OWI Principle 1: Online writing instruction should be universally inclusive and accessible.
The primary ideas driving the OWI Principles outlined in this document are inclusivity and accessibility. Hence, OWI Principle 1 supersedes and connects to every principle in this document. In particular, the Committee believes that the needs of learners with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, multilingual backgrounds, and learning challenges related to socioeconomic issues (i.e., often called the digital divide where access is the primary issue) must be addressed in an OWI environment to the maximum degree possible for the given institutional setting. Furthermore, given that OWI typically is a text-intensive medium where reading is a necessary skill, addressing the accessibility needs of the least confident readers increases the potential to reach all types of learners.
The CCCC published in 2006 and reaffirmed in 2011 its statement regarding disability issues for educators, staff, and students. This statement recognizes that fully inclusive environments are necessary for the equitable and appropriate teaching of writing at the postsecondary level. The CCCC statement regarding disability issues strongly indicates that a proactive approach to physical and pedagogical access is superior to one that includes “added on” or retrofitted alternatives. It further states that:
Making writing classrooms and curricula inclusive and accessible to those with disabilities means employing flexible and diverse approaches to the teaching of reading and writing to ensure pedagogical as well as physical access; using multiple teaching and learning formats; welcoming students with disabilities in course syllabi; and including disability issues or perspectives in course content and faculty development workshops.
Additionally, this statement specifically addresses electronic environments: “CCCC is committed to accessible online environments, including making the CCCC Website accessible, as well as working to teach others about ways to make their program and course Websites fully inclusive.”
Such inclusivity must be a fundamental part of any initiative that includes OWI, given its inherent connection to technology; patterns of exclusion have too often resulted from an uncritical adoption of digital technology and an indifference to how it could be used by persons with various disabilities and learning challenges. The Committee therefore posits that no statement of OWI principles and practices can be appropriate if it does not fully recognize and accommodate educators and students with varying physical, learning, linguistic, and socioeconomic challenges.
We specifically include multilingual learners who may have a different working knowledge of academic English and/or different cultural backgrounds. The CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers (2009) advocates that all writing teachers should be prepared to address pedagogically the linguistic and cultural diversity of the multilingual students in their classes.
Thus, both the CCCC Committee for Second Language Writing and Writers (2009) and the CCCC Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition (2011) agree that such teachers’ and writers’ needs must be addressed at all levels of writing courses to include such concerns as content, teacher training, and administrative actions. To this end, the Committee holds that—to the degree possible—all of its OWI Principles and effective practices should adhere to the need for inclusivity and accessibility at all levels of pedagogy, student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, and administrative concerns, including selection of the technological modality and software for OWI.
Some of the guidelines presented below are adapted from Burgstahler and Cory’s (2008) principles of universal design while others are developed primarily for this document:
- Equitable use: The course and its digital designs should be usable by all students and teachers to include those with physical, visual, hearing, learning, attention, and communication differences (inclusive of multilingual students whose first language may or may not be English).
- Technological equality: The technology should be financially accessible to all students and teachers in the course.
- Flexibility in use: The course and its digital design should accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple and intuitive use: Use of the course materials and the digital design should be comprehensible regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
- Perceptible information: The course materials and the digital design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- Tolerance for technological error: The course materials and the digital design in particular should minimize the potential for failure based on accidental or unintended actions such as a technological crash. They should, for example, provide automatic protection of data entered and simple means for recovering such data.
- Tolerance for mechanical error in writing: Teacher response and assessment of writing should reflect an awareness of the relatively low value to be placed on mechanical and usage errors in student writing particularly for multilingual and physically and learning-challenged writers. Although grammar, mechanics, and usage need to be taught, evaluation should focus primarily on how well ideas are communicated and secondarily on sentence-level errors.
- Low physical effect: The OWC’s digital design should be usable efficiently, comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
- Size and space for approach and use: The physical design of the computer- or other classroom should be of the appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
We must note that adhering to the principles of universal design “reduces, but does not eliminate, the need for accommodations for students with disabilities” (Burgstahler & Cory, 2008, pp. 24-¬25). Therefore, there will be times when—regardless of how well prepared an OWI program is for faculty and students with different needs—some accommodations may need to be made (Burgstahler & Cory, 2008).