Thoughts on a Quote: WPA and Disability – Part the III

This type of post is where I take out and focus on a specific quote that stuck out to me and I want to think about it.  I will have the full quote along with the quote broken up into parts so I can focus on them in the thoughts part.


McLeod, Susan and Kathy Jane Garretson. “The Disabled Student and the Writing Program: A Guide for Administrators.” Writing Program Administration, vo. 13, no. 1-2, 1989, pp. 45-51.

Full Quote

The most obvious type of disability is physical: the blind or deaf student, the mobility-challenged student in a wheelchair or with impaired muscle coordination. But there are other disabilities which are not so obvious. There are disabilities related to health: students with heart problems, for example, or with diseases like Lupus or Epstein-Barr, which are unpredictable and often bring about extreme fatigue. There are also disabilities related to treatable emotional disorders: the manic-depressive who used to be unable to function in a school environment is now able, thanks to medication, to attend classes. (45)


So, this quote starts off good, I like it.

“The most obvious type of disability is physical: the blind or deaf student, the mobility-challenged student in a wheelchair or with impaired muscle coordination. But there are other disabilities which are not so obvious. There are disabilities related to health: students with heart problems, for example, or with diseases like Lupus or Epstein-Barr, which are unpredictable and often bring about extreme fatigue.”

I’m nodding my head like, “Yay, they have got it.  They are talking about visible vs. non-visible disabilities.  Awesome.”  Then I get to this sentence

“The manic-depressive who used to be unable to function in a school environment is now able, thanks to medication, to attend classes.”

and I’m not too happy.  I get up and start walking around my apartment, annoyed, because this deeply disturbs me.  So, I wonder why.  And I realize that it is what connects

So, even though I said in my last post that I should find an article on the overcoming narrative yet, I still have not because I already had this in my arsenal to read.

But, this quote disturbs me and I think I know why.  I’m going to attempt to word it and hopefully it will make sense.  However, it sort of needs a further recap of what the overcoming narrative is.  The overcoming narrative is where society expects disabled people to do everything in their power to act as if they are not disabled.  It basically implies that being non-disabled is better than being disabled.  Which is problematic if you replace disabled and non-disabled with any other minority group.

And that is what this quote does.  It basically says that “emotional disorders” can be overcome.  And not only can they, but they should because who doesn’t want to be “[able] to function in a school environment”

This is where I should bring in a summary of Mike Oliver’s article social model of disability because it would fit very well here.

In a gist, the social model of disability says that disability is a socially constructed thing.  Disabled people have a unique way of being in the world.  This unique way of being in the world is not a disability until society demands that they act in a way that is mutually exclusive from their unique way of being.  For example, I don’t look at people’s eyeballs, that is part of my unique way of being in the world, however, I’m not disabled until society demands that I look humans in the eyeballs in order to get a job.  Another example is someone who cannot walk, that is their natural way of being in the world, however, they are not disabled until society demands that they walk up stairs because there is no elevator in the building.

So, the connection between this quote and the social model of disability is that the “manic-depressive,” as McLeod and Garretson put it, has a unique way of being that can sometimes be mutually exclusive to the classroom environment.  Is the literal disabling aspect the bipolarity in the bipolar person or the environment that was not created with the bipolar person’s needs in mind?

Critiques of my Critique

Critique: Now, I want to address one issue someone could raise against my criticism.  This was written in 1989 and times were different then.  One response, one critique of the response, and finally one response to the critique of the response.

Response: First, yes, times were different.  However, the social model of disability dates back to the 1960s.

Critique of Response: Yes, but it may not have reached academia.

Response to Critique of Response: All right, I will grant that it had probably not reached academia.  But there is NO reason with all capital letters that we shouldn’t criticize this now.  When this is one of only a few articles that I have been able to find on disability in writing program administration, that critique is essential.  It’s essential because this is basically a cannon text.  With the criticism that this was written in 1989, WPAs can read this and just automatically trust it even though it is ableist, that is a very dangerous thing to do.

I don’t know if I worded that response well enough

Writing Program Administration and Disability – Part the II: Summary and Thoughts on Amy Vidali’s “Disabling Writing Program Administration”

I really need to start making shorter titles.  I had a poresentation that I did in December that was called, “Autoethnographies: Confronting and Subverting the Neurotypical Bias in First Year Composition Classrooms.”  Yeah, I think they ended up cutting off the words after Neurotypical bias.  But, alas, that doesn’t really matter.

So, this type of post will be a summary, thoughts, and how I might use it in my paper.


Vidali, Amy. “Disabling Writing Program Administration.” Writing Program Administration, vol. 38, no. 2, 2015, pp. 32-55.


There is a narrative trope (commonly used thing) when narrating one’s experience as a writing program administrator (WPA) to state how all of the problems that one faces lead to depression and anxiety and how one overcomes it.

