Rhetorics of Disability and Universal Design —English 708D

Next offered: TBD
Last offered: Spring 2021 (syllabus)

Overview In the thirty years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was established, the fields of disability studies and disability rhetorics have brought attention to critical considerations of the language of/around disability, histories of disability and people with disabilities, the lived experience of differently-abled bodies and minds, and the ways in which disability is represented (and made metaphor) in literature and art. In this same time frame, the fundamental ideas of universal design—advocating for "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (Mace)—have been extended into pedagogy and praxis in college courses. And still, disability justice has a long way to go.

In this seminar, we will consider the rhetorical affordances of disabled being in the world by means of disability scholarship, activism, art, policy, and pedagogy. We will explore many dimensions of disability—as embodiment, as critical modality, as site of reclamation and protest—in past and present moments. Our explorations will attend to intersectional discourses on disability, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and class, as we seek to understand and to shift the parameters of possibility for more just futures in our material, digital, and social worlds.  

Class Meetings
Class will meet once a week to discuss and reflect on the theoretical and historical readings before moving to collaborative workshop activities. Students will also share ideas and drafts for long-term projects that foreground critical disability studies. 

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the semester, students will have a firm grounding in the history of disability activism, critical disability studies, and disability rhetoric and will be able to apply those theoretical frameworks to projects of their own design. 

Background image is of a DEC PDP-11/34 minicomputer, data drive storage cabinet, modem, a covered typewriter, and DECwriter terminal under a window with mustard yellow curtains open to show a sunny day. The photo was taken circa 1984 in the basement playroom of my childhood home.