I’m sitting at the Wednesday workshop “Breaking Down Barriers and Enabling Access: (Dis)Ability in Writing Classrooms and Programs” and in a small roundtable we’re talking about accessibility of written materials for those who use screen readers.
One important tool is Optimized Character Recognition. When you scan a document to share with students, you can scan it with recognized text, which allows it to be read with screen readers.
There are specialty programs for disabled people that will convert scanned PDFs into OCR’d PDFs so that they can be read from a screen reader. You can also have disability services help you scan directly to OCR. However’y ou can do it yourself as well: Here’s a quick guide to OCRing a text using Adobe: http://blogs.adobe.com/acrobat/acrobat_ocr_make_your_scanned/
Tips for Ensuring OCR’d PDFs actually work:
It’s necessary to check that your OCR’d PDFs actually work! One option, as Sushil Oswal suggested is to download Microsoft’s new Windows Eyes software (for free!) and listen to the file itself.
This might not work for everyone, however. Suppose you’re Deaf or hard of hearing, how can you tell the accuracy of an OCR’d PDF?
One thing I’ve discovered from my years of scanning and listening to readings using Kurzweil 3000 is that a poorly scanned PDF will be translated to the computer as gibberish. For example, if you scan something that’s been underlined by hand, the OCR will not be able to distinguish the letters. Or, sometimes lowercase Ls are turned into 1s, etc.
A simple way to check the accuracy of your OCR scan is to try copying the text of the PDF and pasting it in another program, like MS Word. Once you’ve OCR’d a text, you should be able to highlight and copy any text that has been recognized and integrated into the file. Whatever appears when you copy the text should be exactly what the program thinks the PDF says: so if it’s full of errors, then you can expect that the student listening to the file will hear those errors. If the text copies across platforms without errors, then the audio should read without errors too. Take it from me, listening to a poorly scanned PDF is deeply frustrating.
I’ve been working on my lists for three weeks now, and I thought it felt about time for a checkin and self evaluation. I’ve written seven reading response posts and tried a few different formats, with differing results. I have also dealt with a range of text styles which have challenged me, including multimodal webtexts, philosophical lectures, and an enormously wide-ranging subject reader. There have also been new developments, like getting my proposal accepted for CCCC, which are making me think about where my next moves will be on my lists after I get done with my current pile.
In this post, I want to evaluate my progress so far and lay out my strategy for the next month or so of work. I mean this to be helpful to my advisors–Mark McBeth, Joe Straus, and Jason Tougaw–as a way to get a sense of what I’m working on and what I’m thinking without our having to find time to meet too frequently. I know how time is for all of us.
First I reflect on the texts I’ve read and the challenges I ran into (probably most relevant to Joe). Then I talk about my ideas for my essay project on LD identity and dyslexia memoirs, which is relevant to my next reading steps for Joe and Jason’s lists. Finally, I talk about my disability service provider research project that just got picked up for CCCC, and how I can use Mark’s list to get me there. I welcome feedback of any kind, on any part, from any audience.
I have been relatively happy with my pace. Since starting my reading/writing schedule three weeks ago, I have gotten through one book (Austin’s How to Do Things With Words), nine new chapters of the Disability Studies Reader, and an eight-author webtext that was about equivalent to an entire journal article worth of articles, Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces. I also wrote a new draft of my complete orals lists, including a draft of the list rationale statement that must accompany the lists when I submit them to the department. You can see the lists, which are broken down into sub-topics, here.
All this, and I lost an entire week, nearly, conferencing with my students for their start-of-term writing consultation. (40ish in a week–draining but effective). Now that that’s over, I should be able to concentrate more on my reading.
I faced a few research challenges in this first push. First, I had to figure out how to reflect on something so large and abstract as Austin’s speech act theory in a single post. I ended up providing my own practical testing ground by imagining the pedagogical applications of Austin’s theories about performatives. This helped me extract what I really needed from Austin, I think.
My next problem was one of medium, figuring out how to consume, interpret, and reflect on a multi-part webtext about “access studies,” an emerging discourse in composition disability studies that employs some language and concerns from outside wheelhouse. While I’m interested in technology and access, it’s really not my primary interest in thinking about disability issues in higher education. So discussions about screen reader technology or image captioning were informative, but not alluring. It is, however, an important strand of the new composition/disability discourse I’m exploring on Jason’s list. In the end, I did a scattershot approach here, summarizing all the pieces of the webtext rather than synthesizing them together. I led a talk on this webtext for our GC Comp Rhet area group meeting shortly after writing my post. I think I was able to do some of that synthesis there.
