Tag Archives: disability studies

How to Write a Seminar Paper: Process Writing in Action!

It’s hard to believe, but this past week, I was in the midst of writing my last seminar paper. (HOORAY!) I have always found “seminar papers” to be an exhausting intellectual exercise that is relatively useless. (Yes, I’m using quotations because I think they’re a weird mutt genre that continues to unnecessarily confused graduate students). There are probably articles that discuss how you would go about writing one, but when I first started writing them, I wasn’t smart enough to do that kind of genre analysis/meta-level research. Instead, I suffered. I felt like I could never do enough research to support my claims and that I was just spewing sad, empty, graduate student spittle. Now that I’ve finished my exams and (successfully!) defended my prospectus, I am finding that my last seminar paper is SO MUCH EASIER TO WRITE than all of my other ones. I sense that this is because I’ve finally figured out the metacognitive “moves” that are required in such papers (and their final version, the humanities academic article): you have to “join the conversation“–have something to hang your argument on–in order to be successful.

Now, I’m not saying that this paper was easy to write. Not in the least. In fact, my final product only ended up being 12 pages plus a bibliography…which wasn’t quite the 20 my professor had in mind. I have been thinking about what to write for weeks and finally, in these last few days of the semester, had time to shove some thoughts on a page. For me, research and writing (and in this case, process writing) are interspersed. I read two things, I write down one idea. I read ten things, I try to put together a short summary of what all of the things mean or what they might mean for my project. I write down two questions, I google scholar search for some answers. And in case you’re wondering what that looks like, I attempted to document the process as it happened in this post!

Prior to Research/Writing Days (i.e. the entire semester): 

I used my exam list as a jumping off point. At first, when coming into the class, I thought I would want to write about scientific illustration in the renaissance and how it has changed/stayed the same today–and its continued rhetorical impact. About one month into the class, I started wondering if this was actually going to be an applicable topic; later on, after reading Vico (who uses an illustration at the beginning of his New Science and claims that it explains the entire book), I would find many good starting places, but something came up organically instead. While reading Sheridan via The Rhetorical Tradition, I noticed that Sheridan (and others–at the time, I couldn’t remember who) mention the “deaf man” when talking about rhetoric. I brought this up in class even though I wasn’t sure anyone else had noticed or would find it interesting. Thankfully, CL, our brilliant professor, had noticed and made an insightful comment that the figure of the “deaf man” was a sort of test about how rhetoric worked at that time–if even a “deaf” man could understand you, you were effective. I highlighted, bolded, and changed the color of my notes to signal that this was something I should remember as we got closer to paper submission.

This made me think about the issue of disability and rhetoricity, which I had also read about during my exams. In turn, I checked out a few books that I attempted to read cover-to-cover so that I could get a sense of the “conversation[s]” in progress to which I might respond. These books included: Jay Dolmage’s Disability Rhetoric, Margaret Price’s Mad at School, and Jordynn Jack’s Autism and Gender. I took notes and recorded a lot of quotes which seemed like they might be relevant.

Research/Writing Day 1: 

After CL’s comment, I decided that I wanted to join the conversation about rhetoric, rhetoricity, and disability and relate it to what was happening with Renaissance rhetoric. I first turned to a somewhat-often-cited article in the subfield by Catherine Prendergast, who uses the example of her friend with schizophrenia to argue that individuals with mental disabilities lack rhetoricity. Cynthia Leweiskci-Wilson, Katie Rose Guest Pryal, and others challenge this idea with their own responses; Leweiscki-Wilson says that rhetors with mental disabilities need to expand the definition of rhetoric and what “counts” as communication to make it possible for them to become rhetorical/gain rhetoricity. Pryal says that these rhetors may use different available means of persuasion. In any case, I found all of these related things by playing around on Google Scholar. I searched for “disability and rhetoricity,” “rhetoric and rhetoricity,” “disability rhetoric,” “faculty psychology,” and more. I knew about the Prendergast piece from my exams, so I used it as a point of departure for the rest of the rhetoricity research.

I also examined Dolmage’s bibliography in Disability Rhetoric, Prendergast’s bibliography in both of her chapters, and played the who-cites-who game to try to see who has written the most recent articles about disability, rhetoric, rhetoricity, and more. One of my other favorite games, the “citation game,” helped me decide which pieces to read first. (By the “citation game,” I mean using the “cited by” numbers that Google Scholar provides to see how many people have referenced a certain piece. I think this is an imperfect technique for a variety of reasons, which perhaps I’ll have time to explain later, but when I’m on a deadline, this technique reassures me that I’ve at least seen the titles of some of the most important works in a subfield.

I then went about pulling quotes–from things that I’m reading (i.e. scanning) via Google Scholar research as well as other things I’ve read before that new pieces prompted me to reread or think about. I also copy/pasted/cited quotes, which I put in a Notes document, that made me think about my dissertation project or that seemed like they might be helpful.

As always, research leads me to a variety of fruitful paths and dead ends. I looked at people’s CVs and personal websites (out of curiosity and to see if I’d missed a major publication that might help me), dissertations (for bibliographies and to see the latest work in the field), information for journals I might submit the eventual article version to, and more. Although sometimes I feel resentful that I’ve spent so much time exploring and not enough time putting smart words on a page, my weird Wikipedia-like knowledge sometimes comes in handy later. For example, I was trying to trace the trajectory of publishing in disability studies, and one of the ways I do this is to read people’s acknowledgements so that I can see who mentored them and who they’re friends with.

All of this made me think about Laurie Gries’s discussion of how things “become rhetorical” in her 2015 monograph. While Gries is talking about the Obama Hope image in particular, I think that there is an interesting piece there about the process of becoming–which I think happens for rhetors with disabilities because, historically, disability has been understood as a deficit and an individual problem; a defect that must be surmounted. I didn’t end up discussing Gries in the paper, but her idea of “becoming rhetorical” stuck with me as I tried to parse out the rhetoric/rhetoricity/disability thing.

