Theme: Disability Studies Approaches to Pedagogy, Research, and Design
Andrew Lucchesi, The Graduate Center, CUNY
I am pleased to introduce Issue 8, the fourth special themed issue of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. This issue takes inspiration from the vibrant interdisciplinary field of disability studies. Rather than approaching disability from a medical or rehabilitative perspective, disability studies positions disability as a powerful site of identity, cultural heritage, and knowledge. From a disability studies perspective, discussions of technology, pedagogy, and design—JITP mainstays—take on new complexity and political importance. For instance, when new technologies for course management or multimodal composing are being developed and assessed, we must ask serious questions about who is imagined as a user and who is included as a designer. Many articles in this issue point to the dangers of inadequately considering disabled people’s perspectives as users of and innovators with technology. However, these articles also attest to the generative power of disability perspectives, leading to new ways of accessing technology’s expressive affordances and new ethical stances toward technical communication and design.
As with our previous themed issues, we offer these articles as a discussion starter. Those who are new to disability studies will be introduced to many central concepts and approaches from the field. We’ve received a wealth of impressive submissions on this topic, setting a new high bar for a JITP issue call. This certainly speaks to the power of our readership as our journal has grown. But it also attests to the power of this topic, one that we plan to continue exploring in future issues. Even when we call for future special topic issues, as we do for our newly announced issue on ePortfolios, we hope authors will continue to bring issues of disability and access into their work.
When we first decided to undertake a themed issue on disability, we also chose to commit ourselves to a rigorous self-assessment of our own access issues as a journal. One major change was the development of Accessibility Guidelines as part of our standard call for submissions. These guidelines encourage authors to consider the accessibility of their submissions, building in multiple avenues for engagement, including captions, transcripts, and image descriptions. We have also experimented with new WordPress themes for our site that provide a more adaptable reading format for users. Learn more about this change in Managing Editor Laura Kane’s Weekly Roundup “Accessible Future.”
While the publication of Issue 8 provided the impetus for us to begin this access overhaul, we know our job is far from over. We will continue making improvements to our policies and our venue, just as we will continue promoting discussions of disability and access in the articles we publish. We hope other academic venues will follow suit in committing to accessible publishing, integrating access concerns at the ground floor of the production process, rather than as an afterthought. We welcome feedback about how we can make JITP more accessible at admin@JITPedagogy.org.
The first two articles present models for centering the insights of disability studies in undergraduate classrooms. In “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies,” Leeann Hunter presents a model for unifying multimodal classroom pedagogy around an often overlooked locus of technology—the body. Rather than filtering in-class engagement through digital technology, Hunter uses three classroom narratives to demonstrate how “the gestural and nonverbal technologies of Deaf culture and languages” (par 6) can be productively incorporated into a range of instruction methods and student assignments. Through Hunter’s teaching narratives and analysis, we observe how incorporating Deaf cultural practices into the classroom provides students with diverse tools for communication and analysis that they then carry into their classroom projects.
Jared S. Colton and Rebecca Walton provide a second classroom-focused study in their article, “Disability as Insight into Social Justice Pedagogy in Technical Communication.” This article describes a pilot project to integrate disability studies and accessible design into the technical communication curriculum at the authors’ home institution. Many readers will benefit from the detailed curriculum model Colton and Walton describe in this article, which includes an overview of course readings, major assignments, and the instructors’ motivating philosophies. Using a multi-stage analysis of student reflections and post-semester interviews, Colton and Walton go on to provide a detailed assessment of their pilot curriculum and its implications for other technical communication instructors interested in promoting socially conscious technical communication in their own classrooms.
The third article in this issue widens the scope from individual classrooms and curriculum models to examine questions of institutional access and assessment. Reporting on a study conducted at Open Universities Australia—a large, multi-institution online higher education consortium—Mike Kent argues in “Disability, Mental Illness, and eLearning: Invisible Behind the Screen?” that students with mental and psychiatric disabilities face unique challenges to success in online higher education. Through the testimony of students with these disabilities, Kent demonstrates how institutional policies around disclosure and the constraints of online learning platforms contribute to the challenges these students experience. These institutional and infrastructural factors combine with the persistent stigma associated with mental health/illness to render these students “invisible,” a problem that must be addressed, Kent argues, in future institutional research and programmatic design.
The final two articles in this issue demonstrate provocative models for research and technical design, both in academic spaces and in consumer technology. Gia Alexander examines a persistent problem in the field of textual scholarship: the lack of accessible materials for professional textual scholars with vision impairments. In “Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’ to The Canterbury Tales as a Case for Accessible Scholarly Editions Using TEI-Encoded Uncontracted Braille,” Alexander offers two important contributions, both of which challenge commonplace binaries such as able-bodied versus disabled researcher and assistive versus mainstream technology. First, she demonstrates how all textual scholars, regardless of disability status, can benefit from incorporating into their scholarly practice a range of technologies designed for people with vision impairments (including magnification devices and Braille). In the process of demonstrating the usefulness of these assistive technology hacks, Alexander also makes a case for promoting the increased use of TEI-Encoded Uncontracted Braille, a practice that would promote the accessibility of the field of textual scholarship to people with a range of visual abilities.
In this issue’s final article, “#OpenAPS, Nightscout, and User-Driven Design for Type 1 Diabetes Technology,” Krista A. Murchison explores the growing movement of user-driven participatory design for assistive technology. Murchison describes how networks of users and designers are using social media and collaborative code-sharing platforms to develop new approaches to diabetes management. In the Open Artificial Pancreas System project (#OpenAPS) and the Nightscout Project, Murchison sees an instructive model for developing assistive technology through a process of participatory design, “involving disabled people at every stage of the process” (par 4).
We hope you are as excited by the diversity and creativity of these articles as we are. In the future, we hope to incorporate disability and access topics as mainstays in the JITP conversation. Indeed, we would love to see these topics taken up with full force in our short form sections, especially Assignments, Opinions, Teaching Fails, and our new Blueprints section. For those brand new to these topics, we hope these special venues, with their rolling deadlines and less formal structure, will allow us to continue discussion even between our biannual cycle for full issues. As always, we welcome your feedback on the articles, either by email or through the comment feature.
I am grateful to Sushil Oswal for contributing his time, knowledge, and personal mentorship throughout the development of this themed issue. Thanks as well to Laura W. Kane, JITP’s Managing Editor, along with the members of the journal’s Governance and Oversight Committee—Benjamin Miller, Luke Waltzer, and Kimon Keramidas—who helped bring this issue to production.
Andrew Lucchesi is a doctoral candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research interests include composition/rhetoric, writing program administration, and disability studies. His dissertation uses archival and oral history methods to examine the politics, rhetoric, and institutional practices of disability-access programming in CUNY since the 1940s.