The Body of the Essay: Disability Rhetoric in the Writing Center
(Or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing)
Much work has been done regarding teaching and tutoring writers with disabilities. Additionally, there has been a great deal of work in the area disability rhetorics, especially in the areas of composition studies and writing center studies. Yet little of this work has focused on the language tutors use to describe the desirable and undesirable qualities of their own writing or the language they use when speaking with clients in general. At best, ableist language and metaphor in the writing center reinforces notions regarding compulsory ability. Worse, such language can alienate both disabled writers and disabled tutors. Despite my best efforts, I have noticed my own tendency to slip into ableist language during tutorials, and I have worked to interrogate the types of discourse academics and writers use to describe writing itself. Embodied and ableist metaphors proliferate in our language concerning writing—the body of an essay, an argument with legs, etc.—and thus, this project carries my interest in disability studies, accessibility, and rhetoric to the writing center.
I surveyed writers, tutors, and first-year composition instructors regarding the language they use to talk about writing, observed tutoring sessions, and briefly presented the results in a workshop at SWCA 2017. This workshop explored our propensity to speak in these terms, offered tentative solutions and explanations for the problem, and began conversations that will continue post-SWCA. We worked together to posit new metaphors for talking about writing—and ways to increase our awareness of just what we’re talking about when we do, indeed, talk about writing.