Throughout the process, I read 5-10 book reviews to get a sense of if the book was worth tracking down. If the book was available in a “read online” version via UNC libraries, I skimmed it, but sometimes I still read the reviews to figure out which chapter(s) to focus on. I often keyword searched within these texts to see if terms like “renaissance” and “rhetoric” came together in the same spaces or if it was just coincidental. (Note: searches for the term “disability” were often fraught because if a Java program was “disabled” on a page, that got pulled up, too).

Part of my research process was also figuring out what was and was not easily available to me. For example, the Disability & Society journal is not available through UNC. I could look through it later and request articles, but I skipped it for now.

I came out of this with about 1.5 pages of notes, including significant quotes and an outline-ish thing. I also had a short bibliography to help me keep track of my sources, which I copy/pasted from Google Scholar.

From time to time, I also rechecked the assignment: How many pages? Are there any special goals I should keep in mind? Etc.

Research/Writing Day 2:

I copy/pasteed my work into a new document and review what I had done so far. What lines of inquiry seem to be the most fruitful? My notes/outline-ish thing have the making of an introduction, but I noticed that, based on what information I had, I wanted to revise some paragraphs into entire sections.

I played around with some quotes and assembled them into some kind of paragraphs–about 1.5 pages of the introduction. I tried to use language that was clear and unsophisticated–I can always go back and revise it later. For me, I don’t feel good about writing unless I have a strong set-up.

What’s weird, at least this time, is that I wrote in chronological order. I often find myself paralyzed if I don’t have an outline and a clear idea of what I want to say before I begin writing. I should do more free-writing–I know I should–but sometimes it makes me feel like my ideas are even messier than they are. Instead, I prefer consulting with friends and advisers if I’m a) completely confused and directionless and can’t even ask a question, and/or b) have a few possible directions and want feedback about which seems most promising.


Research/Writing Days 3-5:

I repeated the processes above and used the Pomodoro Technique to try to produce as much writing as possible without having an anxiety attack or aggravating my joints. As I was writing, I figured out that the *REAL* thing I want to focus on is how disability rhetoric helps us define and redefine rhetoric and rhetoricity in expansive ways, ultimately changing the character of rhetoric. The “deaf man” idea probably still can be worked into this, but I really need to go reread my primary texts again so that I can figure out if this is going to work. I submitted the paper with a sort of break in the middle in which I tried to piece together some of the renaissance rhetoric evidence…it was rough. I was trying to also think about imagination, which is something that becomes important in renaissance rhetoric and renaissance definitions of rhetoric, and how that speaks to disability studies, but I got stuck and tired. I ran out of steam.

In turn, I need to go back to this paper because I’m going to use it for the RSA Works-in-Progress workshop…but I would like to take a nap first. (Though it’s only 8:55am). Hmmm.

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Everything is Arbitrary

I submitted my prospectus to my dissertation co-advisers on Thursday, March 24th at 1:31am. Don’t tell my dad, but he was right: I did feel a sense of relief after submitting it…even though it’s only 14 pages long and the chapter outlines are practically one paragraph each (instead of a few solid pages each). As I alternated between almost hyperventilating and hiding under my bed, taking pictures of my adorable kitty, snacking, and writing words on the page, I had the biggest breakthrough I’ve had in months. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will help anything.

Everything is about my prospectus (and perhaps this entire process) is…


…which is why I’m having so much trouble making decisions about everything.

When I find myself in a high-stakes writing environment, I feel paralyzed until I have a clear outline and projected order of things. Then, I can begin…but the “real” work has already been done: I know what I’m going to write about, where different pieces are going to fit into the puzzle, and probably what the end result is. The trouble with my prospectus, so I’m finding, is that I’ve completed at least 20 different outlines of different versions of the project. I’ve moved pieces around, shifted ideas in and out. Everyone–#TeamRhetoric, #TeamSarah, etc.–was supportive and said that my ideas were great, so I played with different versions of the project but never stressed too much about it. And then came time to finally finish my prospectus. Which version was I going to use? Which one(s) were most promising? Which ones will help me achieve my ultimate goals for the project?

That’s the funny thing about prospectuses. You write them about projects you haven’t done yet, and even in their “final form,” they may serve no purpose other than to check a box that allows you to begin your dissertation project. It’s hard to plan a project you haven’t done yet. It’s hard to anticipate the results of research you haven’t conducted yet.

The moral of the story:

1) pick something; 2) move forward; and 3) revise as you go.

To me, this feels hard and terrible. Perhaps inappropriately so, but that’s been my experience. It’s hard to know how other people solve this problem. One possible way that I’ve surmised is to pick some topoi (cultural commonplaces), search for them in your archive, and switch them up if they’re not meaningful and/or theorize why they aren’t meaningful. In Margret Price’s Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life (2011), she analyzes topoi such as “presence,” “participation,” “resistance,” and “collegiality” (21-22). Maybe she didn’t start with these exact topoi, but she probably had a few to begin with and discovered the others along the way. She analyzes a range of genres, such as published guidelines from MLA and APA and interviews with “independent” scholars, which probably informed her thinking/topoi selection. Similarly, when I was talking with one of my co-advisers a few weeks ago, she suggested that I mine the pinterest #chronicillness posts (there are thousands of them) using a particular frame like disability. That made that piece of the project seem a hundred times more manageable. (She was probably actually thinking about topoi since she’s written about them before, but that only occurred to me five seconds ago).

Whatever I decide…I have to decide SOMETHING. Maybe kitty can help?


Oriole “Kitty Queen” the cat sitting on a red fleece bathrobe next to my laptop on top of a black reclining chair. 


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Organizing My Dissertation Project

There are so many possible ways to conceptualize my dissertation project. It’s exciting to feel like there are so many possibilities, but it’s also overwhelming. What direction(s) do I want to go in? What’s my justification for making this choice? How will this choice frame the project in a useful way for the field? The issue is that I just need to pick SOMETHING. It doesn’t have to be perfect–merely workable–so that I can finish the prospectus and submit it to my advisers…and I had planned to finish it yesterday. (Instead, I napped, played with my cat, and ate delicious pizza from the new pizza truck down the street. Relatively restful, but…yikes).