I’m gonna put how I read this article in narrative form:

Once upon a time, a situation threatened our hero, the WPA.  The situation became so great and terrible that the monsters depression and anxiety began to threaten the WPA.  Sleepless nights of anxiety and sleepy days of depression plagued our hero endlessly.  But, in the end, she began practicing techniques to fight the monsters and overcame the horrible monsters and became healthy once more.

NOTE: I really want to mention here that Vidali never gives this specific example.

So, Vidali concludes that Writing Program Administrators must be very careful when they narrate their experiences that they don’t fall into this ultimately ableist narrative trope of the overcoming narrative.

So, something that I want to find now is an article or blog post on the overcoming narrative and how it is biased. (Stuff I want to research will be in purple).  If this messes with your eyes, let me know and I can make these italics or bold or something like that.

Overcoming Narrative

Before I leave, I want to quick give a summary of my basic understanding of the overcoming narrative.  “I had something that made it so I couldn’t do this, but I overcame it.”  That’s pretty much an overcoming narrative wrapped up into one little sentence.

This narrative is messed up and ableist because the “overcoming” is simply acting not disabled.  For example, I’m autistic and “overcoming” autism would be trying to–and failing, I might add–pass as not autistic.

Possible Use

I think there are several ways that I can use this article.  One use would be to provide evidence that a disability studies perspective to writing program administration is possible.


Concluding thoughts

So, you may read at several times some things that you have already read before.  So, some of what I have written here will most likely be going into my paper.  I like to do this because when it comes time to actually write the paper, I’ve got all this stuff that I have written.  And I don’t have to use all of it.  I create a cutting room floor document for all of the things that don’t really seem like they fit.

I did this for my thesis and actually found that much of what I had cut out in a previous draft could actually be used in the final draft if placed in a different place.  So, something to think about when writing a big paper.  Write a crapton and keep it all because it might come in handy at some point.  If not for this paper, then maybe for a paper in the future.

Writing Program Administration and Disability – Part the Ist (First): What’s the Idea behind the Paper

Hello, it is that time of the semester again where I have to write big papers.  So, I’m gonna do similar to what I have done in the past.  So feel free to check out this Prezi that sort of acts as a mindmap presentation thingy of things that I am finding in my research.  That’s not a good description, though, so here’s another one: it’s a graphic version of an annotated bibliography.

Idea behind the Paper

The research question that I want to answer right now is as follows:

  • Are there articles out there on how writing program administrators prepare for—or worse—respond to disabled students?
    • If there are, what do they say?

I like to start very basic with my research questions and as I find more and more articles, the research question begins to shift to what it will ultimately be about.  So, if you have read anything on this blog, you may have noticed that I started my thesis with the question of “how is identity formed in autistic people” and that evolved into, ultimately, the question of “how is advocacy rhetorically constructed?”  I can share that process in a nutshell, just let me know if you want the story.

So, that’s where my starting question is.  I’m going to write this autoethnographically, meaning I will be telling my own journey through this research.  So, that might include stories about my thought process as I read articles or as the research question began to shift.  It may also include stories of my own experiences in writing classrooms and how what I read helps me to understand those experiences better.

I will post new things on here every day, though I must state that I am terrified that what I write may be ableist.  I usually like to keep all of the things to myself and not share it with anyone until I am absolutely sure that there isn’t ableism in it.  But I’m g0ing to forgo that.  And honestly, another thing to know is that I might only post like a sentence or a paragraph.  And that is okay because it means I am writing.  Some days I will post a lot (days where I have a lot of writing to do because it is either a very good article or a very horrendous article), other days might be a sentence or two on how I didn’t do anything that day.

So, without further ado, here we go.

Disability in Film

Trigger Warning: Death, suicide, and ableism.

So, I am reading Jay Dolmage’s book “Disability Rhetoric” right now and his first interchapter is about challenging the myths surrounding disability.  He discusses the idea of disability in film and that reminded me of the rage that surrounded the movie “Me Before You.”

***Spoiler alert***

Me before You is a movie about a paralyzed man who decides that he will commit suicide rather than continue to live as a disabled man.

I then began to pattern recognition other movies about disability.  Here’s my list.

  • Me Before You (Suicide)
  • Mask (Death)
  • Freak the Mighty (Death)
  • 6 Feet Under (Institutionalized)
  • Powder (Death)
  • The Secret Life of Bees (Suicide)
  • Aurora Borealis (Heart attack after attempted suicide)
  • Rain Man (Institutionalized)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Lobotomy and then killed)
  • My Left Foot (considers suicide, then overcomes and writes a book…inspiration)
  • Forest Gump (Both Captain Dan and Forest Gump overcome in that Captain Dan gets prosthetic legs and walks and behaves “normally,” and Forest becomes a father)
  • Girl, Interrupted (Overcoming narrative)
  • Memento (becomes a killer…also, confusing AF)
  • Adam (Overcomes his autism)
  • Temple Grandin (becomes an inspiration)
  • Avatar (Overcomes and becomes a blue monkey alien)
  • A beautiful Mind (overcomes and becomes an inspiration)
  • The King’s Speech (overcomes and becomes an inspiration)

So, disabled characters in movies have two options: overcoming and becoming an inspiration or death.

