WIC’s winter speaker was Dr. Stephanie Kerschbaum, Associate Professor of English and the Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Washington. Dr. Kerschbaum gave a talk and led a workshop on disability and the teaching of writing.

Signs of Disability: Challenging Dis-Attention Through Narrative

By Jarrett Steel Webster, WIC Graduate Intern

Dr. Kerschbaum gave her talk, “Signs of Disability: Challenging Dis-Attention Through Narrative,” on January 17. Attended virtually by nearly 40 participants, the talk was based on Dr. Kerschbaum’s new open-access book, Signs of Disability.

Dr. Kerschbaum began by inviting the audience to reflect on “Where and when and how does disability take shape all around us on an everyday basis?” Elaborating on the discussion of invisibility, visibility, and the “signs” of disability, Dr. Kerschbaum asked participants “to pay attention and think about disability. Who is excluded; who is ignored?”

The focal point of Dr. Kerschbaum’s discussion surrounded the concept of “dis-attention.” She explained that she coined this term to “reveal disability as simultaneously hyper-noticeable and imperceptible.” This term refers to both “a form of collective attention that ignores or erases disability as an everyday occurrence” and/or “an awareness and facilitation of disability studies through the gaze of those with disabilities.”

To illustrate this concept, Dr. Kerschbaum displayed pictures of several street signs that are meant to inform people that a person with disabilities is in the area. These included signs stating “Autistic Child In Area,” “Deaf Person,” and “Blind Person Crossing.” In her analysis of the effects these signs have, Dr. Kerschbaum problematized the assumption that people with disabilities need these signs to navigate the world safely.

You can watch the full Zoom recording of Dr. Kerschbaum’s talk here.

Disability, Identity, and Teaching: A Workshop on Engaging Disability Productively in the Classroom

By Madeline Hurwitz, WIC Graduate Intern

On January 19, Dr. Stephanie Kerschbaum led a workshop entitled “Disability, Identity, and Teaching: A Workshop on Engaging Disability Productively in the Classroom.” The workshop focused on the significance of identity and the emergence of identity through stories in relation to syllabus policies, classroom procedures, assignment design, and grading.

How someone introduces themselves, for example, is dependent in large part on acts of contextualization, imposing particular characteristics upon a situation in order to decide how to act or present yourself. To demonstrate this, Dr. Kerschbaum asked faculty participants to introduce themselves. Afterwards, participants looked back and noticed what information they included and what they left out.

This activity emphasized how paying attention to identity in real time–both in terms of who people think they are, and who they are seen as–has a significant impact on learning. How faculty identify themselves is significant for the types of pedagogical relationships they can build with students. By being open about how they identify, faculty can build an environment that bolsters students’ sense of belonging.

In terms of disability, specifically, the workshop highlighted how disability, like gender, is signaled in complex ways. Without evident clues of disability, people do not tend to seek out information. Dr. Kerschbaum encouraged faculty participants to take this into consideration and attend to disability when constructing syllabus policies about student learning and access needs.

Faculty were also asked to share their own syllabi policies related to late work, extensions, and attendance. Participants discussed the importance of students being present in class, faculty labor conditions, building in flexibility to syllabi policies, and being mindful of student progress on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Kerschbaum then presented faculty participants with disability scenarios that they may run into and offered suggestions on how to approach these situations. These suggestions, also corroborated by a tip sheet from Jay Dolmage on universal pedagogical design, focused on creating a culture of non-judgement, being open to possibility and uncertainty, encouraging students’ sense of agency, and facilitating positive interactions and productive conversations around disability.

Dr. Kerschbaum ended the workshop by stressing the importance of being comfortable allowing the dimensions of access to be mutually shaped by both instructors and students, a pedagogical practice that is applicable across disciplines and particularly relevant to writing-intensive courses.

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