I’m a writer who likes to have a clear outline from the beginning, which is why I think I’m having so much trouble moving this forward. I know that I will likely change the outline and/or frameworks and quite possibly the chapters, too, but it’s practically impossible for me to start without some semblance of…something. (Also, my cat is high on catnip and making the weirdest sounds…. Not helpful). When my students find themselves in similar situations, I encourage them to “just pick SOMETHING” and get started, since the project is usually relative short in length and the timeframe for completing it is limited. My dissertation project is theoretically bounded, too, but it’s so much bigger and broader and feels like it means so much more. I’ll probably write about most of the same things regardless of the frame I choose, but…UGHHHHHH.

So here are some of my ideas for organizing things….

Idea #1: rhetorical research methods

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> necessitates that we broaden archives and research methods

Chapter 1: “traditional” deep rhetorical analysis of alphabetic text – naming and constructing LD through peer-reviewed scientific journal articles; language = evidence

Chapter 2: visual rhetorical analysis – LD images; images = evidence

Chapter 3: rhetorical circulation studies – examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care; moving beyond Gries’s circulation of one image to think about the construction/production/distribution of multiple (seemingly) static images; language and questions (?) = evidence

Note: Is this more of a virtual in situ study?

Chapter 4: semi-structured interviews – interview LD health seekers in the south (North Carolina) to learn about experience and possibility of disability identity; interview language and ideas = evidence


Idea #2: patient/activist vs. clinician-researcher/biomedical authority for learning about emergent illnesses

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> construction of ethos –> evidence and authority (see ch. 7 of Segal’s Health and the Rhetoric of Medicine, 2005)

–> IDSA vs. ILADS discourse – the rhetorical problems with LD

Chapter 1: biomedical = what counts as evidence (maps, bull’s-eyes, ticks, spirochetes) vs. “subjective symptoms”

Chapter 2: biomedical = LLMDS – developing LD knowledge/authority through perceived “Lyme literacy”

(Note: not sure which archive I’m going to use here).

Chapter 3: patient/health-seeker = uninterrogated history of LD as a patient’s disease via Connecticut moms who reported it to the CDC and studied their ill neighbors and children; newspaper articles and popular publications (i.e. books by LD patients/witnesses)

Chapter 4: patient/health-seeker = crowdsourcing knowledge via online social networks; examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care

Note: Putting patient/health seeker and clinician/researcher/biomedicine in opposition feels a little bit arbitrary or simplistic. 


Idea #3: stages of illness

Introduction: rhetoric of health and medicine –> LD is an interesting case study –> tells us a lot about rhetoric and emergent illnesses following the HIV/AIDS crisis

Chapter 1: diagnosis = rhetorical analysis of changing diagnostic guidelines

Chapter 2: treatment =naming and constructing LD through peer-reviewed scientific journal articles

Chapter 3: recovery = examining online social spaces where people with LD collaborate and strategize to  create community and get better care

Chapter 4:

A) prevention = visual analysis of LD prevention ephemera, such as posters and brochures? IDSA vs. ILADS materials?


B) disability = questioning the chronicity/permanence of the condition via interviews?


WHEW. So much to think about. Time for a cup of tea…or a nap….

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Questioning the Lyme Disease Dissertation Project

I’ve been working on finalizing my dissertation proposal for a few weeks now, and I keep having crises of ideas. Despite wonderful support from my friends, parents, #TeamRhetoric colleagues, and advisers, I remain tormented by the following questions:

Should I make Lyme Disease the focus of my study, or is that too limiting? My adviser is probably right when she says that a book about Lyme Disease, like Autism or another particular condition, may be attractive to presses because it will interest a specific population of people and thus might be more marketable. However, I can’t even think that far ahead right now. I’ve read so many articles on the ChronicleVita, and in other places about affirming that your dissertation is NOT a book and that it may not become a book, so even though my advisers think the project is promising in its current form, it’s still hard to imagine it transitioning into a book.

Is it rhetorical enough? WHAT IS RHETORIC? Why am I using rhetoric as a method and lens for analysis? Much of the research about chronic illness, gendered experiences with illness, the value of patient narratives, etc. is coming out of medical sociology and anthropology, social history, history of science and medicine, etc. I know that rhetoric, which studies how arguments are constructed and thus create ways of knowing and making meaning, is a useful way of looking at data. (By “data,” I mean any ideas, facts, or knowledge that can be investigated as a way of answering a question–which can range from narratives to images to lab tests). BUT STILL. I think what might be confusing me is that scholars and activists from these fields are trying to show how constructed–i.e. not natural–these illness things are, and that’s pretty much what rhetoricians do, so I don’t want to feel like I’m repeating work that’s already been done. I’d like to believe that rhetoricians’ perspectives bring something unique to the table, but thus far it has been difficult to parse.

What archives or primary materials am I going to investigate to make claims, and which methods will I use? When I first started investigating the health and medical humanities, I thought their methods were engaging and presented new and exciting opportunities for rhetorical scholarship. Now, however, I have to be careful that my project will be “read” as rhetorical to future job committees and tenure committees, which is forcing me to reconsider some of my (seemingly) radical methods. I spent a lot of time trying to justify why visual ethnography would make for a compelling rhetorical research method (building off of McNely et al.’s work), but I have long since moved away from the *justification* piece. If I’m going to include nontraditional research methods, I will have to spend time and space justifying it…which means that I need to figure out a) what methods I’m going to incorporate, and b) WHY they’re going to be useful and illuminate something new and exciting and different. Again, although I spent so much time toying with this visual ethnography thing, I haven’t figured out if or how it is going to work and what it might do that might be helpful.

It’s funny how these things work out. My undergraduate rhetorical education focused on feminist rhetorical history. I have since moved away from this focus during graduate school for a variety of reasons, but it’s easy to want to return to those methods because I already know how to do them. For example, I could study local and national newspaper articles to chart a revised history of the emergence of LD, which was “discovered” by researchers at Yale…who never really credited the two mothers from Lyme, CT who alerted them to the phenomena. These mothers, Polly Murray and Judith Mensch, are sometimes named in popular publications, but according to some quick researchers, never in peer-reviewed scientific ones (i.e. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/10/nyregion/taking-a-new-tack-against-lyme-disease.html). This gets particularly interesting because there has been some research about the sexual and in utero transfer of LD (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mothers-may-pass-lyme-disease-to-children-in-the-womb/), which makes me think a lot about the rhetorical characters of LD and how they have informed the LD controversy as we know it. Some sources I’ve read have argued that because LD was discovered by patients and wasn’t easily figured out by researchers of clinicians, it is deeply grounded in community efforts and thus doesn’t easily become the authority of researchers, unlike in many other cases.

