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Composition Forum 39, Summer 2018

From the Editors: Volume 39

Christian Weisser, Mary Jo Reiff, Anis Bawarshi, Jody Shipka, Annika Konrad, Elisabeth L. Miller, and Stephanie L. Kerschbaum

This volume marks the seventh special issue of Composition Forum. We previously released approximately one special issue every two years, and due to their success and the appointment of Special Issues Editor Jody Shipka, we have increased that frequency to one volume/theme per year. A quick recap of our special issues to date:

Composition scholars continue to cite our first special issue in Spring 2006: Volume 15, focusing on Composition and Location and guest edited by Christopher Keller. Owing to the success and reader interest in that special issue, we offered a second in Fall 2012: Volume 26, addressing Writing and Transfer, guest edited by Elizabeth Wardle. Following that, we published a third special issue in Fall 2013: Volume 28, guest edited by Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson, highlighting the subject of Veterans and Writing. Our fourth special issue, guest edited by Dylan Dryer, focused on Rhetorical Genre Studies and appeared as Volume 31 in Spring 2015. A fifth special issue, edited by Lance Langdon, focused on Emotion in Composition and was released in Summer 2016 as Volume 34. The most-recent and sixth special issue, Volume 36 released in Summer 2017, focused on Public Rhetoric and Social Justice and was guest edited by Christopher Minnix.

The special issues of Composition Forum are among our most frequently cited, so we are thrilled to offer this seventh entry in the series focusing on Composition in the Presence of Disability. Guest Editors Annika Konrad, Elisabeth L. Miller, and Stephanie L. Kerschbaum have compiled a diverse and sophisticated collection of interviews, retrospectives, articles, program profiles, and review essays addressing disability’s connections to writing studies. We believe this volume adds much to an important and complex conversation in writing studies, one that began many years ago. The Guest Editors provide an introduction and overview of Volume 39 below.

In addition to being our seventh special themed issue of Composition Forum, Volume 39 also marks some significant editorial changes at the journal. The essence of a scholarly peer-reviewed journal is the publication of timely and meaningful articles. For the past four years, Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi have served as Managing Editors of Composition Forum, overseeing the peer-review, editing, and publication of articles—along with a host of other duties. Mary Jo and Anis will step down after this issue, and Greg Giberson (Oakland University) and Tom Sura (West Virginia University) will step in as Managing Editors. We thank Mary Jo and Anis for their valuable service to the journal, and we look forward to seeing Greg and Tom’s contributions to this important aspect of scholarly publication.

Greg and Tom previously served as Program Profile editors with Composition Forum, and their move enables us to bring in two new editors. We welcome Faith Kurtyka (Creighton University) and Ashley Holmes (Georgia State University) as our new Program Profile Editors. We are certain that Faith and Ashley will continue to offer our readers timely and important program profiles, which provide the theoretical backgrounds as well as the practical applications of writing programs around the world.

We continue to use our blog to disseminate news and updates about the journal more quickly, and we encourage readers to contribute other timely and pertinent thoughts and information to the blog. Add our feed to your newsreader to receive alerts about new volumes of Composition Forum and other news from the field of rhetoric and composition. Please send questions or comments about the Composition Forum website to

Doing Composition in the Presence of Disability

Annika Konrad, Elisabeth L. Miller, and Stephanie L. Kerschbaum

We organized this special issue with the intention of exploring disability’s deep embeddedness in composition and rhetoric, work that has grown out of decades of disability activism and scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric. Indeed, our title, Doing Composition in the Presence of Disability, explicitly invites attention to how disability transforms composition in theory and in practice. We use the word “doing” to emphasize the ways that disability and access continually work upon us to resist fixed and traditional ways of teaching and learning in our classrooms, writing programs, scholarship, and professional lives. To “do” disability, then, is to challenge deeply rooted traditions and commonplaces in our field. “Presence,” in turn, highlights that disability is already and always present in our classrooms, writing programs, research, and professional lives in embodied, theoretical, and methodological ways. With “presence,” we reject the common misconception that anyone can wait until disability announces itself to begin moving with disability (see Titchkosky). When we critically and creatively engage disability presence in its many manifestations, opportunities emerge for new pedagogies, programs, and practices that acknowledge diverse forms of embodiment as sites of inquiry and innovation.