Characters become an inspiration when they shed their disability and can act or seem to be “normal.”  However, if they are incapable of becoming normal (as in the case of me before you, mask, freak the mighty, powder, and the secret life of bees) to the extent that they seem normal, they die in that they are killed or commit suicide.

What message does that send to disabled people?  What message am I getting when I watch things and see characters begin to lose their disability throughout the movie or they don’t and they end up dead in the end.  The answer: Your better off dead than unable to pass as “normal.”

Now, I recognize there are some that are more positive than this, Breaking Bad is a good one in that Walter’s son doesn’t get killed or murdered or commit suicide.  However, these positive messages are very much in the minority.

War on Diabetes?

There’s a rhetorical move (that I think can be characterized as a topois because of how widely it is used) that is often used when talking about various things disability.  In the article How a national food policy could save millions of lives, the authors use the phrase “war on type II diabetes.”  The move that I am talking about is using a war terministic screen.

I agree with some of what they are talking about.  I think it is important that we should have the access to healthy food with no sugar added available and accessible to all populations–from the rich to the poor.  However, it frustrates me and hurts me that they then declare war on type II diabetes.  

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with type II diabetes.  Hours after, the self deprecating and self defeating thoughts began: You did this to yourself you fat fuck, so you deserve it. And for several weeks that thought repeated like a self loathing mantra. But then I realized that type II diabetes is a lifestyle. An identity.

This is the consequence of the war topic. Self loathing at the thought of having diabetes. Even if the focus is on the class implications of type II diabetes, if you use the terministic screen of war, then anyone who has type II diabetes is a casualty of war. 

I’m writing this almost a week late because the emotions were so strong. Because that self hate is still there and it’s there because of internalized ableism. And it’s articles like this and rhetorical moves from other activist groups that contribute to this internalized and unquestioned ableism. In an attempt to get their message across they (perhaps unknowingly or possibly knowingly) throw disabled people under the bus.


In Stephanie Vie’s In defense of “slacktivism,” she talks uses the theoretical framework of memetics.  Now, when I first heard about memes a few years ago (as in the rhetorical meme, meaning something that replicates itself using us like a movie quote, song, images, etc.), I couldn’t help but think of enthymemes.  An enthymeme is a line of logic where something is left out basically requiring the reader to put it in, it is a way to encourage the reader to actively participate when reading.

I’ve talked a lot about theory of mind, so here’s the enthymeme behind that:

  • Humans have a theory of mind
  • Autistic people do not have a theory of mind
  • (Enthymeme) Therefore, autistic people are not human

But what about memes (the picture) and enthymemes, are they related in any way?  When I first asked one of my professors, they said, “No, there’s no connection.”  However, I would like to spend the time exploring to see if I can forge a connection between the two.

So, a meme is a picture of something with words superimposed above and below it.  Usually it is humorous and it uses a particular genre based on the meme.  For example, a picture of Morpheus from The Matrix always reads “What if I told you” on the top and the new thing on the bottom.  Usually, the Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka picture is very sarcastic in tone.  Borimir from Lord of the Rings always reads “One does not simply” at the top followed by the new thing on the bottom.

So, in this way, the genre is the enthymeme.  It has a set of unstated rules where if you break them, it really doesn’t work.  And these rules are mostly arbitrary and incredibly cultural.  Therefore, many ELL students would be unable to understand it because it is an unstated rule.

I don’t really know what else to say because I don’t have any other thoughts about how enthymemes and memes relate.  I may revisit this at some point, but not until I have had enough time to really think about it.

Disability Studies, Accessibility, and Materiality

A web quest is where you create at least two documents (as I did here) and link them to each other.  There are two options:

Option 1

You assign your students to watch, read, or do them in whatever order they might want to. This allows students to go at their own pace and in their own way.  This is similar to how we assign readings to students, but none of the readings build off of each other.

Option 2

However, sometimes, we have lessons that are hierarchical where you need to know something before you can learn something else (alphabet before reading). In this case, just link to one document (like a YouTube video) where the link to the next one can be found.  This would be like when we assign readings and they all build off of each other.


If you do it this way, it becomes like a web quest to follow the clues (links) to the treasure (knowledge). Wow, the treasure is knowledge…that doesn’t sound nerdy at all!


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