Relatedly, I’ve also come upon another conundrum: If chronically ill people with controversial/emergent illnesses are doing collective action work in certain places already, WHY THE F— AM I GOING TO DO MY OWN STUDY?!  Not accounting for and valuing the work people are already doing and doing my own study instead seems to contradict everything I believe about valuing patient narratives and experiences.My preliminary research/internet perusing suggests that ill individuals are hashtagging #LymeDisease, #spoonies, #chronicpain, #chronicillness, and other terms on Twitter and Instagram (and probably other places) to visually and textually document their experiences and get community support. I’m sure there’s more out there, but I’m hesitant to jump in with both feet. What worries me about using social media as a research archive is that it seems ephemeral and might not matter in a few years. (Truthfully, I’m concerned that it will be meaningless by the time I try to publish a book). However, other people (per this Slate article from the other day – http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/users/2016/03/how_spoonies_people_with_chronic_illnesses_use_memes_selfies_and_emojis.html) are taking it seriously, so perhaps I should, too. I guess what’s been hard is that my early searches have been hard to “code,” meaning that sometimes it seems like people are  using these hashtags to gain social capital to sell something or as spam versus using it to build or enter into an illness community. My adviser suggested an interesting solution: come up with a key term or concept to help me “read” (i.e. organize, generate meaning, analyzed) these materials. For example: disability. I could look at all of the Instagram posts with a #LymeDisease tag and try to answer the question, “How do LD patients construct (or not) a disability identity?” With inquiries by disability studies scholars like Alison Kafer about who “counts” as disabled, what terms individuals with disability should or should not take up, and more, I’d like to work on answering this question as part of my dissertation. However, I feel uneasy about using social media to answer it. I could certainly conduct some qualitative interviews with individuals with LD in North Carolina and study them for similar themes. There is very little qualitative research about Lyme Disease AND very little research about Lyme in the American south, so I would certainly be generating new knowledge, but that also doesn’t feel quite right to me.

This has prompted me to consider if I should incorporate digital humanities research tools and methods into the project. LD is very much geographically bound–socially and environmentally–but should I go there?

What ideas might I use for peer-reviewed journal articles vs. THE DISSERTATION? This might seem insignificant, but I think that some of my inner chaos come from trying to narrow my focus for the dissertation but finding perfectly useful, bounded projects that might be interesting to pursue but that don’t fit in the realm of my current project outline. For instance, there are various health poster collections that are perfectly suited for rhetorical and visual analysis, but if they’re not about LD, they probably aren’t a great fit for my dissertation unless I’m directly connecting them back or comparing them with LD ephemera.


To begin answering some of these questions, I started playing around (i.e. “researching). I made the following list:

Possibilities for Archives/Materials:

  • Peer-reviewed scientific journal articles about Chronic Lyme Disease/Post-Treatment LD à learn about the emergence of LLMDs and the rhetorical problem of “Chronic Lyme”
  • Interviews?
  • Arts-based therapy ephemera?
  • Hash tag activism on Tumblr, Instagram, and/or Twitter à and/or ChronicBabe.com
    • Leveraging gender and chronic illness – pushing back against traditional patriarchal authorities
    • Femininity as radical, rhetorical reclaiming of authority and identity à paper I wrote for Jane’s seminar

This led me to think about Judith Lorber’s Gender and the Social Construction of Illness, so I used Google Scholar to figure out who had cited her (almost 500 people) and then, with that sect, who had also used the term”rhetoric” in their publication. Here’s a few I came up with:

  • Werner, Anne, and Kirsti Malterud. “It is hard work behaving as a credible patient: encounters between women with chronic pain and their doctors.” Social science & medicine 57.8 (2003): 1409-1419.
  • Sim, Julius, and Sue Madden. “Illness experience in fibromyalgia syndrome: A metasynthesis of qualitative studies.” Social science & medicine 67.1 (2008): 57-67.
  • Willard, Barbara E. “Feminist interventions in biomedical discourse: An analysis of the rhetoric of integrative medicine.” Women’s Studies in Communication 28.1 (2005): 115-148.
  • Bell, Mebbie. “Re/forming the anorexic “prisoner”: Inpatient medical treatment as the return to panoptic femininity.” Cultural Studies↔ Critical Methodologies 6.2 (2006): 282-307.
  • Clarke, Adele E., and Janet Shim. “Medicalization and biomedicalization revisited: Technoscience and transformations of health, illness and American medicine.” Handbook of the sociology of health, illness, and healing. Springer New York, 2011. 173-199.

Note: I got up and got a snack, but I still managed to bite off all my nails. :-/

I’m not sure where it will go from here, but I told my advisers that I’d figure it out by Sunday night…. AHHH!


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My Reserach and the Health Humanities

I took a somewhat experimental health humanities (HH) research course this semester, and before my brain goes to mush from studying for my comprehensive exams, I want to reflect on my developing sense of what the health humanities is and how it might contribute to my current and future projects. I found the scholarship in HH to be limited by its somewhat paradoxical claims vs. published realities, so I am thinking through my ideas based on some of these contradictions. Of course, I understand that HH is a rapidly expanding field, so perhaps it is unfair to be so critical of some of the research topics frequently studied, goals for research, etc. And yet some of it made me cranky, so it’s hard to resist…

