Accessibility in the Age of Compliance: Using Flexible Heuristics to Promote Greater Writing Program Access

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Donegan, Rachel
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Middle Tennessee State University
Almost thirty years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), writing program administrators (WPAs) still wrestle with what access means and what it entails. Numerous questions, each with serious implications for faculty, students, and administrators, have arisen from this struggle: What does compliance look like? Is institutional compliance the same as accessibility? Who should perform the work of addressing widespread, systemic accessibility issues? In Accessibility in the Age of Compliance: Using Flexible Heuristic to Promote Greater Writing Program Access, I answer these questions in the form of a flexible heuristic, one designed to complement Tennessee's legislatively mandated accessibility audit for public colleges and universities. Unlike these prescribed access efforts, my heuristic centers on how to create accessible classrooms and writing programs for mentally disabled students. Informed by Universal Design for Learning, writing program administration theory, disability theory, and data from interviews with disabled graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), this heuristic contains two domains representing two aspects of writing programs. The first, which focuses on syllabus policies, pushes WPAs to consider how access statements, technology policies, and participation grades can expand or constrict access for mentally disabled students. The second, which covers programmatic and administrative efforts, prompts WPAs to evaluate their institution’s ADA policies and procedures for disabled faculty, GTAs, and students. By examining these policies, WPAs can determine what accommodations students are using in first-year writing courses, to look for ways to redesign, and to create specific spaces where disabled GTAs, faculty, and students can provide authentic feedback. Understanding that every university and writing program is unique, I frame this heuristic not as orthodoxy or as containing all exhaustive possibilities for WPAs, but rather as starting points for further examination and as possible avenues for accessible imagination. By engaging with this heuristic, this project models strategies to gain a deeper awareness of how systemic inaccessibility can exist within a writing program, but a better understanding of how to and how we might view access work as a starting place, rather than a destination.
Disability studies, Education Policy, Language