A Brief Consideration of Assistive Technology for Writers

If Professor Stephen Hawking rolled into your campus writing center asking for feedback on his latest manuscript, what would you do?

A conversation with a classmate after English 1810 today has me wondering about that. I'm curious to know what the relationship is between our college's Student Writing Center  (SWC) and its Disability Resource Center (DRC), and whether it needs to be strengthened.

Students who qualify under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act have a legal right to accommodations necessary for them to attend school and complete assignments. A student writer with dyslexia, for example, might need to use dictation software and might even have an accommodation allowing her to dictate her words to another person who would do the keyboarding or physical writing. In such a case, would a tutor in the SWC be given permission -- or even be legally obligated -- to do the typing for the student writer? Personally, I see nothing wrong with that, as long as the student writer presented proper documentation from the DRC confirming the student's approved accommodations. What do you think?

In the case of Professor Hawking or a student with a serious physical limitation, might the SWC tutor even make a house call? This is a job for the Mobile Tutoring Unit! And of course, the MTU would probably need extra training to learn the ins and outs of a variety of assistive technologies that writers might use, and to learn about any special issues a physically disabled or learning disabled writer might -- or might not -- have. You wouldn't want to be guilty of treating Professor Hawking as if he were intellectually impaired because he's unable to speak on his own, would you?

As assistive technologies continue to advance in quality and quantity, there is rich new territory for campus writing centers to investigate and adapt to.


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  2. I actually had a conversation with our instructor about this very topic and he said a section of our class addresses this. I was a little surprised there wasn’t a section in our book that covers working with students who need accommodations. I’m looking forward to finding out what strategies there are, both from our instructor and from other students. There’s no one size fits all approach, but what methods work best in what circumstances and how to figure that out (while working with writers) will be a thought-provoking conversation.


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