The final keyword in our title, “disability,” recognizes that disability, as an embodied, relational experience, is never an isolated feature of lived experience. All of the contributors to this special issue understand the critical and creative possibilities of disability as always in concert with other identities and experiences, following the work of leading disability studies scholars such as Therí Pickens, Sami Schalk, Nirmala Erevelles, Jay Dolmage (Disability), Alison Kafer, Ellen Samuels, and Christopher Bell, who ask us to always notice race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class in our assessments of who is represented and who is not in the populations, projects, communities, classrooms, and environments through which we move. As these scholars emphasize, again and again, if we are going to do disability work, we have to notice what disability identifications we are centering, and what we are not noticing or what may be at the margins. And we must ask why and how these centerings, decenterings, and exclusions are made and/or perpetuated.

Indeed, for many, disability is still a “niche” field that is presumed to be of interest only to those with direct personal experience with disability. As Margaret Price recently pointed out in Disability Studies Methodology: Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves, even after all these years of work, “DS is still too often considered a ‘special’ field, one with curiosity value but little to add to other disciplines or theories” (168). In this special issue, we follow Price and many other disability studies scholars in Composition and Rhetoric in asserting that disability, rather than existing at the margins of our field, is at the very heart of it. When we talk about doing composition in the presence of disability we do not solely—or even primarily—mean pointing to and acknowledging the presence of disabled WPAs, disabled students, disabled teachers or disabled members of our institutional communities, although this is certainly key to a great deal of teaching and work in disability studies in Composition and Rhetoric. When we talk about doing composition in the presence of disability, then, we want our readers to attend to a deeper meaning: the need for our field to learn from disability and disability experiences to transform orthodoxies of how we imagine, research, and teach writing and rhetoric.

In the interview featured in this issue, Building Disability, Rhetoric, and Composition Through Mentorship, Amy Vidali and Cindy Lewiecki-Wilson talk about the ways that Lewiecki-Wilson’s contributions to growing disability studies in Composition and Rhetoric have enabled all of us to imagine more inclusive and interdependent ways of working, as well as the difference that mentoring and mentorship make. Interdependence and mentoring are likewise key themes in Passageways and Betweenity: A Brenda Jo Brueggemann Retrospective, curated by Elizabeth Brewer and Lauren E. Obermark. Through multimodal artifacts from colleagues throughout Brueggemann’s career, this retrospective documents how Brueggemann’s journey has led to a constellation of concepts that uproot traditional ideas about rhetoric, language, teaching, composing, and professional life.

Six research articles, by Christina V. Cedillo, Neil Simpkins, Bre Garrett, Janine Butler, Shannon Walters, and Caroline Dadas, all offer models for doing composition in the presence of disability. In What Does it Mean to Move?: Race, Disability, and Critical Embodiment Pedagogy, Cedillo takes an intersectional approach to race and disability. Specifically, she shows how such an approach complicates traditional conceptions of audience-oriented composing practices in Composition and Rhetoric. Arguing that our field often teaches students to move audiences using conceptions of audience that are ableist and whitestream, Cedillo offers instead a pedagogy of critical embodiment that centers and engages diverse embodied experiences as a means of learning to compose for audiences.