Finally I had my first anthology battle. I’d read about half of the Disability Studies Reader (4th edition) for Joe’s class last Spring, but I knew there were quite a few articles in it I wanted to get to. Many introduce key disability studies terms of discourses that I simply don’t know much about. And while they’re not central to my dissertation project, I would like to be able to teach disability studies classes someday, and this will require me to be somewhat conversant in issues like prenatal testing or the history of the ADA. So, I wanted to use the text to give me a general overview in the field before I dive in to specific discourses. However, I also didn’t want to get bogged down in the scope of the reader, which at over 500 pages could easily keep me still for the whole month if I let it. In the end I decided to try these things: (1) skip chapters that are by authors whose books I’m reading later (i.e. Davis’s chapters which are also in his books, Siebers’s, Garland-Thomson, McRuer); (2) write mostly about the ones with relevance to my dissertation work, but take good notes on all of them; (3) leave some to come back to later if I have time. I have three more chapters to go, and I’m looking forward to digging in to a single author for a while.
2) New (revised) DS seminar paper idea
I feel like the project I’ve been working on for my incomplete Disability Studies seminar paper has finally died for good. I went through many, many drafts of that thing and still couldn’t find my way to an argument. I feel I had so many disparite topics I wanted to weave together, I couldn’t actually find something definite to say. I think it’s time for me to set that project down and consider other options. Looking backward worn’t help me move forward on these lists.
One option I’m pursuing is using this blog to generate an essay, rather than planning the argument in advance based on texts I’ve already read. By directing my reading choices based on the themes and ideas that emerge from one text to another, I can gather multiple responses on a general topic, perhaps allowing an argument to emerge and develop over a number of posts. This will help me take some of the pressure off of needing to have every move of my essays planned from the get go. Also, because I’m following leads as I go, the writing will likely have an exploratory quality and energy to it I often lost when fiddling with the old drafts.
But that’s all about method, what about topic? I think the best thing I wrote for Joe’s class was my essay about LD identity and Tobin Sieber’s notion of disability as masquerade. I was able to take his model for disability performance and use it to establish an argument for learning disability as performance, and literacy as the controlling ideological force governing the performance. I also got to draw examples from my own experience, Mooney and Schultz’s dyslexia memoirs, and some pop culture representations of dyslexia I’m interested in, especially The Cosby Show. You can see the original essay here: Learning Disability as Masquerade
I think it would make sense for me to direct my immediate reading efforts on my disability studies list toward the goal of fleshing out and developing this paper. My next stop will be, I think, Siebers’ Disability Theory, which should give me a more contextualized version of the theory I was responding to in that draft. That will be my only theoretical apparatus for this project (I hope!), and the rest of my efforts will be spent on drawing examples from a small archive of the LD texts with which to test the fit of Seiber’s theories for LD. In addition to the memoirs and the Cosby episodes about Theo’s dyslexia, I’ve also discovered a fabulous after-school special about dyslexia starring Jaquin and River Phoenix called Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984), which will match with the other texts very well I think. I will also, as before, draw from my own anecdotal experience to fill in whatever research gaps remain between me and a finished seminar paper. Once I get through these initial texts, I can ask Joe where else I could look on my lists to develop my thinking on the topic, and use his suggestions to guide my next steps in the reading and writing process. And so, in little steps forward, I might actually write a seminar paper.
3) Disability research in CUNY for CCCC talk
The second hopeful development is that I got a proposal accepted at this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Indianapolis. I missed the message for several days as it sat in my spam box, and I’d assumed I hadn’t gotten in. I was bummed: I had proposed to discuss the initial results from a series of interviews with disability service providers around CUNY and a preliminary analysis of CUNY institutional documents about disability, including DSO websites and public resources. Getting in was to be my motivation to actually conduct those interviews and start my analysis in a timely fashion, forcing me to have something to show by March. I used the CWPA talk in July for the same purpose, as a motivation to revise the research project I began in Mark’s class and sketch out the scope of the next step in my research.
Well, since I have gotten in after all, it looks like the research plan’s back on. I’d love to start by trying to get a meeting with Chris Rosa, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at CUNY central. I met him when I was putting on the English program graduate conference two years ago with Emily Stanback and Marrisa Brostoff. (Check out the conference website here.) Dr. Rosa has been a driving force in disability policy and discourse within CUNY since he himself graduated from the GC–not to mention his influence and contributions as executive officer of the Society of Disability Studies.