I am also trying to hold myself accountable for my writing process. As the pressure to produce smart, cohesive, somewhat stylish writing mounts, the less I’m able to focus. I’ve recently started reading about the process of dissertation writing, and it sounds like the thing that people have the most trouble with is sitting down and DOING some writing. In general, I tend to be pretty good at the sitting down part when I’m feeling well. I often find myself frustrated on days when I seem to be unusually distracted (i.e. in low to medium level whole body pain). My skin feels sharp and staticky, my bones ache, my scalp is tender from having my hair in a ponytail for too long. I eat snacks, look out the window, wish I was doing something else. If I’m dressed like a human (which is usually not the case), I might leave my house for a while and browse sale items at Steinmart or buy four items at Whole Foods. But I’m usually sitting in my bathrobe at my kitchen table, one knee up against the table, head throbbing from squeezing and overextending my jaw, attempting to sip tea that has long turned cold and over-brewed. Also, I typically only allow myself to leave my house (or shower…working on that) if I’ve met my somewhat arbitrary daily writing goals. (That is, when I’m spending an entire day working from home). It’s funny to think that I used to write for pleasure. Now, it’s part of my job, and if I can’t do it–for whatever reason(s)–I can’t really join this profession. So I’m at a critical juncture in which I need to figure this out. I have been writing while feeling terrible for years now, so it’s annoying that I haven’t gotten used to it, found better techniques for producing better work, etc. Like everyone else, I probably have unrealistic expectations for myself about how much I should be writing and how “good” the writing should be. Ugh. In any case, I’ve been able to produce a lot of words and work out some ideas by writing these blog entries, so I’m going to consider it part of my writing process and move forward, hopefully moving past the obstacles I’m allowing to get in my way.

For me, a “good” research and writing day means that I produce writing that actually moves my ideas/arguments/frameworks/theories forward. This usually means that I produce a lot of writing (often on this blog) that is relatively informal but very clear…or as clear as I can make it. As critical as I am of people who believe that their interdisciplinary work will immediately impact the scholarship of multiple fields, it is helpful for me to do writing in a space where there is a theoretical, thoughtful, and somewhat broad audience. I try to write in ways that non-academic people like my parents can understand. I usually don’t achieve this goal, but my attempt to think and speak simply helps me figure out my key questions: What am I really trying to say? Why is it important? As I reread this section, I’m chuckling at the word “important.” In the scheme of things, my reflection on my course in HH is not “important” for most people. It probably never will be. I guess I’m always hoping that, in some small way, I can contribute to solving some greater social problem or helping meet a need of living, breathing people. Many scholars talk about fulfilling this kind of civic duty via their teaching, but I’d also like to do it through my research. Anyway, I’m going to stop this philosophical meandering and get to the health humanities stuff. After all, I have a short critical reflection to write for the class, and I stared at a blank word document for an hour this morning without any “luck,” so it’s time to get started.

[Nail cutting and filing break. Why do I feel a desperate need to groom myself whenever I start writing something?! Sometimes I also get an urge to clean. I was reading about a study that reported that obsessive grooming behaviors, like skin picking and nail biting, can be related to perfectionist tendencies. I haven’t bitten my nails for more than three months (!!) so can’t I chalk this up to not wanting to start to bite them as I’m thinking/writing? #phdproblems].

What HH claims it does vs. what it actually does (based on what I learned and observed during the course):

#1. Bridging the clinical medicine/humanities divide to better educate healthcare providers and solve large-scale health problems. (Is clinical medicine a real thing, or did I just make it up?) It seems like the medical  humanities (yes, a slightly different field) might have made some progress with bridging the medical/humanistic gap, but in my opinion, this has been most effective when clinicians bridge this gap and then teach other clinicians about it. For instance, Rita Charon’s work on narrative medicine is well respected in many fields, and one reason for this is because, as a medical doctor, she has a trustworthy ethos. Charon is able to rely on her experiences in clinical settings, working with diverse patients, etc. to advocate for the worthiness of humanistic ways of thinking in health and medicine.

Unfortunately, I find it less compelling (and, frankly, kind of annoying) when humanists try to do the same thing. I am not convinced that teaching and discussing Frankenstein or any other specific texts with medical students will or should impart wisdom about empathy, power relations in medical spaces, the value of human life, etc. I do think that these texts include interesting commentaries about health and medicine, but in my sort-of educated opinion, there is not enough statistical evidence to support this kind of HH education for medical students. In our HH class, we read many different literary analyses of fiction, poetry, etc. by canonical authors and explanations about how these texts can help doctors do their jobs better by teaching them empathy, compassion, and more. Sometimes, the close readings were strong and theoretically demonstrative of what doctors and other healthcare providers (a key feature of the HH) could learn from reading the texts. And yet I remain deeply skeptical of both demanding this kind of education/change and the idea that literature can make this change. Perhaps I am just a pessimist. It’s not that I don’t think that some healthcare providers need additional training about these things, and it’s not that I don’t think that medical school is structured in a militaristic way that breaks down people and rewards them for quick (albeit sometimes inaccurate) diagnoses, memorization of body parts instead of holistic analyses of individual people’s bodies, etc. I do. But I’m still looking for some social science-based and/or other scientifically-based research that supports this. I don’t believe that science is objective or always true or anything like that, but I think there is something to be said to testing out different research methods for answering a research question. If nothing else, maintaining a critical perspective when discussing this issue will help us more effectively evaluate all future research about it from both scientific and humanistic perspectives.

[Time to search the kitchen for snacks even though I’m not hungry. I guess I’ll chew another piece of gum and try not to distract myself by looking out the window at my neighbor’s adorably lazy cat].

#2. Reach a broad interdisciplinary audience ranging from clinicians to English professors. It is hard to imagine medical students and practicing clinicians reading our HH anthologies or some of the humanities-interdisciplinary HH articles that we discussed in class. I sense that these professionals don’t care about nor do they have time to read humanities journals, materials, or perspectives. Of course, there is the occasional converted doctor (so to speak) who publishes in both medical and humanities journals, but I can confidently say that it is unclear and/or unlikely that their medical colleagues read their humanities publications. Humanities and some social science scholars actually seem to be the people reading HH scholarship–though many of these scholars do not identify themselves as HH scholars even if their work could be classified at HH scholarship. It’s not that this is a bad thing. It seems like HH has exposed humanities scholars to different research topics, questions, and methods that can expand the range of humanistic work. However, based on our reading this semester, it does not seem to have such a broad reach.

