From Accommodations to Accessibility: How Rhetorics of Overcoming Manifest in Writing Pedagogies

Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Lois Agnew

Second Advisor

Patrick W. Berry


accessibility, composition pedagogy, disability studies, higher education, qualitative research, writing center

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


From Accommodations to Accessibility: How Rhetorics of Overcoming Manifest in Writing Pedagogies addresses the in/accessibility of composition classroom and writing center practices. Through rhetorical analysis and a qualitative study, this dissertation explores how rhetorics of overcoming--the idea that disabled students must overcome their disabilities in order to be successful--manifest in writing pedagogies. Rhetorics of overcoming are rooted in medical model desires to diagnose students or have students self-disclose disabilities and then default to accommodating or remediating practices, which situates deficit within students rather than within inaccessible practices. To contextualize the pervasiveness of overcoming, I begin by highlighting how it manifests culturally in the media we consume and institutionally within higher education. Next, I trace the recent emergence of disability studies in writing studies and writing center scholarship to illustrate how dominant disability discourses have impacted our understandings of and interactions with disabled student writers. In response to a diagnose-and accommodate tendency and a lack of qualitative research about accessibility, I synthesize the results of a qualitative study with undergraduate students, writing instructors, and writing center consultants in order to more fully understand how students identify their needs and how different writing pedagogies address or ignore those needs. I then develop a framework that foregrounds accessibility as an integral part of literate practice, highlighting theoretically grounded assignments and activities that instructors can incorporate into their everyday practices. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that we must address rhetorics of overcoming in order to craft embodied, multimodal pedagogies that are critical and recursive--that are crafted not just for students but with students to better meet diverse and dynamic needs.


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