function as insight, “critical, experiential, cognitive, sensory, and pedagogical insight” (795). She shares stories about teaching representations of disability in literature and film, and how students respond when she covers topics including privilege, representation, and access.  She also explains how disability theory can complement existing work on gender, sexuality, race, and class.  

Campbell, JoAnn. “Writing to Heal: Using Meditation in the Writing Process,” College Composition and Communication 45 no. 2 (1994): 246-251.

Campbell provides a brief overview of articles in composition studies which recommend teaching meditation as part of the writing process. She then draws from her own experience teaching blocked and anxious writers to recommend meditation, less as a spiritual practice than a practice designed to improve concentration.  

Carter, Angela M. “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Disability Studies Quarterly 35 no. 2 (2015).

Carter intervenes in the trigger-warning debate by explaining how “feminist disability studies pedagogy” (FDSP) could contribute to a more accurate understanding of trauma as disability. Her article includes distinctions between affective states involving various levels of discomfort and actually being triggered. She also explains how by adopting FDSP, educators could shift the terms of the debate from whether or not to include trauma warnings in classroom material to how to adequately acknowledge trauma in the classroom. Her examples include generating classroom discussions about systemic forces that lead to both individual and collective trauma as well as suggestions for how to make the classroom a more accessible space for traumatized students by outlining best practices for discussions on potentially triggering topics.    

Couser, G. Thomas. “From Conflicting Paradigms: The Rhetorics of Disability Memoir,” in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, with Jay Dolmage, 190-199. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Couser identifies five rhetorical patterns that disability autobiographies fall into: triumph, horror, spiritual contemplation, nostalgia, and emancipation. Aside from the rhetoric of emancipation, Couser argues that each of these marginalize people with disabilities. The rhetoric of triumph is often a recounting of an individual’s “overcoming of the obstacles posed by disability…Disability is presented as a ‘problem’ that individuals must overcome; overcoming it is a matter of individual will and determination rather than of social and cultural accommodation” (192). The rhetoric of horror characterizes disability as “a dreadful condition, to be shunned or avoided” (192). The rhetoric of spiritual contemplation invites the reader to view disability as God-given challenge rather than a social and political issue” (193), and the rhetoric of nostalgia marginalizes disability by equating it with an end of life narrative (194). Couser identifies the rhetoric of emancipation, however, as a means of “self-creation” in which narrative plays an important part in both physical and psychological emancipation (195). The resolution is not one of correcting the disability so much as it is one of accommodation and integration into society.

Crawford, Ryan and Andreas Wilhoff. “Stillness in the Composition Classroom: Insight, Incubation, Improvisation, Flow, and Meditation,” Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning 19 (2013-14): 74-83.

This article updates James Moffett’s injunction for “inner speech” by providing an overview of recent neuroscientific research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation for generating insight. Although the studies themselves focus on creativity in different domains (music and problem-solving), the authors productively apply these insights to writing. They conclude with suggestions for how to incorporate meditation as what they call “incubation,” a necessary stage in creativity, into the composition classroom.  

Cunningham, Muriel. “Helping Autistic Students Improve Written Communication Skills Through Visual Images,” in Gerstle, Val and Lynda Walsh. Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing More Accessible for All Students, 123-136 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011).

Cunningham proposes using non-verbal images as a way of improving student writing skills, with particular benefit to autistic student writers. She discusses several strategies, including cutting out advertisements and using the images to talk about focus and to encourage her students to use precise details to make their papers more vivid.  

Davis, Lennard J. “Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 9-28. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Davis traces the emergence of the concept of “normal” to a particular historical moment in the 19th century which emphasized progress and consolidated the power of the bourgeoisie. Included in his account is a genealogy of “normal” and “ideal” in both the literature and science of the era. Davis also ties the cultural importance of the term to the discipline of statistics, which in dividing the population as a whole into standard and sub-standard categories, was closely associated with the theory and practice of eugenics.     

Dolmage, Jay Timothy. Disability Rhetoric (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2014).

Offering readings of a wide array of texts from the classical tradition to contemporary film, Dolmage makes the body a focal point for disability studies and rhetoric: “the body is rhetorically invested, inscribed, shaped” and “all rhetoric is embodied” (89).  Dolmage traces a genealogy  of the ancient concept, metis, defined as the “cunning and adaptive intelligence…characterized by sideways and backward movement.” He then uses it as a lens through which to discover alternative histories of rhetoric, and particularly, to draw out disabled rhetors who use their bodies to generate new forms of meaning. Throughout the book, he argues that the way the disabled body in particular is constructed affects the way that all bodies are constructed, and that we should affirm the disabled body as productively challenging social norms. Dolmage also provides a list of disability myths which cultural narratives and artifacts often perpetuate, as well as a counter-list of disability rhetorics which generate new forms of expression.    