Lived experiences of disability in the composition classroom are deeply consequential for students’ learning. In Towards an Understanding of Accommodation Transfer: Disabled Students’ Strategies for Navigating Classroom Accommodations, Neil Simpkins draws on interviews with six disabled students at a large Midwestern university to forward a concept of “accommodation transfer.” Building on rhetorical theories of transfer in composition pedagogy, Simpkins suggests that accommodation transfer emerges out of students’ lived rhetorical negotiations around disability with their classroom professors. While Jay Dolmage suggests in Academic Ableism that classroom accommodations are like Las Vegas, in that what happens in one classroom stays in one classroom, Simpkins shows that students explicitly draw on their past experiences of being denied or refused accommodations as well as their successful strategies for securing classroom accommodations to make rhetorical decisions about how to act in new classroom settings.

Composition and Rhetoric has a long history with remediation, but what happens if we take a disability studies approach to the writing curriculum? In Hacking the Curriculum, Disabling Composition Pedagogy: The Affordances of Writing Studio Design, Bre Garrett proposes Writing Studio as one way that instructors and writing program administrators may “hack,” or challenge and restructure, pedagogies and classroom models. Studio, as Garrett describes it, consists of smaller courses that rework student-teacher roles and unsettle classroom agendas by relying on more ad-hoc, student-based concerns. As a consequence, the Studio model, Garrett argues, “disables composition pedagogy by inventing more inclusive spaces for student engagement and possibility.”

Curricular revision that emphasizes disability’s ways of moving also requires attention to the role and function of communicative modes. In Embodied Captions in Multimodal Pedagogies, Janine Butler explores how an assignments asking students to create “embodied captions” for their video projects helps teach students to consider relationships between text and audience. Teaching students to design and compose with access in mind from the beginning not only centers embodiment and disability in the design process but also enables teachers to employ “embodied methodology and methods” that draw on disability studies, cultural rhetorics, and a broad range of critical lenses to studies in embodiment.

While multimodality may be considered a central tenet of much of our field, as evidenced through disciplinary statements coming out of the Council of Writing Program Administrators and the National Council of Teachers of English, Shannon Walters’ A Different Kind of Wholeness: Disability Dis-closure and Ruptured Rhetorics of Multimodal Collaboration and Revision in The Ride Together argues that disability upends some of our field’s most tacit, assumed expectations for multimodality. Both the multimodal pedagogies we enact in the classroom and the principles we advocate for in our field and position statements, Walters writes, associate multimodality with “coherence” and “wholeness.” Analyzing the graphic text The Ride Together, Walters sketches out a “different kind of wholeness” that builds and learns from how disability challenges “expectations of multimodal, compositional, and narrative closure.” This turn to “dis-closure” thus challenges our field to rethink how we understand multimodal communication and how we teach and support students with it.

Our final article, Interview Practices as Accessibility: The Academic Job Market by Caroline Dadas, zooms out to consider disciplinary practices that sustain participation or effect exclusion within the field. Through qualitative interviews with former search committee members and academic job seekers, Dadas explores job interviews as kairotic spaces (Price, Space), drawing attention to the contrast between our field’s platitudes about diverse communication and inclusion and expectations for normative behavior and performance that remain ever present in our interview practices. Many common interview practices, Dadas shows, construct barriers that prevent applicants from demonstrating their abilities and prevent search committee members from accessing applicants’ strengths.

Three program profiles show how we can do composition in the presence of disability on a programmatic level. These profiles reflect three different writing programs and institutional contexts. Elizabeth Kleinfeld profiles efforts to center disability at the writing center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, a large, diverse public institution. Valerie Ross and Ella Browning showcase the Critical Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania, articulating some unique challenges of centering disability in an elite institution. And Stephanie Wheeler reveals an innovative disability consultation/liaison program created in partnership between the disability resource center and departments across disciplines at the University of Central Florida.