#3. The area of “health humanities” is recognizable to many audiences across disciplines and is significantly different from “medical humanities.” Like any other emerging field, HH is struggling to literally create a name for themselves. According to our two main course texts (HH anthologies/readers), HH is different from medical humanities because it makes more of an effort to study and consider the perspectives of non-physicians and extend beyond medicine as the main issue in question. However, based on all of the readings included in these texts, this is not necessarily the HH reality. Most of the texts still prioritized the doctor-patient relationship and, though some mentioned other health professionals, these individuals were not the main focus. In general, ill people themselves were also not the main focus. The most emphasis was placed on medical education/training and re-training/educating current medical providers. This, I suppose, is one kind of “talking back” to the greater spheres of biomedicine, healthcare broadly defined, western values and perceptions, etc., but I found the lack of focus (and writing) by ill people about illness, by other healthcare providers about other kinds of health and wellness, etc. disconcerting and disappointing.

In any case, I worry about identifying  myself as a HH scholar for all of the reasons listed above. Who will take my work seriously if I am not fully committing myself to more than one well-respected research methodology at a time? (My sense is that the recently published HH scholarship highlights interdisciplinary but still adheres to a single-discipline research method. Rhetorical analysis might be the exception, though they don’t usually call it that in the sciences). I am still much more comfortable trying to join more deeply established intellectual conversations in the rhetoric of health and medicine, disability studies, feminist rhetorical theory and practice, visual studies, ethnography, and more. Despite all of this, I DO think that the HH has great potential. (Though I’m going to hedge and say that I believe this potential is based on the determination of a more focused audience, establishment of more widely respected publications, and new key texts). Here are a few examples:

  • Ill individuals and health seekers gather together to record, revise, and distribute their stories collectively (versus in individual self-help-like manuals or illness narratives). One recent example is Allie Cashel’s Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial. As part of a senior thesis project at Bard College, Cashel interviewed a bunch of individuals living with chronic Lyme Disease and wove together her experiences, their experiences, and a cultural analysis about the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease.
  • “Cultural competence” training for clinicians becomes more sophisticated by blending in some health humanities perspectives, leading medical students to take a more intersectional approach to identifying and treating health seekers. I probably don’t know enough about this to make this claim, but it seems like a nice fantasy.
  • Insurance companies, the U.S. government (including NIH and the like), and/or other people with a lot of money and power find the HH to have a strong value-added benefit and incorporate it into their plans, policies, and funded research projects.

In all, I think it was very useful to take a HH course and to explore HH perspectives and how they might relate to my projects. In terms of my dissertation project, I will probably not situate myself as a HH scholar and instead focus my attention on audiences in rhetoric: rhetoric of health and medicine, visual rhetoric, and feminist rhetoric in particular. I hope that my writing and research will be meaningful and easily translatable to other audiences, such as disability studies, ethnography (maybe), medical and linguistic anthropology (maybe), etc. In general, though, I think that I should try to make my writing more palatable for everyone who might read it, so perhaps I will be able to invite in a large audience if I can make this shift. But for now…it’s time to ramp up my exam studying and add to my understanding of HH, since it is my “minor”!




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Visuals and Diagnosis: Reflections from FemRhet

Breaking the monopoly of the book tradition is something that should be recognized as valuable not only for future research in rhetoric, but also for examining the study of our past.

–Richard Leo Enos (pg. 47 – Rhetorical Archaeology: Established Resources, Methodological Tools, and Basic Research Methods in The SAGE Handbook on Rhetorical Studies, 2009).

I had an amazing time attending the Tenth Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Tempe, AZ last week/this weekend! I am usually  more productive if I have a deadline, so I actually compiled some research into a reasonable google slideshow (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1HIoo_RNLWP9-ZwQKbSZpivXHsV-qa15ZxP9vtatmSgk/edit?usp=sharing). I kind of knew that our panel would be poorly attended because it was the last possible session at the conference (though shoutout to the two people who came + our chair!), so I wasn’t as worried as usual about making a fool of myself. However, I embarrassed myself a number of times by asking awkwardly phrased questions to famous people in feminist rhetorics. Strangely, I felt like their answers were as perplexing as my questions. (HA! There’s probably a connection. Weird questions call for weird answers?)

Question 1: Are we still invested in recovering WOMEN rhetors, or have we moved on to focusing on recovering gendered rhetorical practices (per calls by Sarah Hallenbeck and others)?

Answer 1: Four matriarchs of feminist rhetoric responded to this question during a panel about creating feminist edited collections. LA argued that we can’t recover gendered practices without recovering women, and GC asserted that these new alternative recoveries aren’t that well known and are beyond our reach (still?). In the context of the panel, maybe my question didn’t make sense–we anthologize people, not practices–but when feminist rhetorical history matriarchs put out an edited collection, people read it like a bible, which in my opinion reinforces the idea that we must recover WOMEN and not people’s (men and women’s) gendered practices.

Question 2: Is a dissertation project about visual ethnography as a rhetorical research method a terrible idea?

Answer 2: JN said that was probably a good idea, since the field seems to be moving away from historiography. DJ noted that I should still keep track of the genders of my participants in case I want to do a gendered analysis if my data/experiment fails.

To a human who inhabits the regular universe, these questions might seem useless or mundane. However, they (albeit inarticulately) highlight a number of the current debates about the future of feminist rhetorical historiography, which will likely impact the research that I do now and in the future. If I pursue a dissertation project that articulates an alternative vision (i.e. recovering gendered practices instead of women for the sake of their gender), could it keep me from getting a job? Probably not, but it’s something to consider. If committees don’t respect my methods, I’m in trouble…so we shall see?

In any case, I had a really productive “office hours” meeting with a prominent scholar in disability studies/rhetoric whose work I really admire. I have a few important takeaways from our discussion:

  • What QUESTION do I really want to answer? (It will make the most sense to select a method based on the question, not the other way around).
  • How did scholars I admire come to identify their focuses? Meaning, everyone does not start out knowing exactly what they are going to write a book about. This scholar suggested that I ask some people how their ideas and focuses have evolved over time and how and why their projects ended up the way they ended up.
  • Medical rhetoric and disability studies can function in opposition. They usually have very different methods, sites of participation, research participants, etc., and I need to take that into account as I move forward. Also, visual research methods might increase access for some people and limit it for others. How can I make my project as accessible as possible? (Maybe descriptions of the images? But I’d want the image-takers/individuals in the image to help me craft the description to keep it from being too slanted? Is that possible in humanities research?)

