PWPA’s Spring Conference: “Disability and the Teaching of Writing”

On Thursday and Friday, April 19 and 20, Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities and PWPA hosted the Spring conference, “Disability and the Teaching of Writing.”

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Cabrini College, the event began the evening of the 19th at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, where several folks gathered to view Every Speed, a short film by Institute on Disabilities at Temple University graduates Lindsay Martin and Julia Fuller that takes a close look at “how technology differentiates and unites able-bodied and disabled people and how basic rights are often assumed based on socially constructed ideas of dependency and cost.” The screening was followed by a insightful discussion with Martin, who was on hand to talk about the process of creating the film, her collaboration with Fuller, and their efforts to bring the film and the issues it raises to critical discussions on disability and culture.

The following day featured guest speakers Brenda Brueggemann (The Ohio State University) and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson (Miami University of Ohio), experts in the fields of Disability Studies and co-editors of the text Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook, and welcomed approximately 70 registrants from Disability Studies and Composition and Rhetoric around the region. The conference began with Brueggemann and Lewiecki-Wilson’s rich introduction to the cultures and discourses of Disability Studies, an intro that opened up what would become an organic, mindful, inspiring day’s journey of critical discussion around institutional structures, curriculum, and the “lived experiences” of teachers and students.

The first panel, “Curriculum Transformation and Academic Accommodation,” featured speakers Ann Keefer of Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, John Bennett of Temple University Office of Disability Resources and Services, and Christie Gilson of Moravian College. Addressing multiple corners of the institution, from institutionally-funded resources and student advocacy to on-the-ground work with students in the classroom, panelists brought humor and wisdom to their discussion about the promise of the progress that has been made in creating space for disability in university settings, as well as grave concerns about the continued invisibility of disability on university campuses.

During the lunch hour we were honored by live readings of poetry from the text Beauty is a Verb (editors Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen), featuring the work of Dan Simpson, Anne Kaier, and Brian Teare. The raw honesty and compassion in the “lived experience” captured in these poems made a beautiful introduction to the last panel of the day, “Lived Experience.” Chaired by Dr. Karen

Nulton (Drexel University), the panel featured student speakers Fletcher Wortmann (Temple grad student and author of Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), Lisa O’Malley (Neumann undergrad student), and Miranda Boydstun (UPenn undergrad student). Continuing in the spirit of the conference, Nulton led the speakers (and the audience) through a revealing look at the classroom experiences of these students—those that underscored the continued lack of awareness of disability, and those that demonstrated the success that can come from teacher’s critical understanding of students’ needs and classroom culture. Circling back to the day’s earlier panel on institutional supports, the students discussed with refreshing honesty the complexities of navigating the system, of the bureaucracy of paperwork and self-advocacy, illuminating the need for BOTH a shift in culture and a greater institutional support system.

Brueggemann and Lewiecki-Wilson closed the day with poetry of their own, compiled from words and phrases uttered throughout the day’s presentations and audience discussion. These closing poems, artifacts of a day spent trying to crack open awareness and innovation, also served as evidence for the possibilities of change that lie in creating collaborative community.

PWPA offers its sincere thanks to Temple, to our featured speakers, to the poets, to Martin and Fuller, to our wonderful panelists, and to our engaged audience for a stirring, invaluable experience.

(Thanks to Mary Goldschmidt, The College of New Jersey, and Michelle Filling, Cabrini College, for their pictures)

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