Our first review essay features Charlesia McKinney connecting Jay Dolmage’s Academic Ableism with Asao Inoue’s Anti-Racist Writing Assessment Ecologies, highlighting where anti-racist and anti-ableist pedagogies converge and what implications they have for composition. Heather Thomas reviews three texts focused on autism and rhetoric by Melanie Yergeau, Anne McGuire, and Jordynn Jack, arguing that these books each “demonstrate that the structural violence and consequent bodily violence levied against autistic people is closely linked to cultural narratives of the tragedy of autism.” Sidney Jones reads Eli Clare and Eunjung Kim in conversation, linking their critiques of cure and curative impulses to composition and rhetoric scholarship. And finally, as a terrific bookend to this special issue, Pamela Saunders engages with Keywords in Writing Studies and Keywords for Disability Studies to identify generative overlaps in our language and disciplinary concerns.

By centering disability as a site for inquiry and reimagination, we hope to inspire future teaching, research, and leadership that views disability in intersection with other identities and experiences as a resource for creativity and learning. We hope to communicate that we are all already doing composition in the presence of disability, and that we are all responsible for learning from disability in our classrooms, research sites, programs, and professional lives. There are many more ways of doing composition in the presence of disability that are not represented in this special issue, in settings such as basic writing, two-year colleges, advanced composition, teacher training, community writing, assessment design, and academic policy, as well as what it means to do composition in the presence of disability in intersection with queer theory, gender studies, working class rhetorics, multilingualism and translingualism. We also want to acknowledge that our own positionalities, as three white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle class women who have deep personal connections with disability, have shaped our editorial process in conscious and unconscious ways. We encourage more disability studies scholarship that centers disability in intersection with other minoritized identities as a means of discovering new ways of doing Composition and Rhetoric in the presence of disability and difference.

As co-editors, we worked to approach the editorial and production processes with ethics of accessibility, transparency, and flexibility. Throughout the process, we sought to understand our co-editing roles as opportunities for mentoring and developing new scholarship, and thus we implemented a review process that we hoped would genuinely support authors. In collaboration with Composition Forum’s accessibility team, the authors have taken responsibility for making their work accessible to a variety of readers and viewers. While we encouraged multimodal composition, we also relied on our authors to make all components of their work accessible via multiple means of reading and engaging. Our editorial process, we hope, has modeled the kind of shared responsibility for mentorship and access that we would like to encourage across our field, and we welcome feedback for improving the accessibility of this issue and future issues of Composition Forum.

Finally, we would like to thank each of our contributors and the anonymous peer reviewers who generously volunteered their time and effort in completing 26 manuscript reviews that tremendously improved this special issue and encouraged future research on disability in Composition and Rhetoric. We owe a debt of gratitude too to Kevin Brock, Anis Bawarshi, Mary Jo Reiff, Jody Shipka, and Christian Weisser for this opportunity and for their editorial support.

Works Cited

Bell, Christopher. Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal. In The Disability Studies Reader 2nd ed., edited by Lennard J. Davis. Routledge, 2006, pp. 275-282.

Dolmage, Jay. Academic Ableism. U of Michigan P, 2017.

---. Disability Rhetoric. Syracuse UP, 2014.

Erevelles, Nirmala. Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Indiana UP, 2013.

Pickens, Therí A. Blue Blackness, Black Blueness: Making Sense of Blackness and Disability. Blackness and Disability. Spec. Issue African American Review, edited by Therí A. Pickens, vol. 50, no. 2, 2017, pp. 93-103.

Price, Margaret. Disability Studies Methodology: Explaining Ourselves to Ourselves. Practicing Research in Writing Studies: Reflexive and Ethically Responsible Research, edited by Katrina M. Powell & Pamela Takayoshi. New York: Hampton P, 2012, pp. 159-186.

---. Space. In Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces. Melanie Yergeau, Elizabeth Brewer, Stephanie L. Kerschbaum, Sushil Oswal, Margaret Price, Michael Salvo, Cynthia Selfe, and Franny Howes. Kairos, vol. 18.1, 2013.

Samuels, Ellen. Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race. NYU P, 2014.

Schalk, Sami. Coming to Claim Crip: Disidentification with/in Disability Studies. Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 2, 2013.

Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. U of Toronto P, 2011.

Return to Composition Forum 39 table of contents.