This is the transcript for my conference presentation at MiWCA 2019.

Introduction [slides 1-3]

Welcome to “Accessibility in the Everyday: A Workshop for Writing Center Reinvention.”

I’ve distributed handouts with a transcript for the beginning part of this workshop, a suggested list of readings, and scenarios for small group discussion. You can also download my materials from my website:

I’m Jenelle Dembsey. I’m an IRB Professional at Northcentral University and a co-coordinator of the Online Writing Centers Community.

In this workshop, we will do the following:

  1. Briefly discuss accessibility and the idea of an inclusivity audit
  2. Form small groups and discuss sample scenarios
  3. Share small-group discussion with the larger group

Accessibility [slides 4-8]

In our literature, you will find broad and focused understandings of the word “accessibility.”

  • Broad accessibility aims to reach a larger audience, without recognizing the differing needs or abilities of those in the audience
  • Focused accessibility considers disabled members of an audience specifically, which ends up benefitting nondisabled audience members as well

For example, under broad accessibility, we would advocate for the act of offering online consulting, in order to reach students who aren’t benefitting from face-to-face consulting. Under focused accessibility, however, we would not only recognize online consulting as a necessary option but also design the online experience for disabled students specifically, by providing choices (asynchronous, synchronous, etc.), employing flexible online pedagogies, and choosing screenreader-friendly technology platforms. In addition, we would recognize that not all students will prefer online consulting and thus revise our face-to-face services to be more accessible to students with disabilities as well.

To consider broad and focused accessibility in the everyday practice of your writing center, you can conduct an inclusivity audit and invite your tutors, students, advisory boards, or other stakeholders to analyze your writing center for barriers to inclusivity (see Kleinfield, 2018). Through an inclusivity audit, you can consider the following questions: Who benefits from your current practices? Who do your current practices exclude? And how could these practices become more flexible and more inclusive? Let’s discuss some scenarios.

Topic 1: Staff Interviews [slides 9-12]


Carrie has an interview for a tutoring position, but she has extreme anxiety that affects her ability to perform in unfamiliar contexts. Carrie hasn’t worked in writing centers before and is second-guessing her qualifications. Most importantly, because of her anxiety, she can’t think on her feet in high-stress situations and can’t prepare because she doesn’t know what questions she will be asked. Carrie also worries that her anxiety will be obvious in the interview, and she won’t be hired. She is considering cancelling the interview.

Discussion Question

What are some flexible and inclusive approaches to interviewing/hiring that might make applicants like Carrie more comfortable?


Some ideas for more flexible interviewing include:

  • Providing interview questions ahead of time, so candidates can prepare
  • Encouraging candidates to bring and take notes, so they know this is acceptable
  • Giving options for the interview: let candidates choose whether they’d like to interview face-to-face, over the phone, or over video
  • Offering non-verbal options for visual communicators (Dadas, 2018)

Topic 2: Scheduling Policies [slides 13-16]


Tara is a veteran writing center tutor who is a student favorite. Tara is very punctual on her good days, but she has a chronic illness that can unexpectantly keep her from getting out of bed or leaving the house. Tara is scheduled to work in the mornings, which makes it difficult to find someone to cover her shifts on short notice. Tara worries about letting down the students and writing center staff, but she cannot work when she is in pain. She also cannot quit because she needs an income to cover her rent and medication.

Discussion Question

What are some flexible and inclusive policies for scheduling that would support tutors and students like Tara?


Some ideas for more flexible scheduling policies include:

  • Offering walk-in hours or submission-based asynchronous services that don’t require scheduled appointments. Without scheduled appointments, a consultant could more easily call off if needed, and students could come to the center when they know they are able to do so.
  • Having someone on staff who is available to cover shifts on short notice, such as welcome desk staff, graduate assistants, or administrative staff
  • Letting tutors indicate scheduling needs before administrators create their schedules. In this case, Tara could request to work nights, rather than mornings, or could request to work walk-in hours instead of being scheduled for appointments.

Topic 3: Pedagogy [slides 17-20]


Lee has started visiting the writing center for help with grammar. Lee has dyslexia and often can’t see grammar mistakes on their own. The tutors have been reluctant to give feedback on grammar and keep telling Lee that the writing center has a no-editing policy. Lee has become frustrated, because their teacher grades harshly on grammar. Lee considers their dyslexia to be a private matter and so has not disclosed to Disability Support Services or the writing center. Lee does not know what to do.

Discussion Question

What are some flexible and inclusive pedagogies that would better support students like Lee?


Some ideas for more flexible pedagogies include:

  • Recognizing editing as a visual teaching tool that is commonly used by scholars and professionals (Rafoth, 2016; Shamoon & Burns, 1995). My thesis chair edited my thesis, and it taught me to edit my own work for conciseness.
  • Offering editing as a separate service for final drafts and high-stakes documents, such as resumes, theses, and dissertations
  • Combining direct editing with teaching moments that explain the reasoning behind the edits
  • Modeling corrections and providing students with options and alternatives (Babcock, 2008)

Topic 4: Staff Meetings [slides 21-25]

Scenario [slides 22-23]

Jesse is a full-time administrator who attends weekly staff meetings with 6 other administrators at his writing center. The director who leads the meetings reads from her own set of notes and facilitates all discussion verbally. Jesse is not an auditory learner and often can’t follow along with the verbal conversation or keep track of ideas in their brainstorming sessions. He also has ADD, and because he can’t follow along auditorily, he becomes distracted and doesn’t participate much in the meetings. The director has called on Jesse in staff meetings to get him to participate and has also implied that he isn’t very helpful to his co-workers. Jesse doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing to his boss, and he worries that he would offend her by giving suggestions to change the structure of their staff meetings.

