Academic Ableism and the Teaching of Writing

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The following webinar was presented as part of Bedford’s 5th Annual WPA/Writing Director Workshop.  This year’s theme was Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in First-Year Composition.  The workshops focused on best practices for incorporating diverse, equitable, and inclusive practices into your course.  Learn more about the overall event. 

Jay Dolmage

Professor of English, University of Waterloo


I am committed to disability rights in my scholarship, service, and teaching. My work brings together rhetoric, writing, disability studies, and critical pedagogy. My first book, entitled Disability Rhetoric, was published with Syracuse University Press in 2014. Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education was published with Michigan University Press in 2017 and is available in an open-access version online. Disabled Upon Arrival: Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability was published in 2018 with Ohio State University Press. I am the Founding Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. I am also the co-author of the Bedford/St. Martin's books How to Write Anything and Disability and the Teaching of Writing.


Last October, as part of Bedford’s Fall 2021 WPA Workshop, I developed a presentation designed to address the ableist attitudes, policies, and practices that are built into higher education, focusing on our composition classrooms specifically. This workshop was recorded, and we are sharing it now to make it more accessible for the broader community.

The talk was divided into three timeframes.  First, I explored some of the ways disability has been historically constructed at our Universities asking: how has ableism come to inflect what we do as teachers, in particular in the writing classroom?  Then, we interrogated the minimal and temporary means we have been given to address inequities, and the cost such an approach has for disabled students and faculty. This was the “during the pandemic” part of the talk, and we examined some of the ways we have – actually quite quickly – “pivoted” or adapted to an emergency teaching scenario. In some ways we have advanced access in this pivot, and in other ways we have not. Finally,  we explored how we can move forward, planning, from the beginning, to make our teaching as accessible as possible, so that we don’t have to make temporary or unsatisfactory modifications later. The hope is that we can think about what we want to change permanently about higher education, now that we have been offered a chance to reevaluate our priorities and revisit policies, procedures, patterns and pedagogies.

Please have a look at the video and share widely!  I think we all agree that before this pandemic, our schools had too many unnecessary barriers in place for students. During the last twenty months, we have all viewed and experienced new barriers, or saw the old ones from new perspectives. Now we have a chance to build something different.

Watch the Webinar:

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