Perhaps most significantly, this scholar suggested that I turn my project towards diagnosis and visuals, using Lyme Disease bull’s-eyes as a case study. Are there any other defining visuals besides the bull’s-eye? What do health seekers identify as key Lyme visuals based on their illness experiences? (This made me think about the brief moment when I decided to take daily photographs of my knees, which I would typically identify as my most impactful remaining Lyme Disease problem). These are fascinating questions because only 20% of probable Lyme patients get (or notice) a bull’s-eye rash, and yet clinicians see it as the “least subjective” diagnostic criterion–a paradox. In class today, TJ suggested that I might not just think about how people see illness *on* their bodies, but rather *in* (or some other preposition) to represent the felt experiences of illness and emphasize their importance (versus their subjectivity). This was a compelling remark–how would I go about capturing images that narrate seemingly invisible pain? (Or how would I ask people to narrative their seemingly invisible pain? I guess I might just have to see what happens?)

Quasi-Related New Challenge: In (what felt like) my first hundred readings of McNely et al.’s article about visual ethnography and game development, I somehow missed a key phrase: “empirical visual research methods.” Umm…time to read some more to see what other scholars/communities think! (Since I didn’t image visual ethnography to be an empirical research method…which seems so counterintuitive. Isn’t it a qualitative method?)

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Entering New Territory: Picturing Lyme Disease

So here’s the thing: things are changing. A simple Q&A format clarifies everything and nothing:

Q: What’s the most fun part about research?

A: Things are constantly evolving and you never know where you’re going to end up next!

Q: What’s the most frustrating/scary/difficult part of research?

A: Things are constantly evolving and you never know where you’re going to end up next!

We might say that research is a process that is both recursive and reflexive…which reveals new things as it goes along. When you think you’ve already picked a good topic, found good sites/archives for research, and developed your main claims,this can be rather annoying. I’m currently working my way through this phase; it’s kind of like the denial, bargaining, and other stages of grief. I am frustrated because I know both that my original idea–to study the rhetoric of Lyme Disease–was good, but that my new plan–to study the visual rhetoric of Lyme Disease–is significantly  more compelling.

Thanks to my brilliant #TeamRhetoric Writing Group colleagues, especially Jason and Jen, it has become clear that I should shift my project about the rhetoric of Lyme Disease to focus on visual rhetoric/images specifically. Why this change? I’ve learned a lot about the rhetoric of Lyme Disease in recent history, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have been particularly unimpressed with the images of Lyme that regularly circulate in popular culture. Photos of ticks and drawings of EM rashes? Maps of where Lyme is located geographically? B-O-R-I-N-G. Not compelling (i.e. seemingly not adding to any particular arguments and appearing to merely take up space at the tops of Washington Post articles). So underwhelming that I started taking photographs of my knees to document my own embodied experiences with Lyme for the fun of it. (See the right side of this blog for a link to some of my selfies). AND YET these underwhelming images are likely a subtle key to the contentious arguments about Lyme Disease–as it exists and as it is imagined.

Evolving questions include:

  • What does Lyme Disease look like?
  • Who circulates images of Lyme Disease?
  • What does the circulation network look like?
    • How do Lyme Disease health-seekers/patients envision their connection to Lyme? How do they document their experiences of Lyme, if at all?
    • How do clinicians who treat Lyme Disease and researchers who do experiments to learn more about Lyme Disease *see* it–in the lab, in the treatment center, in the exam room?
  • How do these images circulate?
  • What is the history of images of Lyme Disease?

and of course…how do Lyme Disease visuals function rhetorically? How might images/visuals be effective argumentative tools for presenting new ideas/shifting the focusing/reevaluating the stakes of Lyme Disease?

At the moment, I’m thinking through a few major concerns:

  • Is it possible to do a visual project from/with great attention to a disability studies perspective?
  • I don’t know nearly enough about visual rhetoric.
  • How can I ensure that this will be an explicitly feminist and explicitly intersectional project?

But what I do know is this:

  • Qualitative researchers in the health sciences have reported that visual research methods can reveal new and exciting things about health and medical behaviors and practices, particularly about gender.
  • Scholars in the rhetoric of  health and  medicine haven’t often taken up visuals as a) research methods, or b) objects of analysis. A recent special issue of Communication Design Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Special Interest Group for Design of Communication, focused on rhetorics of health and medicine and prompted me to think about designs as visuals….(?)
    • “The essays included here explicitly and implicitly point to different ways that ideas, texts, methods, practices, and technologies work in a variety of healthcare contexts, and more importantly, how that information is designed. The essays also bridge theory to practice.” (Frost and Meloncon 9)
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Research Questions/Questioning My Research

It’s funny how the process of creating research questions can prompt you to question your research (and your sanity) entirely! I met with Dan to talk about my Lyme selfies project the other day, and I came away with many insights. Here are a few of them:

  • Most academic monographs don’t have any pictures (or just a few in black and white) because they are incredibly expensive to print. We could say that this is one limit of the genre. My approach could be more of a genre-based approach that argues for the limits of alphabetic text; this would be something I’m very familiar with and would be a relatively easy argument to make.
  • My interest in this might fit into a number of existing academic conversations: visual rhetoric, visual literacy, digital humanities, etc.
  • It might be helpful to look for patterns to see how visual documentation of ill people/their bodies is happening in the vast social networks of the internet. (He highlighted Tumblr, Twitter, and Flickr). This means that I might start my analysis elsewhere–outside of my selfies–so better assess which conversation(s) I want to be part of.
  • Whatever happens, it might be helpful to take time to identify good archives, or strong pools of visuals that I could pull on now or later as part of my dissertation work.

