The amazing Sara Webb-Sunderhaus generously made her entire keynote presentation, “Lean on Me: Self-Accommodation and Teaching with Disabilities” available on Scribd (link below).
I hope you’ll read her full talk. This is an amazing story and journey. Sara’s brave story touches on: mindful teaching, abundant self-care, questions about identity, changing identity, the role and load of writing program administrators, disclosing impairments to students, feminism, the whole self, vulnerability, and a call to think about how to structure work in ways that allow you to do your best work–whatever that means at a given time in your life.
A few quotes from Sara’s talk that really spoke to me:
“I vividly remember thinking that one moment had changed my life in ways I did not yet understand…”
“Over the past year and a half, I have struggled to come to terms with a changing identity, sense of self, and expectations.
Today I’d like to talk with you about what this process has been
like. Specifically, I will discuss the impact of my disability on my teaching, the types of resources I have needed and continue to need, and how I have learned to practice self-accommodation as I continue to come to terms with the ways my life has changed over the past 18 months.”
“If I had been an adjunct, with no health insurance, there is no doubt I would have had to declare bankruptcy. But I was not an adjunct—I was a tenured associate professor, with a great deal of sick time, supportive colleagues, and a caring chair. All of these factors were critical resources as I adjusted to my new reality.”
“What I have had to learn this academic year — and what I am still in the process of learning — is how to implement low-spoon theories of writing program administration and teaching and make use of the resources available to me. I refer here to Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory, which uses spoons as metaphors for energy.”
“Self-accommodation is an intensely important and woefully overlooked academic practice, especially for women,” adding that “it is directly at odds with America’s culture of ruthless self-reliance and ‘toughing it out,’ with women’s perceptions of self-worth being tied to usefulness, with expectations of female availability, and with our own (often founded) fears of appearing ‘weak’ or less capable than male colleagues” (173).”
“It forced me to become comfortable with accepting help and relying on others when appropriate, and it made me explore why I had such a fear of being a burden to others. I have learned — and am still learning — that it is okay to ask for help when I need it. That does not mean that I am over-reliant on others or not doing my job. I do not have to constantly prove to myself that I am strong or independent, because I know that I am all of those things; accepting a dear colleague’s help does not lessen me in any way.”
“I’ve now reached a place where it feels like a responsibility, not a burden, to disclose my disability to students. I want all students to know that people who at first glance may appear “able bodied” may not be. I want students— both those with disabilities and those without — to know that being born with or acquiring a disability may change someone’s life, but it doesn’t necessarily have to change their goals and ambitions.”
“I will never be able to work in the same ways I did before, because I live in crip time now. That is okay — more than okay — to admit. I still sometimes feel embarrassed to have these conversations with students, but without exception they have been kind and generous. I hope that sharing my vulnerabilities with them has led to a classroom environment in which they feel can be vulnerable, and I know I feel closer to this particular group of students than I ever have by this point in a semester. My students have helped me reach a point of self-acceptance, and I am grateful to them for that.”
During the Q&A Session, participants shared experiences, strategies, and questions such as:
–it’s difficult to file for accommodations; many people don’t file for accommodation
–invitation to join the CCCC Standing Group for Disability Studies
Please read the full text of Sara’s talk here: