Disabilities and “Temporarily Able Bodied” Folks

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This last week at the Bread Loaf School of English, my team-taught class had a visit from Professor Brenda Brueggemann (University of Connecticut) and Professor Susan Birch (Middlebury College) to talk about their experience and work with disability studies and with what Brenda called the “temporarily able-bodied.” This class session produced a series of passionate and insightful postings from teachers in the class, all of whom work with students with various disabilities, but few of whom had studied much about such teaching. They had a number of “a-ha” moments. Maya wrote:

Amber added this:

Others wrote of their own experiences in teaching large classes including many students with disabilities – but with few if any resources and no real training in how best to teach such students. A few reported feeling despair. But the class discussion with Brenda and Susan, at last, gave them some good vocabulary (“well, I guess, I am ‘temporarily able bodied,’ but already I know I have pretty poor eyesight. I’m guessing that that ‘temporary’ is going to be very temporary for most people.”)

I’ve known Brenda Brueggemann since her graduate school days, and I’ve been inspired by her work for decades. If you haven’t read Lend Me Your Ear or Deaf Subjects: Between Identities and Places, I recommend them both, or any of Brenda’s other amazing scholarly work.

Perhaps I was once “temporarily able bodied,” but I’ve written before of a cognitive disability I discovered only in graduate school: great difficulty visualizing things. I learned to deal with that issue (as Brenda says, not a problem to deal with by “overcoming” but a part of my identity). As I write this, I am losing vision to macular degeneration. Another part of my identity.

So today feels like a good day to reassess, once again, what I know about teaching and learning with students with disabilities. Of all kinds. To hear/see some of Brenda’s insights, check out “Why I Mind on YouTube.”

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.