Hitt, A. (2012). Access for all: The role of dis/ability in multiliteracy centers. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 9(2). Retrieved from: http://www.praxisuwc.com/hitt-92/
Hitt’s article directly addresses how accessible writing centers/multiliteracy centers are in terms of both physical and pedagogical space. While Hitt did not conduct a research study, her research question could be summed up as follows: how do we create practices that are accessible and adaptable to a diverse set of student needs? Hitt brings up Universal Design (UD) principles articulated by Robert Mace that specifically address issues of access within physical space and builds on this by adding Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles that were created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Hitt draws about UD and UDL to discuss the lack of attention that disability receives within scholarship. While she mentions a few instances of disability scholarship within writing center research, she still argues that disability has been undertheorized. She particularly takes issue with the way disability is been addressed–often labeling disabled students as needing something different from other students without the recognition that all of our students come with different needs. Part of her argument is that the way that we make assumptions about disabled students is what often leads to them not receiving the help that they need or that their needs are solved with a retrofit which means that they were not considered in the design process from the beginning.
Hitt refers to Bertram Bruce and Maureen Hogan, who note that “physical environments construct disability because, as tools and technologies become naturalized, people who cannot use them are positioned as disabled (297)” (Hitt, 2012). She uses their example of stairs, and that often ramps are used as a retrofit, because wheelchair users were disabled by the stairs, but their needs were an afterthought. Hitt suggests that we should be considering access for a diverse population of students when we design our physical space, but also our pedagogical space–we should be offering accessible pedagogies to students. One point that HItt does not comment on is the digital access that is often involved for students as well. This access could be focused on usability or specific features of the software that are not accessible to students, but also on the pedagogies we enact in online tutoring. While Hitt doesn’t specifically touch on this, I think that I could bring the argument she is making to my project by framing it through the digital and the ways that students may not be able to physically use the online/digital software, but also how pedagogies that we enact using digital or online software might also be creating access barriers for students as well.
Hitt’s suggestion is for writing centers to implement the principles of UD and UDL to make them more accessible.
Writing centers need a new approach for working with students of all abilities as we continue to see advances in technologies, changes in educational practices, and increases in disability diagnoses. I believe that implementing the principles of Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning can help make multiliteracy centers more accessible. Applying UD can create a physically accessible space for a diverse student population, establishing a foundation for flexible tutoring, learning, and composing practices. Similarly, UDL promotes the understanding that all students have diverse needs that writing pedagogies need to address. By applying UD and UDL to multiliteracy pedagogies, we incorporate the important work of disability studies and broaden our understandings of both disability and accessibility (Hitt, 2012).
While Hitt’s suggestion is useful, she does not provide much in terms of resources for writing centers to put this into practice, particularly the UDL principles which are more complex. However, I do think that considering ways in which all of our students could be provided with more accessible technology and pedagogy for writing tutoring online would be helpful for articulating my purpose for my project, as well as ways to begin considering how to evaluate the online tutoring platforms–in terms of their accessibility for students with physical disabilities as well as how certain functions (or lack of function) prohibits tutors from enacting accessible pedagogies.
I think that this article will be particularly useful for other students in the class that are interested in usability and accessibility–which I realize we haven’t yet got to in the class readings. I think it’s also a good place to begin considering rationales for why as English researchers this is something we should be concerned about when it comes to design.