Dolmage, Jay. “Mapping Composition: Inviting Disability in the Front Door,” in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, with Jay Dolmage, 14-27. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Dolmage critiques the university as “the place for the very able” (17).  He argues that “American academics have delineated and disciplined the border between able and disabled, the ‘us’ and ‘them.’  These line drawers were able to solidify their own positions as they closed the doors on others” (18). He encourages college composition structures to recognize the ways in which disability has always been an afterthought in design, both instructional and architectural.  Dolmage advocates for Universal Design, “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (Dolmage citing the Center for Universal Design 24). 

Dunn, Patricia A. and Kathleen Dunn DeMers. “Reversing Notions of Disability and Accommodation: Embracing Universal Design in Writing Pedagogy and Web Space.” Kairos 7 no. 1 (2002): http://66.113.161.124/7.1/binder2.html?coverweb/dunn_demers/index.html.

The authors examine how the principles and philosophy of Universal Design can be incorporated into the composition classroom. They recommend beginning course design with the following questions in mind: “1) How can the intellectual work that a writing project demands be simulated in a variety of approaches”; and 2) “How can we approach this project, and the complex, chaotic yet generative thinking that goes into this writing project, so that all students in this class will be both included and challenged?” The article provides several invention strategies for writers using multiple modes, all informed by principles of Universal Design.    

Erevelles, Nirmala. “In Search of the Disabled Subject,” in Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture, edited by James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, 92-114. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Erevelles argues that the rhetorical interventions that follow from poststructuralist theories are not transgressive enough when it comes to people with disabilities. Erevelles critiques these theories as essentially exclusionary, extensions of what she calls “lifestyle politics,” whose emancipatory possibilities depend on an individual’s basic needs as already being met (36). Only when their economic conditions allow are individuals able to invent alternative ways of being that would challenge the status quo.  She then performs a Marxist analysis to demonstrate how disabled people were excluded from the workforce because they could not meet the productive demands of the market. Medicine then conspired with the state, she explains, to construct disability as an ahistorical, naturalized identity, a pathology that was often used to justify the inferiority of the working classes. Erevelles argues that only when labor is not commodified and is used to produce use-value can disabled people reinvent their subjectivities.  

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. “Words Made Flesh: Fusing Imagery and Language in a Polymorphic Literacy,” College English 66 no. 6 (2004): 612-631.

This article presents the theory and practice of teaching “polymorphic literacy,” “reading and writing that draws on verbal and nonverbal ways of shaping meaning” (613). Fleckenstein argues that the trouble with language-centered classrooms is that they cut off “aspects of creativity that are not accessible through words alone” (615). By drawing attention to place, both its verbal and non-verbal constructions, she explains that we can expand students’ linguistic and visual-kinesthetic repertoires. She concludes by describing activities designed to achieve that end.  

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure,” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 279-282. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Garland-Thomson draws out and elaborates a connection between the female body, which has historically been excluded from public participation, and the disabled body, which has historically been relegated exclusively to the private sphere. Accordingly, she explains how both disability and femininity can productively challenge the Enlightenment ideal of an autonomous, objective point of view.  She then explains how feminist theory can contribute concepts to disability studies that can help articulate historicized, materially-sensitive understandings of disability as an identity formation.  

Gerdes, Kendall. “Trauma, Trigger Warnings, and the Rhetoric of Sensitivity,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 49 no. 1 (2019): 3-24.

Gerdes investigates the repudiation of sensitivity in the trigger warnings debate. After a providing a brief account of the history of the debate, she then argues for trigger warnings as an accessibility practice designed to center the needs of trauma survivors. Gerdes makes two theoretical claims: first, as linguistically constituted beings, we are all acutely and necessarily sensitive to language; and second, given the power of language to hurt as well as to open up intellectual inquiry and enable collective engagement, we should think of our classrooms as spaces of hospitality.   

Hahn, Harlan. “Advertising the Acceptably Employable Image: Disability and Capitalism,” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 172-186. New York: Routledge, 1997.

This article examines patterns in capitalist dynamics which contributed to discrimination against people with disabilities by focusing specifically on advertising and images of able-bodied, Anglo-Saxon people. Hahn demonstrates how these images promulgated and enforced consumer standards that employers used in hiring decisions.   

Heilker, Paul and Melanie Yergeau. “Autism and Rhetoric,” College English 73 no. 5 (2011): 486-497.

Heilker and Yergeau argue that autism should be understood first and foremost as a rhetoric, “a way of being in the world through language, through invention, structure, and style” (497). They observe that autistic people “are about as amorphous and diverse as neurotypicals,” and rather than subscribing to a list of stereotypes that are supposed to characterize autistic people and autistic writers, we as instructors are more effective if we are attuned and attentive to the kinds of rhetoric autistic people use and how they use it. Heilker and Yergeau call for “rhetorical listening” as a way of beginning to value autistic people’s rhetoric rather than considering them defective and inherently arhetorical. The article is interspersed with vignettes from Yergeau’s own experience as an autistic rhetor and Heilker’s experiences listening rhetorically to his autistic son, which demonstrates how to put the method that the authors recommend composition teachers use into practice. 

Jack, Jordynn and L. Gregory Appelbaum. “‘This is Your Brain on Rhetoric’: Research Directions for Neurorhetorics,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40 no. 5 (2010): 411-437.

This article functions as a guide for rhetoricians interested in incorporating neuroscientific research into their analyses effectively and critically. The authors give rhetoric scholars a set of tools to complex neuroscientific arguments, highlighting key topoi such as accuracy, efficiency, and bias as they appear in neuroscientific journals. They also map key terms from both fields, such as emotion, reason, and empathy, onto each other, highlighting the differences between how rhetoricians and neuroscientists use these terms. One of the difficulties in working at the intersection of neuroscience and rhetoric, an emerging field which the authors call “neurorhetorics,” is that the key methodologies in neuroscience are themselves contested. They review methods for discerning these methodologies based on terminological choices and how they work to persuasive effect in neuroscientific research and broader cultural debates. Jack and Appelbaum then demonstrate how to read a neuroscientific journal article on autism rhetorically, carefully avoiding the pitfalls of “neurorealism,” “neuroessentialism,” and “neuropolicy,” three tendencies in popular representations of neuroscientific research that oversimplify and/or operationalize the research uncritically.  

Johnson, Jennell. “The Skeleton on the Couch: the Eagleton Affair, Rhetorical Disability, and the Stigma of Mental Illness,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40 no. 5 (2010): 459-478.

Johnson analyzes the 1972 “Eagleton Affair,” the eighteen-day period in which Thomas Eagleton was dropped as George McGovern’s vice presidential candidate for revealing he was hospitalized for depression three times. Johnson traces competing conceptions of stigma from Ancient Greece to the present day and argues that stigma is “a constitutive rhetorical act that…produces a disabling rhetorical effect,” what she calls “kakaethos,” or bad character. She demonstrates that Eagleton was taken off the presidential ticket because of his perceived lack of ethos, not because he was considered unqualified. Johnson calls attention to what she calls his “rhetorical disability,” “the variety of barriers that prevent certain rhetors from achieving rhetoricity with certain audiences” (461).     

Kafer, Alison. “Un/Safe Disclosures,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disabilities Studies 10 no. 1 (2016): 1-20.

Kafer’s article presents a number of provocative questions about trauma in disability studies. Kafer claims that trauma is undertheorized in the field, not least because of disability studies scholars’ unwillingness to acknowledge pain, tragedy, and loss as part of disability identity. She calls for scholars to attend to the process of “becoming disabled” (6) not just “being disabled” (6), and in so doing, to more accurately theorize a non-ableist understanding of disability as tragic. She also examines three scenes of disability disclosure, a BDSM workshop, the Society for Disability Studies conference, and the disability studies classroom, to describe the stakes of disclosure for marginalized groups and individuals, including those whose disabilities marginalize them in so-called “safe spaces.”    

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L. “Avoiding the Difference Fixation: Identity Categories, Markers of Difference, and the Teaching of Writing,” College Composition and Communication 63 no. 4 (2012): 616-644.

Kerschbaum presents “markers of difference,” “contextually embedded rhetorical cues that signal the presence of difference between one or more interlocutors,” as a heuristic for understanding identity as emergent, situated, and enacted. Drawing from the rhetorical theory of Bakhtin, she theorizes identity as always unfinished and rhetorically negotiated, and she explains how by being attuned to “markers of difference” writing teachers can come to know others through a more nuanced and sophisticated lens than static identity categories. While identity categories are fixed, markers of difference are rhetorically negotiated and flexible; they are determined by particularized relational dynamics.  

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L. “On Rhetorical Agency and Disclosing Disability in Academic Writing,” Rhetoric Review 33 no. 1 (2014): 55-71.

Kerschbaum examines disability disclosure in academic writing, identifying three principal motivations: 1) to build a disability community by identifying shared experiences; 2) to illustrate empirical or theoretical insights about disability which can revise dominant cultural narratives; and 3) to assert and enact an emergent disability identity. Kerschbaum then uses disability identity as an example to demonstrate that identity is context-dependent and always in process.

Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia. “Rethinking Rhetoric through Mental Disabilities,” Rhetoric Review 22 no. 2 (2003): 156-167.

This article rethinks rhetoric from the perspective of severe mental disability, which challenges the idea of the autonomous subject at the heart of liberalism. Through what she calls “mediated rhetoricity,” “language used for the benefit of the disabled person that is (co)constructed by parents, advocates, and/or committed caregivers who know the disabled person,” (162) Lewiecki-Wilson argues that we can reconceive of “rhetoricity as potential” (164). This potential resides in the rhetorical situation itself, and through rhetorical listening and mediated rhetoricity, can lead to redefining the public sphere as an intersubjective and interdependent space based on caring.  

Mann, April. “Structure & Accommodation: Autism and the Writing Center,” in Gerstle, Val and Lynda Walsh. Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing More Accessible for All Students, 45-74. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011.

Mann critiques Ann Jurecic’s, “Neurodiversity” for recommending that instructors approach student writers with autism through the lens of absolute difference and otherness. Focusing on the tutoring work done in writing centers, Mann instead offers an approach that builds from the practices that most writing tutors already use. Helping students interpret and scaffold assignments and develop problem-solving strategies for approaching their writing are skills in which tutors are already well-versed. Additionally, the tendency she identifies in students to focus exclusively on topics of special interests works well in composition courses designed to stimulate student interest by limiting the readings to topics teachers think will be more likely to engage them. Mann does emphasize that there are unique considerations for autistic students, however, including possible sensory overload in the writing center, wanting to avoid the intensity of one-to-one interactions, and avoiding miscommunication when possible. She recommends online tutoring, asking direct rather than open-ended questions, giving concrete examples and explanations, and using verbal rather than nonverbal communication as much as possible (60).   

McAlexander, Patricia J. “Using Principles of Universal Design in College Composition Courses,” Basic Writing E-Journal 5 no. 1 (2004): http://bwe.ccny.cuny.edu/Issue%205.1.html.

McALexander provides a list of best practices for writing teachers based on the philosophy of Universal Design. He recommends designing the course with Universal Design principles in mind specifically to avoid discriminating against students with low socioeconomic status. He points out that students may not have had the material resources to receive formal diagnoses before and/or during their undergraduate education.  

McClinton-Temple, Jennifer. “‘Well, Not Exactly’: Asperger’s and the Integration of Outside Sources, inGerstle, Val and Lynda Walsh. Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing More Accessible for All Students, 137-143. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011.

McClinton recounts the difficulties she had teaching Amy, an autistic student writer, how to use outside sources. Amy would spend hours going back and forth on the screen attempting to use a quote and would freeze when asked to put something into her own words. Two strategies that helped McClinton work through this with Amy were asking her to summarize smaller and smaller chunks of writing without looking at the text (instead of the instruction to put something in her own words) and asking her to write a blog post before writing her essay. Since using outside links was already easy for her, McClinton was able to use that as an analog for explaining how to incorporate quotations.  

McRuer, Robert. “Composing Bodies: or, De-Composition: Queer Theory, Disability Studies, and Alternative Corporealities,” Journal of Advanced Composition 24 no. 1 (1004): 47-78.

McRuer argues that as it is currently conceived and practiced, composition in the contemporary university is “a corporate model of efficiency” (49). Classes are taught by a contingent labor force, and course content is geared toward “professional-managerial skills rather than critical thought” (49). McRuer proposes that students and teachers should resist by foregrounding queer theory and disability studies in composition theory in order to de-compose normative structures, particularly those structures which demand finished writing products and fixed student identities.  

Moffett, James. “Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation,” College English 44 no. 3 (1982): 231-246.

Moffett draws from disparate spiritual traditions and cognitive psychology to connect the act of good writing with the inner silence and reflection that comes from meditation. Moffett encourages writing teachers to use meditation in their classrooms because he claims that it better connects students with “inner speech,” what they authentically think and feel, rather than the thoughts and feelings of others.  Moffett’s emphasis is on empowering students to write authentically; what he calls “real authoring” as opposed to “disguised playback” (234-5). He also offers a brief inventory of verbal and nonverbal methods for accessing inner speech for writing teachers.

Moe, Peter Wayne. “Revealing Rather than Concealing Disability: the Rhetoric of Parkinson’s Advocate Michael J. Fox,” Rhetoric Review 31 no. 4 (2012): 443-460.

Moe analyzes the rhetoric of Michael J. Fox’s public address to the Senate asking for Parkinson’s funding. Fox had not taken his medication and was actively symptomatic, disrupting both the audience’s expectations and theories of rhetoric that posit the effective rhetor as necessarily able-bodied. Moe argues that Fox’s speech underscores that rhetoric studies needs to expand its scope to examine disability as a site of embodied rhetoric.  

Molloy, Cathryn. “Recuperative Ethos and Agile Epistemologies: Toward a Vernacular Engagement with Mental Illness Ontologies,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 45 no. 2 (2015): 138-163.

Molloy analyzes data from a field-based study of people with chronic mental illness to examine how they establish ethos after an acute phase of mental illness. She calls this “recuperative ethos,” and demonstrates how mentally ill rhetors establish ethos through three types of astuteness: “expressions of social insight, displays of experiential knowledge, and references to book and scholarly knowledges” (147). She also argues that they can access “agile epistemologies,” including “logical contradiction, metonymic parallels, enthymemes, and expansive views of human agency,” which despite the stigma of mental illness, can be a rhetorical advantage (154-5).  

