Access Assignment

Author: Dale Katherine Ireland, Lecturer, Department of English

Access integrates diversity and social justice. When we teach students in classes across the disciplines to caption their own multimodal work, we encourage students to better consider their purpose and strategies as communicators, which includes not assuming that those accessing their work are, what Jay Dolmage calls, "normative models of embodiment." This assignment helps students develop their rhetorical access skills as they consider the ways in which their audiences will engage with their work.

For the Instructor

Class warm-up work before the assignment:

Please take some time before class to write, graph, calculate, record, draw—any form of archiving that works well for you—your responses to one, two, or all of the following questions:

What is access?

Do students you know discuss access? Please explain.

What are barriers to access?

How do you create access in your writing?

Class in which you give the assignment:

Start class with small groups before moving to a class Google Doc for the class discussion about students’ responses to the pre-assignment questions. Encourage students to respond during and after the classwork as well. After debriefing with students, move to representations of access.

Representations of access

In class, ask students, working alone, in pairs, or groups, to find an image or a sound on the Internet that represents access at a university. Ask students to post images and sounds in Blackboard with image and sound descriptions or transcriptions. (Remember at the end of the assignment to ask students to post additional images and sounds, again with descriptions or transcriptions.)

Invite a class discussion about access representations, which will segue into the start of the assignment in which students with disabilities represent themselves.

Assignment for Students

Assignment objectives:

At the end of this assignment, you should be able to:

  • explain why access is a DSJ concern and explain some of the different ways students access time and space in academia
  • determine how to make your own scholarship more accessible to your classmates, the university, and those beyond the university
  • discuss and analyze assumptions about access

Context for our assignment:

“From Where I Sit” is a California State University video series in which students with disabilities talk about access and their college education. There are also corresponding videos in which faculty respond to and engage with the student videos.

Our assignment:

Please access two student videos, of your choice, and the corresponding faculty response videos.

As you access the videos and corresponding videos, please consider how the students and faculty in the videos talk about accessing space and time. Please come to class prepared to share your findings and your reactions to them. What does it mean to come prepared to discuss the videos? Come to class having already posted your written summaries of the main points in the videos and the responses to the videos in the “Access” discussion thread. Please also come to class having posted, in the “Access Dialogue” discussion thread, a short dialogue, much like the other dialogues you have created between different authors, between one of the students in the videos and one of the faculty responders. Explore a potential conflict in your dialogue. You need not resolve the access conflict, but you want to ensure you fairly represent the interests of the student and professor. Your dialogue should be between one and two pages before you post it as a copy and paste. One of my students once asked if she could focus on the access needs of the professor instead of the student. That approach works well too.

For the Instructor

Next class:

Start class with a discussion (archive discussion in Google Doc*) about students’ findings and the “retrofit.” A retrofit is how we create access for something as an afterthought—such as adding a ramp to a building instead of first constructing a building with access in mind. A “retrofit” means that access was an afterthought and not a guiding principle.

Continue class by asking students to post thoughts on how they could retrofit one of their existing online writings and what problems a retrofit might pose. Also ask students to explain how, moving forward, they can make their work more accessible. Ask students to respond to at least two classmates’ posts in the “Access” and “Access Dialogue” threads by the start of the next class.

This assignment is especially successful when it includes discussions about how students relate to diversity and social justice and about the assumptions students and faculty make about access and disability. One way you might conclude class is by asking students to self-select themselves into small groups of four. Once in their small groups, students come up with three questions about access they will respond to during the following week in the “Access Discussion” thread.

(In my writing classes, I debrief and connect students’ work on access to the next readings, which usually include a rhetorical analysis of the writing at the “From Where I Sit” website.)

*We, the students and I, collaboratively archive all class sessions.

Work Cited

Dolmage, Jay. “Writing Against Normal: Navigating A Corporeal Turn.”

composing (media) = composing (embodiment): bodies, technologies, writing, the teaching of writing. Eds. Kristin L. Arola and Anne Frances Wysocki. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP. 2012. 110 Print.