How can we Best Work with Writers with (Dis)abilities?

As a new peer writing tutor, I have had a number of humbling learning experiences within the UCWbL. Simply listening to the ideas, stories, and insights of fellow writers has broadly widened my own perspectives. However, I ran into a tutoring experience this quarter that particularly challenged me to reexamine my own attitudes about tutoring and writing, and to reevaluate the privileged position that I occupy as an able-bodied person and as a peer writing tutor.

I have had the opportunity to conduct repeating appointments with a writer who has a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. During one of my appointments with this writer, we struck a topic that reminded him of a personal story on campus that greatly upset him. He recounted a traumatizing and confusing experience he had on campus, eventually communicating that he does not always “feel safe” at DePaul as a person with his condition. This point saddened me greatly. I began to think about how, as tutors and as members of the DePaul community, we ought to all be striving to foster an environment in which students feel safe and respected.

Working with this writer reminded me that the since the UCWbL collaborates with all writers from a variety of diverse backgrounds, it is crucial that UCWbL staff all continue to strive to create an environment where all writers can feel comfortable and valuable. By seeking out ways to foster a culture of care amongst writers at DePaul, the UCWbL can serve as a safe, cooperative work space where all DePaul students, including those who might not have able-bodied and neurotypical privileges, feel welcome.

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Calling back to the UCWbL core belief, “anyone who writes anything is a writer,” it’s key that we remember that the spectrum of writers broadly encompasses and includes many identities. Some of our writers, particularly writers with disabilities or learning disorders, might have some needs within learning environments that are different from what is considered “normal.” It is important to recognize that there is nothing “wrong” or “lacking” when it comes to individuals with disabilities; rather, they simply sometimes have different life obstacles and learning approaches from what is considered the “norm.” As tutors, we ought to equip ourselves with an understanding that there is a wide variety of learning styles and paces; that being said, the UCWbL still has some room to grow in terms of our readiness to work with writers with disabilities and learning and developmental neurodiversity.

One of the ways the staff at the UCWbL can hope to better equip ourselves to work with writers with disabilities is by reaching out to the DePaul Office for Students with Disabilities to make more direct connections between offices. By connecting with this office that provides resources for students, perhaps the UCWbL can start to incorporate an interactive training facilitated by a collaboration with the Office for Students with Disabilities and our own office. This training might involve learning more about how to approach different tutoring styles that might help us better facilitate appointments with individuals with various disabilities and disorders.

Another approach the UCWbL can consider is to equip tutors with some knowledge of disability theory across educational studies by including readings about how best to work with learners with disabilities and learning disorders in the WRD 395 course. Perhaps students could engage in some sort of workshop in which they become familiarized with the most common types of disabilities and disorders, while brainstorming ways to incorporate these knowledges into their tutoring approaches. By incorporating readings on disability theory across educational studies, new tutors

Although some writers might self-identify their disability status, others might not. We might not always be able to know the disability status of each writer; however, we can nonetheless seek out ways to educate ourselves on some of the main types of learning styles that writers with disabilities might better identify with so we can be prepared to implement those tools when we find it helpful. I believe that by starting a dialogue on issues of learning disabilities and disorders, the UCWbL can continue to strengthen and diversify its practices. As members of the UCWbL, and of the DePaul community, we can continue to seek out ways to welcome all types of learners within learning spaces. What do you think would be a strategy to better address issues of learning disorders/disabilities within the UCWbL?