Neilson, Danielle. “Universal Design in First-Year Composition–Why Do We Need It, How Can We Do It?” CEA Forum 42 no. 2 (2013): 3-29.

Neilson incorporates Universal Design principles into a first-year composition classroom. In keeping with Universal Design’s aim of providing equal access to learning as well as information and allowing students to take control of the learning process, Nielsen made the following changes to her class: she made all her texts available in Word and PDF, went over assignments using an overhead projector so auditory and visual learners would have the opportunity to read and listen to the requirements, verbally gave instructions for written assignments and wrote them on the board before students began group work, broke tasks up into steps, encouraged face-to-face meetings and made herself available via chat and email, allowed students to use different media to complete assignments, and allowed students to choose which technologies to use to complete assignments. Nielson argues that the first year composition classroom is an especially fertile ground for instructors and students to experiment with Universal Design. In these classes, students are developing their own academic identities. She argues that the more instructors allow them to take ownership of the learning process and find their learning style, the better they will do in their other classes and even in their future careers.  

Nicki, Andrea. “The Abused Mind: Feminist Theory, Psychiatric Disability, and Trauma,” Hypatia 16 no. 4 (2001): 80-104.

Nicki argues that there is a bi-directional relationship between psychiatric disability and other forms of marginalization based on race, class, and gender: members of marginalized groups are more likely to be disabled and being disabled is more likely to lead to marginalization. While not denying the possibility of biological bases for mental illness, she argues that a social and cultural understanding of mental illness is nevertheless crucial, and she demonstrates how this can reveal prevailing sexist attitudes. Her article as a whole presents a liberatory, feminist theory of psychiatric disability in which mental states associated with mental illness such as mania are valued for the nonconformist insights and experiences they enable. Rather than despising or fearing people who are capable of inhabiting these alternate states of consciousness, Nicki argues that there should be more emphasis on their achievements.  

Prendergast, Catherine. “On the Rhetorics of Mental Disability,” in Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture, edited by James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, 45-61. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Prendergast, who identifies as a scholar whose academic specialization “often involves tracking the effects of social formations – disciplines, institutions, texts – on the creation and management of knowledge” (45) searches through fragments of public and scholarly discourse as well as her own personal experience in order to bring about a coherent understanding of her friend Barbara’s schizophrenia diagnosis (47). Prendergast describes how the mentally ill are vilified and marginalized by providing anecdotes from Barbara’s frequent interactions with the medical establishment.  She observes that “since the diagnosis of schizophrenia necessarily supplants one’s position as rhetor, Barbara may tell her story, but no one can hear it.” (47)  The mentally disabled lack what she calls “rhetoricability” (56); they are treated as being “devoid of rhetoric” (57).  

Price, Margaret. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011).

Margaret Price uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to examine academic ableism in a variety of settings in higher education, including classrooms, academic conferences, and meetings with professors. She also calls attention to the “kairotic spaces,” “the less formal, often unnoticed, areas of academe where knowledge is produced and power is exchanged” (21). These can include elevator meetings, study groups, interview for jobs, department parties, and Q & A sessions. Price aligns her argument with multiracial, feminist, poststructural, and sophistic rhetorics by disrupting the idea of “reason as normality” (32), and she argues for a more prominent place for emotion in academic culture. Price gives concrete recommendations for how to foster a culture of access by using multiple channels of feedback, giving students the option of using LiveChat instead of attending office hours in person, and assigning multimodal exercises and assignments that include sound.  She also draws attention to how syllabus statements can better include students with disabilities by openly articulating the norms governing the class and encouraging students to talk to the professor about how to best accommodate their individual learning needs.

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. Life of the Mind Interrupted: Essays on Mental Health and Disability in Higher Education (Chapel Hill: Raven Books, 2017).

In these essays, Guest uses her own experiences as a person with bipolar disorder to describe academic ableism and social exclusion in and beyond academia. She explains how people with bipolar disorder are both feared and romanticized, as are people with other psychiatric disabilities. Her book provides a more realistic look at what it’s like to live with a psychiatric disability, mostly using her own life as an academic and a teacher as examples. The book also contains anonymous interviews with people who have other psychiatric disabilities, and it includes concrete suggestions for best practices in the university.  

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. “The Creativity Mystique and the Rhetoric of Mood Disorders,” Disability Studies Quarterly 31 no. 3 (2011).

Pryal conducts a rhetorical analysis of recent scientific literature, published for both expert and popular audiences. She concludes that to differing degrees, they establish correlative and causal links between mood disorders and creativity. She calls this the “creativity mystique” of mood disorders, and she demonstrates how research, diagnoses, and treatments of mood disorders are affected by the popular perception of this link.   

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. “The Genre of the Mood Memoir and the Ethos of Psychiatric Disability,”Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40 no. 5 (2010): 479-501.