Discussion Question

What are some flexible and inclusive ways to conduct meetings that account for the differing needs/strengths of staff members like Jesse?


Some ideas for more flexible staff meetings include:

  • Distributing meeting agendas ahead of time, so staff can prepare and brainstorm on their own, if needed
  • Providing copies of the agenda for everyone to follow during the meeting
  • Recording meeting notes as a group, such as through a projector, Google Doc, or whiteboard
  • Encouraging staff not to interrupt or talk over each other
  • Creating an anonymous form that staff can submit at any time to give suggestions that they don’t want to give in person

Topic 5: Services and Space [slides 26-29]


Nick attends a university that is difficult to navigate in his wheelchair. The writing center is located far from his classes, and he has to travel out of his way to find curb cuts, ramps, and wheelchair-accessible doors. Nick has been late to a few of his appointments, only to find that his tutor had already started working with someone else. Furthermore, Nick is embarrassed that he can’t reach the sign-in sheet and that every time, the tutors have had to move chairs out of the way for him to use a table in the back.

Discussion Question

How could the writing center’s services and space be more flexible and inclusive for students like Nick?


Some ideas for more flexible services and space include:

  • Offering satellite locations in different areas of campus. You could even have a satellite in or near the Disability Support Center.
  • Offering options for writing center feedback, such as walk-in hours, asynchronous appointments, synchronous appointments, or question-and-answer services
  • Providing sign-in sheets and computers at heights that can be accessed while seated
  • Arranging furniture so there is a clear, open path to all tables: students with disabilities should be able to work at any table they want, not just tables located at the front of the room. Try to make pathways to furniture as simple as possible; for instance, you should be able to verbally guide a blind student to a table with straight paths, rather than a zig-zag path around multiple pieces of furniture.
  • Purchasing adjustable furniture (when possible), such as tables and chairs that can easily be adjusted to different heights

Topic 6: Tutor Training [slides 30-33]


Loraine is a new tutor who just started a 2-week training seminar for the writing center. She is partially blind and uses a screenreader to access content in her courses. However, readings for the seminar come from print manuals or scanned PDFs that don’t work with her screenreader. Other course materials and the tutor handbook are also provided in print, and the main assignments require visual observation in the writing center. Loraine questions whether she could be successful as a tutor.

Discussion Question

How could the structure of writing center training be more flexible and inclusive for tutors like Loraine?


Some ideas for more flexible tutor training include:

  • Choosing readings that are available in HTML, Word documents, or accessible PDFs, so that students can select text, highlight text, add comments, or change the font size
  • Providing digital copies of all materials, preferably in HTML or Word. If your learning management system is difficult to navigate, you can create a free website to house your training materials.
  • Designing all materials to be screenreader friendly, which includes using heading styles, hyperlinks, and bulleted lists
  • Creating multimodal assignments that provide options for engagement and assessment. For example, Loraine could reflect on what she hears in an appointment or listen to a recording of an appointment, rather than observing in person. She could also submit her reflection as an audio file or reflect in person with the training leader.
  • Welcoming all students to communicate their learning needs and provide feedback (Price, 2011). One way to do this is to post an anonymous feedback form that students can submit at any point during training.

Suggested Readings [slides 34-37]

Babcock, R. D. (2008). Outlaw tutoring: Editing and proofreading revisited. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 38(2), 63-70.

Dadas, C. (2018). Interview practices as accessibility: The academic job market. Composition Forum, 39.

Dolmage, J. T. (2017). Academic ableism: Disability and higher education. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, MI.

Higbee, J. L. (Ed.) (2003). Curriculum transformation and disability (CTAD): Implementing Universal Design in higher education. University of Minnesota.

Hitt, A. (2012). Access for all: The role of dis/ability in multiliteracy centers. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 9(2). Retrieved from

Kiedaisch, J., & Dinitz, S. (2007). Changing notions of difference in the writing center: The possibilities of Universal Design. The Writing Center Journal, 27(2), 39-59.

Kleinfeld, E. (2018). Taking an expansive view of accessibility: The writing center at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Composition Forum, 39.

Konrad, A. (2016). Access as a lens for peer tutoring. Another Word.

Lewiecki-Wilson, C., & Brueggemann, B. J. (Eds.) (2008). Disability and the teaching of writing: A critical sourcebook. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Price, M. (2011). Mad at school: Rhetorics of mental disability and academic life. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, MI.

Rinaldi, K. (2015). Disability in the writing center: A new approach (that’s not so new). Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 13(1).

Yabe, M. (2018). The journey of a deaf translingual writer. Writing on the Edge, 28(2), 73-85.

References [slides 38-40]

Babcock, R. D. (2008). Outlaw tutoring: Editing and proofreading revisited. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 38(2), 63-70.

Kleinfeld, E. (2018). Taking an expansive view of accessibility: The writing center at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Composition Forum, 39.

Price, M. (2011). Mad at school: Rhetorics of mental disability and academic life. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, MI.

Rafoth, B. (2016). Faces, factories, and Warhols: A r(Evolutionary) future for writing centers. The Writing Center Journal, 35(2), 17-29.

Shamoon, L. K., & Burns, D. H. (1995). A critique of pure tutoring. The Writing Center Journal, 15(2), 134-151.

Cite This Presentation

Dembsey, J. M. (2019, November). Accessibility in the everyday: A workshop for writing center reinvention. Michigan Writing Centers Association. Central Michigan University. Mount Pleasant, MI.