Accessibility and Accommodations in the Writing Center
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director
At the end of last semester, the Writing Center debuted a new page on our website for Accessibility and Accommodations. We are excited to be among the relatively small group of writing centers who have public statements along these lines, and we’d like to take a moment at the beginning of this new semester to account for some of the decisions we made and to address why we think accessibility is an important philosophy for writing centers to adopt.
Although I was responsible for the specific content of the page, the decision-making process was a team effort. As we started brainstorming, we quickly realized that there were a few things that would be central to our approach to accessibility. First, we wanted to communicate the ways in which accessibility is already part of how we think about tutoring writing and the design of our space and resources. For example, we emphasize in our statement that we work with writers at any stage in the writing process. We already work regularly with writers on brainstorming and understanding assignments, and writers with disabilities might find this particularly helpful. I go on to note that our consultants spend time discussing identity and disability in our Writing Center Theory and Practice Course. And, in terms of space and resources, we offer transcripts of our videos, our consultants are currently working on making our handouts screen reader-friendly, and we have a long-standing history of welcoming additional visitors to tutoring sessions such as American Sign Language interpreters and service animals. These are just a few ways that our existing efforts and approaches can be beneficial to writers with disabilities.
Second, we wanted to convey that we are committed to accessibility as a disposition as well as a policy. We know that students often encounter accessibility policies on syllabi and in other official documents from the University, but we wanted to offer a slightly different take on what accessibility could mean for all writers who visit the Writing Center. Accessibility as a disposition means that we are not only willing to adjust our space and our tutoring approaches when requested, but more importantly that we are committed to being inclusive of writers with a range of abilities, experiences, and identities. In other words, it means that we strive to be proactive about accessibility rather than reactive. Understanding accessibility in this way is part of our broader commitment to an ethic of service and hospitality, and this is one reason why accessibility and accommodations policies are particularly important for writing centers to consider. If we are going to claim to serve all writers in a particular community, it is essential that we try to anticipate the range of abilities and identities that those writers will bring with them to their Writing Center experiences.
Finally, we wanted this page to communicate that we are receptive to any and all accommodations requests that writers may have. One way we work towards this goal is by explaining that, in most cases, we do not require official documentation to make accommodations. Rather, we are open to dialogue with all writers who have ideas about how we can accommodate their needs, including writers with undocumented disabilities or those who may simply have learning styles and preferences that don’t match up perfectly with our typical approaches to tutoring writing. For example, we can conduct tutoring sessions in one of our side rooms and we can use a variety of media to communicate with writers about what they’re working on. Rather than a narrow approach to accommodations that would place a kind of burden of proof on the writer, we hope that this conveys a broader and more inclusive attitude toward accommodations.
As we mention on our Accessibility and Accommodations page, we welcome feedback and suggestions for how we can improve our efforts at accessibility, and we hope that this initial work offers others the opportunity to think about accessibility as a philosophy.