Pryal posits a new autobiographical genre, the mood memoir, and explains how it responds to what disability scholars have described as the rhetorical exclusion suffered by people with psychiatric disabilities. The genre is identified by four conventions: an apologia, a moment of awakening to the illness, speaking back to the medical establishment, and laying claim to others with mood disorders to normalize their diagnoses (499). Pryal focuses on how each of these genre markers empowers those with psychiatric disabilities to actively establish ethos vis a vis exclusionary discourses. 

Rakes, H. “Crip Feminist Trauma Studies in Jessica Jones and Beyond,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 13 no. 1 (2019): 75-122.

This article fleshes out the connection between crip trauma studies and feminist crip studies to develop a critical methodology called “crip feminist trauma studies.” This framework conceives of trauma as “possibility and complex experience rather than tragedy or overcoming,” emphasizes relationality, and critiques both gender violence and disability violence as interlocking oppressions (75). Rakes then applies this framework to the Netflix series, Jessica Jones, pointing out the ways that the series values survivor knowledge and interdependence.     

Ribble, Marcia. “Basic Writing Students with Autism in the College Classroom,” in Gerstle, Val and Lynda Walsh. Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing More Accessible for All Students, 15-33. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011.

Ribble provides a quick overview of what to expect from writers on the autism spectrum in the composition classroom. While these students often have good grammar and vocabulary and are good at working with long-term memories, they may have difficulties with audience awareness and working in groups. Ribble also explains that students may develop an intense focus on certain topics and may need to talk through the connections that they experience, but that may not be obvious to readers. A common issue in autistic writers is the inability to sustain focus at the sentence level, for which she recommends repetition of writing tasks and a focus on writing and editing practices.

Rose, Mike. “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of Writer’s Bloc,” College Composition and Communication 31 no. 4 (1980): 389-401.

Rose conducts a study of student writers to determine strategies writers can use to overcome writer’s block. Most of the time, he argues that when student writers are blocked, they are adhering to “rigid or inappropriate rules, or inflexible or confused plans” (393). Non-blockers, on the other hand, are more flexible with rules, and have less precise plans. Their approach aligns more with statements such as: “When stuck, write!” (396); “I’ll write what I can” (396); and “I can throw things out” (397).  If a student is stuck, he recommends finding out about the student’s writing history by asking the following questions: “How much and what kind of writing was done in high school? What is the student’s major?  What kind of writing does it require?  How does the student compose?  Are there rough drafts or outline available? By what rules does the student operate? How would he or she define ‘good’ writing?” (400).

Rothfelder, Katy and Davi Johnson Thornton. “Man Interrupted: Mental Illness Narrative as a Rhetoric of Proximity,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 47 no. 4 (2017): 359-382.

Rothfelder and Thornton argue that David Adam’s book about OCD, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, responds to a new rhetorical situation in which mental illness is becoming increasingly less stigmatized. Rather than uniformly attempting to create a sense of identification and empathy, Adam uses “rhetorics of proximity,” rhetorical acts which produce both “feelings of closeness and distance, sameness and difference” (360). Adam’s narrative productively preserves the alterity of mental illness by making identification a question of degree. The authors advocate for Dennis Lynch’s use of proximity as a rhetorical concept to illuminate the subtleties of rhetorical acts involving mental disability, “acts that seem to simultaneously seek empathy and alienation” (360).

Russell, Marta. Capitalism and Disability: Selected Writings by Marta Russell, edited by Keith Rosenthal (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019).

In this volume, Rosenthal puts together a collection of the disability rights activist Marta Russell’s writings on political economy and disability. Russell’s writings explore disability from a Marxist perspective, and argues that disability should be understood as a class issue under capitalism. She includes critiques of the liberal rights paradigm as well as accounts of disability activism against war, incarceration, and fair housing. Russell demonstrates how disability presents an opportunity for all workers, not just disabled persons, to question and eventually transform the organization of labor in society. The book contains an appendix reporting statistics on the living and working conditions of disabled people.   

Saunders, Pamela. “Neurodivergent Rhetorics: Examining Competing Discourses of Autism Advocacy in the Public Sphere,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 12 no. 1 (2018): 1-17.

Saunders conducts a rhetorical analysis of “I am Autism,” a campaign-video by the autism advocacy group, Autism Speaks, and the public response to that video by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). While Autism Speaks draws from medicalized discourses to represent autism as a disease in need of a cure, she demonstrates how ASAN uses the rhetoric of legal rights to represent autistic people as an oppressed group. Both, she argues, enforce ableist notions of civic participation. 

Schalk, Sami. “Reevaluating the Supercrip,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 10 no. 1 (2016): 71-128.

Schalk reexamines the term “supercrip” in disability studies scholarship. In the mainstream culture, what disability studies scholars call a “supercrip” is someone who heroically overcomes their disability. While scholars use the term pejoratively, Schalk points out we should still develop a more sophisticated understanding of what they are, their effects, and even their potentially positive uses. This involves developing an awareness of their narrative mechanisms; distinguishing between the various sub-types of supercrip narratives (“regular,” “glorified,” and “superpowered” crip narratives) as well as developing new critical categories to identify other kinds of supercrip narratives that are currently in circulation (80-1); and more carefully considering their representational contexts.  