He would be in a unique position to help me access whatever documents or data or stories exist that would help me construct an institutional history of disability in CUNY. He would also be in a position to help me understand the logistic and legal terrain I’m getting into by asking questions about disability services at CUNY. Perhaps he could point me toward particular people at campuses who would have further leads, or be good interview subjects. This assumes, of course, he’s not too busy to see me and actually sees merit in my research. I’ll do as much research on these questions as I can alone first, of course.
I’m essentially planning to steer my reading work for Mark and Jason over the next one or two month push toward supporting these two projects. I’ve already talked through my plan for linking Joe’s list to the dyslexia masquerade essay. Jason’s list contains a number of the foundational dyslexia and LD works I’ll need to be able to draw upon to write that piece as well, and these should give me some ways to crack open that list on academic disability in a real way. I can do Dunn’s Learning Re-Abled, which gives an excellent overview of the various strands of LD scholarship (including neuroscience, literacy studies, and composition discourses around the topic); my work will be responding to Dunn’s pretty directly, I think, and my lists draw heavily from her own bibliography (with my spin, of course). She will remind me of the lay of the land and help me plan my next moves. Those next moves might take me to the LD memoirs, but I’m not committed to that yet. I may also want to spend some time with the early cognitive comp folks (Rose, Flower, Elbow).
For the moment, I’m working to finish up Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg’s The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (2010), the second monograph I’m tacking on Mark’s list. I bumped it to the top of the pile because Dr. Davidson is coming to the GC in two weeks to give a job talk, and I’ll get the chance to meet her. Obviously, I’m eager to get a good understanding of her work before she gets here. I should be done with Future of Thinking by Monday so I can go on to Now You See It, which I understand more directly addresses issues of ADHD and new literacy.
Once I get through Davidson’s work, I want to direct my reading on Mark’s list toward supporting my CCCC research project. Since my main concern in this draft of the project will be sketching out an institutional history of disability administration at CUNY, I will want to get some models for other institutional histories. I’ll look at George Otte and Rebecca Mlynarczyk’s Basic Writing (2010) as well as some texts I poached from Mark’s archive class about basic writing and Open Admissions history. If I can narrow down any texts that will model interview-based research methods, that would be nice too. Suggestions are very welcome. Perhaps the texts on institutional criticism methods will be a nice place to go next.
To anyone who made it this far: thanks for reading. I welcome your feedback or encouragement either in comments or in an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
List Descriptions and Rationale:
In my dissertation project, I intend to study the history of disability administration in the CUNY system, particularly in relation to cognitive disabilities like Learning Disabilities and ADHD. In addition to recovering important institutional history, I hope to conduct original research about the current state of disability administration, particularly now as CUNY and other institutions undergo massive structural changes.
My first list provides an overview of interdisciplinary disability studies in the humanities. It explores methodological approaches used by historians, literary critics, and cultural theorists whose work examines disability from a social and cultural perspective. These scholars reject the notion that disability is a purely medical concern, arguing instead that cultural beliefs about normalcy, health, and disability have profound influences on society. Drawing upon the insights of disabled cultures and lived experiences, they uncover the hidden forces of ableism that shape contemporary society and offer models for building a future in which all human capacity may be valued equally.
My second list attempts to define a specific disability category I am calling “academic disability,” which is exemplified by such named cognitive impairments as learning disabilities, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. This umbrella term will allow me to investigate instances where cognitive difference manifests as an impediment to the cultivation of normative “academic ability.” I will examine how developments in scientific knowledge about the brain have influenced the ways we teach academic literacy and think about students as learners. Not wishing to privilege medical definitions, I will draw extensively from the memoirs and life writing of disabled people, especially in examining the social and cultural factors that contribute to academic disability.
I imagine my final list as a toolkit for implementing institutional reform of higher education in a way that would respect the presence of cognitive diversity in academia. I will study how writing program administrators have conducted research within universities and how they have engineered institutional change through the programs they design. I will especially look to the Open Admissions movement and work that emerged as a result of integrating marginalized populations into disabling education systems. To help me imagine literacy education for the coming decades, I will look to two discourses emerging within writing pedagogy: On the one hand, I examine the way multimodal and new media composing challenges traditional notions of academic ability; on the other hand, I will draw together performance-based pedagogical theory to imagine how students might perform their identity as both disabled and as students simultaneously.
Baynton, Douglas C. “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 17 – 33.
Ben-Moshe, Liat. “‘The Institution Yet to Come’: Analyzing Incarceration Through a Disability Lens.” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 132 – 145. Print.