Tomlinson, Elizabeth and Sarah Newman. “Valuing Writers from a Neurodiversity Perspective: Integrating New Research on Autism Spectrum Disorder into Composition Pedagogy,” Composition Studies 45 no. 2 (2017): 91-112.

Tomlinson and Newman conduct a qualitative study of twenty-nine writers with autism to challenge both the Theory of Mind (TOM) and DSM V’s characterization of autistics as defective, particularly when it comes to audience awareness. While the cognitive studies perspective that their theories offer describe autistic people as “mindblind,” unable to conceive of others as having states of mind, the authors found otherwise: the writers were quite aware of their audiences and concerned with how their texts would be received. Tomlinson and Newman end with a series of suggestions for autistic and other writers based on the principles of Universal Design. These include using various assignment genres, giving specific instructions and criteria for assignments, scaffolding tasks, providing ample time to complete assignments, and providing moral support that recognizes autistic people’s unique ways of knowing (106).

Uthappa, Renuka. “Moving Closer: Speakers with Mental Disabilities, Deep Disclosure, and Agency through Vulnerability,” Rhetoric Review 36 no. 2 (2017): 164-175.

Uthappa analyzes six speakers as they describe their mental disabilities for Speakers Bureau, a mental disability advocacy group. She coins the phrase “deep disclosure,” to describe particularly intimate disclosures of episodes resulting from mental disability, arguing that disclosures of this kind have transformative potential if the audience is receptive to the speaker’s vulnerability (165).   

Vidali, Amy. “Discourses of Disability and Basic Writing,” in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, with Jay Dolmage, 40-55. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Vidali traces a brief history of basic writers in the field of composition starting with cognitivism in the 1980s to the current era, in which students’ home language and abilities are respected and the unitary nature of academic discourse is being challenged (42). She explains that basic writers and people with disabilities are both perceived as partial and flawed: “while cognitivism recommends a developmental approach to teaching writing to address the ‘deficits’ of basic writers, people with disabilities are directed to doctors and rehabilitation specialists to fix theirs” (42). Vidali recommends an approach that conceives of both basic writers and disabled writers as inhabiting permeable identities, two “minority groups that might have some shared goals” (48).  She ends by considering a unified program for basic writers and disabled writers (52).

Vidali, Amy. “Performing the Rhetorical Freak Show: Disability, Student Writing, and College Admissions,” College English 69 no. 6 (2007): 615-641.

Vidali undertakes an analysis of three students’ disability disclosures by reading their admissions essays as well as conducting personal interviews designed to discern their motivations for disclosure and its rhetorical effects. Vidali uses freak-show theory as a theoretical frame to understand the ways in which disability can be seen as both a curiosity and a rhetorical resource. She underscores that she does not associate the students with the freak-show’s negative connotations but rather uses it as a perspective to “radically re-view what these essays achieve as texts; to highlight the intense pressure under which students produce such texts; and to emphasize the rhetorical risks and rewards of disclosing disability” (623).

Walters, Shannon. “Autistic Ethos at Work: Writing on the Spectrum in Contexts of Professional and Technical Communication,” Disability Studies Quarterly 31 no. 3 (2011).

Walters examines how Temple Grandin and Dawn Prince Hughes, two technical and professional communicators with autism, construct ethos. She then explains how this challenges Aristotelian and sophistic paradigms.  

Wells, Katherine V. “‘I Just Felt Kinda Invisible: Accommodations for Learning Disabled Students in the Composition Classroom,’” in Gerstle, Val and Lynda Walsh. Autism Spectrum Disorders in the College Composition Classroom: Making Writing More Accessible for All Students, 35-44. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2011.

Wells presents the results of an interview with a student on the Autism Spectrum in an Elementary Composition class. At the end of the chapter, she produces a list of recommendations for working with autistic students based on the interview divided into five sections: Pedagogy of the Body, Institutional, Ergonomic, Feedback, and Tools and Technology.  

Wilson, James C. and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “From Constructing a Third Space: Disability Studies, the Teaching of English, and Institutional Transformation,” in Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, with Jay Dolmage, 153-158. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Wilson and Wilson offer strategies for providing better access for students with disabilities in the writing classroom. They recommend flexibility in meeting students in spaces where they are comfortable, and recommend that instructors be willing to conference via phone or email rather than in person. They also discuss ways to create an inclusive classroom environment, first, by incorporating disability as an area of academic study in composition, literature, and interdisciplinary classes; and second, by encouraging both disabled and nondisabled students to reflect on disability as a “social construction, a critical modality, and a community issue” rather than an identity (154). 