Emens, Elizabeth F. “Disabling Attitudes: U.S. Disability Law and the ADA Amendments” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. 42 – 59.
Hubbard, Ruth. “Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the World?” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. 74 – 86.
Lewis, Bradley. “A Mad Flight: Psychiatry and Disability Activism” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. 115 – 131.
Longmore, Paul. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003. Print.
Longmore, Paul and Lauri Umansky. The New Disability History: American Perspectives (History of Disability). New York: NYU Press, 2001. Print.
Stiker, Henri-Jaques. A History of Disability (Corporealities: Discourses of Disability). University of MI Press, 2000. Print.
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Trent, James W Jr. Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994. Print.
Brown, Lerita Coleman. “Stigma: An Enigma Demystified.” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 147 – 160. Print.
Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness. Gallaudet University Press, 1999. Print.
—–. “An Enabling Pedagogy” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. 317 – 336. Print.
Davis, Lennard. Bending over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. New York: NYU Press, 2002. Print.
—–. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. New York, Verso, 1995. Print.
—–. The End of Identity Politics: On Disability as an Unstable Category” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 263 – 277. Print.
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Kleege, Georgia. “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eyewitness Account.”The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 447 – 455. Print.
—–. “Disabled Students Come Out: Questions without Answers.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. 308 – 316.
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Murray, Stuart. Autism. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Price, Margaret. “Defining Mental Disability.” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 298 – 307. Print.
Price, Margaret. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. U of Michigan P, 2011. Print.
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Samuels, Ellen. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming Out.” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 316 – 332. Print.
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Barounis, Cynthia. “Cripping Heterosexuality, Queering Able-Bodiedness: Murderball, Brokeback Mountain and the Contested Masculine Body. The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
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Cassuto, Leonard. “Oliver Sacks and the Medical Case Narrative.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. 118 – 131.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1997. Print.
—–. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: NYU Press, 2006. Print.
Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (Corporealities: Discourses of Disability). University of MI Press, 2001. Print.
—–. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.
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Straus, Joseph N.. “Autism as Culture.” The Disability Studies Reader. 4th Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. 460 – 484. Print.
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—–. “Neurodiversity” College English 69.5 (2007), 421-442
Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia; Jay Dolmage; Paul Heilker “Two comments on ‘Neurodiversity’” College English 70.3 (2008), 314-321
Lewis, Lesle and Peg Alden. “What we Can Learn about Writing Blocks from College Students with Output Problems, Strong Writing Skills, and Attentional Difficulties,” Journal of Teaching Writing (2007) 23.1. 115 – 146.
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—–. The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. New York: 1998, Touchstone. Print.
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—–. Reading Lessons: The Debate over Literacy. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998. Print.
Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia. “Rethinking Rhetoric through Mental Disabilities.” Rhetoric Review 22.2 (2003): 156 – 67.
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—-. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism. New York: Harmony, 2004.
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I’m looking forward to spending the next nine months writing on this blog as I prepare for my second doctoral exam. I have been a frequent blogger throughout my adult life, but only recently have I begun trying to blog about my academic and professional interests.
My plan is to write posts about each of the pieces on my oral exam reading lists, a total of about 90 books, articles, and chapters. (The full lists are available here, for anyone interested.) I don’t have a particular format for these response posts yet, though I imagine I’ll try a few different methods over time. When the occasion strikes, I will also write about other non-orals scholarly projects that seem related.
I imagine much of what I write here won’t be of interest of a general audience. Those who study disability or composition or pedagogy might find individual posts useful, and if so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Because it’s a functional blog for me, I imagine my primary audience as myself, months and years from now, trying to write more formal pieces based on the initial ideas I preview here. More concretely, I imagine my audience as Mark McBeth, Joe Straus, and Jason Tougaw–the three professors who are advising me and examining me in this process. The tone may, as a result, veer toward the functional as well.
I have a few goals in this labor. On a basic level, I believe writing about the texts I read will help me better internalize their content, and that by rehearsing my responses in writing I will develop more sophisticated understandings of my lists as a whole. In other words, I hope writing here will help me perform better on the exam itself. More than that, I believe writing frequently and informally about my ideas will help me produce material that I can later revise for more formal purposes, including conference talks, articles, and my dissertation. I often have a great deal of difficulty producing formal pieces (and I have the incompletes to prove it). I hope this blog will help me learn to produce more writing and to feel better about sharing it with the world.
I welcome feedback on anything I write here, whether it’s encouragement, suggestions, or questions. If you’re not the type to leave public comments, feel free to message me directly at email@example.com.