Wilson, James. C. and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “Disability, Rhetoric, and the Body,” in Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture, edited by James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, 1-24. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue that composition studies’ concern with literacy practices, the effects of language production and the reception of student texts, as well as its application of theory to pedagogy, position it as a potentially powerful ally for disability studies (8-9). The authors identify intellectual resources in the tradition of postmodern rhetoric, which highlights the situatedness of languages and its material effects, as well as in the classical tradition, which has historically been concerned with persuasion in civic fora.  

Womack, Anne-Marie .“Teaching is Accommodation: Universally Designing Composition Classrooms and Syllabi,” College Composition and Communication 68 no. 3 (2017): 494-525.

Womack advocates for Universal Design in the composition classroom. She claims that “every pedagogy is an accommodation” (499).  Instead of viewing ability and disability as a binary, she encourages instructors to look at bodies as accommodated in a classroom in order to function. Through this lens, she then calls attention to various aspects of the composition classroom, for example, the physical design of documents. She recommends cutting policy language on syllabi where possible, relocating information that can be relocated to documents that come later in the semester (e.g. assignment prompts), and using hyperlinks on the syllabus. Womack concludes by encouraging composition instructors to expand deadlines, for example, by using grace periods and extensions on assignments, or by allowing students to set their own deadlines.

Wood, Tara. “Cripping Time in the College Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69 no. 2 (2017): 260-286.

Wood argues that composition teachers must pay more attention to how time is constructed in the classroom. After conducting a qualitative study of how student writers perform when faced with flexible and inflexible time frames and deadlines, she argues for “cripping time” to reduce the anxiety and pressure that student writers with disabilities face. Cripping time means “approaching the construction of time in writing classrooms in such a way that doesn’t rely on compulsory able-bodiedness” (270). This requires working with student writers with disabilities to negotiate flexible time frames and deadlines and scaffold assignments to better suit their sense of time as they compose.  

Wood, Tara and Shannon Madden. “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements,” Kairos Praxis Wiki.  Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.  (2014)

Wood and Madden provide an overview of several composition instructors’ syllabus statements and evaluate each one in terms of the degree of inclusion they foster. They explain how the syllabus sets the tone for the class, and how a thoughtful construction of accessibility statements can allow for better access to the classroom space. They recommend positioning the statement at the beginning of the syllabus in order to allow instructors to foreground their interest in accommodating students with disabilities, and to experiment with different names for the statement, for example “Accommodation Statement,” “Inclusion Statement,” or “Statement of Commitment to Universal Design for Learning.”  

Wood, Tara, Jay Dolmage, Margaret Price, Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “Where We Are: Disability and Accessibility: Moving Beyond Disability 2.0 in Composition Studies,” Composition Studies 42 no. 2 (2014): 147-50.

The authors give recommendations for teacher training workshops for student writers with disabilities. Instead of producing checklists, which, they argue, can be both reductive and perpetuate a troubleshooting approach to disability, they recommend a “more holistic, recursive approach, one in which disability becomes a central critical lens for students as well as teachers” (148). They end with a list of suggested workshop activities that encourage students and teachers to think about disability in terms of rhetoric and access.

Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).

Yergeau’s book is an extended response to academic and scientific literature that posits autistic subjects as essentially arhetorical, as lacking the requisite agency to be fully intending, desiring, persuading, and otherwise willing subjects. Yergeau uses storytelling as a method to present autistic people as rhetorical beings and identifies the ways in which autistic rhetorics disrupt traditional notions of agency and intentionality in the rhetorical tradition. Her book maps the intersections between autism and queerness and autism and “neuroqueerness,” a term which refers to neurodivergent ways of being.  It also contains a thorough account and critique of applied behavior analysis (ABA).  

Yergeau, Melanie. “Occupying Autism: Rhetoric, Involuntarity, and the Meaning of Autistic Lives,” in Occupying Disability: Critical Approaches to Community, Justice, and Decolonizing Disability, edited by Pamela Block, Devva Kasnitz, Akemi Nishida, and Nick Pollard, 83-95. New York: Springer, 2011.

Yergeau uses this chapter to ask what it would mean to confront the “theories of lack” about autistic people’s capabilities (90). After receiving her autism diagnosis, she reflects on how her “being became a story,” one which precluded empathy, emotion, and humanity. She faults the medical establishment in particular for denying the rhetorical agency of autistic people.

Yergeau, Melanie. “Saturday Plenary Address: Creating a Culture of Access in Writing Program Administration,” WPA: Writing Program Administration 40 no. 1 (2016): 155-165.

Yergeau calls to remake the field of writing studies and the university more broadly in order to foster a “culture of access” (155). She invites us to look at the spaces we inhabit and to ask how their design reflects value judgments about who matters most. For example, who has access to the resources, she asks, such as food stations, the arrangement of work spaces, and the bathrooms?  Yergeau makes a call to reconsider disability as something besides “a problemed currency, a contagion, blight,” and to “consider, to deeply consider, the ways in which we propagate a non-disabled default in our professional and our pedagogical spaces” (159).