This has led me to some other possibly more fruitful questions, many of which Jason, Jen, and Tiffany pitched at writing group this week:

  • How does a person license photos of their own body for public use? (Or do you?) Is there a kind of “best practices”? What choices do people make?
  • What is it possible for an archive of photos to do? What do I hope/expect that people will do with them, if anything? How do I think they will be circulated?
    • There’s an interesting rhetorical question here about public(s).
  • Can visuals create a space for unheard voices/identities to be recognized?
    • How are visuals a different way of knowing than alphabetic text?
    • Do visuals tell an alternative story?
  • How are visuals being use argumentatively? How could visuals be used argumentatively?
  • What are the networks in which these visual artifacts circulate?
  • How might digital methods/expectations interference/challenge disability studies methods/expectations? What are some effective digital approaches to making sense of things that aren’t alphabetic text?
    • For instance: metadata. Dan suggested that I try not to give text descriptions of my photos because then I’ll be analyzing–and in effect permanently marking–my images and the way the will be used. However, in order to make my photos more accessible to individuals who use screen readers, for instance, I need to embed text into my photos so that screen readers have something to process.
  • How will I catalogue and make sense of these images–my own and other freely available ones?

To prepare myself for a visual project (if that’s possible), I’ve been reading and rereading some scholarship about visual rhetoric, particularly ethnographic methods. This article my McNely et al. has been one of my main sources of inspiration. I thought that their justification for using photographs was compelling, so I’ve included it here:

We have made a concerted effort to use photography rather than videography for two primary reasons: first, as a practical constraint on our field research, we collectively had more experience working with the production and analysis of still images than video; second, and more importantly, we viewed photographs as affording both a medium through which we might better understand and analyze participant knowledge (in granular moments and as a collective whole), and as a mode of representing the complexity of our participants’ work. Our visual methods, therefore, helped us better understand the many genres of writing and rhetorical action that comprised participants’ eventual, public work.

–Brian J. McNely, Paul Gestwicki, Bridget Gelms, and Ann Burke, “Spaces and Surfaces of Invention: A Visual Ethnography of Game Development.” Enculturation (2013).

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Documenting My Sick Body: Guidelines for a Manifesto/Project

Since I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in November 2009, I’ve been documenting my illness in a variety of ways. My mom–one of my primary illness support team members–created a timeline that included both illness highlights (when I first began experiencing symptoms, when symptoms changed, etc.), different medication start/stop dates, medical consultations, etc. This document was helpful when I/we would give my dreaded health history to whatever doctor I was seeing next…until I/we realized that being up front about seeing so many doctors freaked other doctors out (#rhetoricalproblems). On the other hand, my family and close friends will also report that I like to send them selfies of my swollen/painful joints…for no particular reason. Maybe to qualify my complaints in some way? When I had a burn accident in February, I took hundreds of photos of the burns so I could document my recovery process in hopes of filing a lawsuit. (Note: few attorneys are dumb enough to want to fight a case against a state government institution).  Yet I also found myself, for whatever reason, taking some more playful shots alongside the medical-gaze ones. For example…

Although I had been in a horrible accident at 11:55am, around 5:00pm my pain drugs had kicked in enough for me to realize that my hair looked great and needed to be documented.

This is me in my bathroom at my house. I am wearing the hospital gown that I wore home from the emergency room…we won’t go into why that was necessary. Although I had been in a horrible accident at 11:55am, around 5:00pm my pain drugs had kicked in enough for me to realize that my hair looked great and needed to be documented. I took this selfie using a mirror reflection. I’m not sure why, though I’m sure that the Fentanyl would help explain it?

Jen pointed out to me at writing group this week that this kind of documentation is different from other kinds of documentation that patients are typically asked to produce. For instance, diabetes patients are likely supposed to track their A1Cs, chronic pain patients are often asked to keep a pain diary, etc. I haven’t heard of anyone documenting their body in this way for medical reasons, though of course that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. What’s notable, I think, is that I’m trying to keep track of what’s happening to my body in its essential banality. I’m keeping track of various unextraordinary moments in time by documenting my fluctuating knees/knee pain–a common issue for people with Lyme Disease, Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, and Chronic Lyme Disease (if it’s really at thing).

Here is my first attempt at establishing some principles (Todd Taylor-style) for this visual autoethnography project:

  1. My decision to document my body in a way that works for me gives me more agency as a chronically ill person and thus helps me move from “patient” to “health seeker.”
  2. These photographs honor the dull, uninteresting everyday pains and practices of chronically ill people. Specifically mine. I don’t speak for any or all of these people and need to be careful not to do that. Yet I do speak as a chronically ill person, which is important to what I think might be at stake for this project and chronically ill people in the United States.
  3. I want these photos to be able be read by screen readers and other accessibility technologies. Since this is a disability studies-oriented project, I want everyone from the academic (and social?) communit(ies) to be able to participate by watching*/reading* if they want.
  4. These photos–the technologies I’m using to take them and store them, the locations in which I take them, etc.–are part of my available means of persuasion. (Thanks, Aristotle!) I come from a very privileged position and want to be attentive to the idea that not everyone–actually, very few people–have the economic means to access such technologies, the digital literacy to figure out things like Flikr, etc. I aim to be attentive to the affordances and limitations of my chosen technologies and to be reflexive as I make recommendations for other humans/researchers/etc.
  5. I’m hoping to shift toward Andrea Lunsford’s definition of rhetoric: “the art, practice, and study of human communication.” I see this project as enabling a kind of “human communication” that I’m unable to achieve using only written words on paper. However, I’m not yet sure what this project “communicates” to other humans, if anything. We shall see?

Perhaps this sounds insane. (It probably is). But I’m looking for something that will…do more, if that’s even possible? I recently read three excellent (and recently published!) monographs that can be classified as feminist rhetorical studies of health, science, and medicine–exactly the kind of work that I want to do–but I found myself getting antsy when I read them. The rhetorical analyses of scientific and public/non-specialist communication about health issues was FANTASTIC, but I wanted to see the breastfeeding recommendation report documents marked up so that I could SEE the differences between them over the years. I wanted to SEE more posters about WWI sexual health campaigns.  I needed images, graphics, video…something? Maybe it’s the millennial in me that gets easily bored, but I actually don’t think so. Hmm….

*”Watching” and “reading” in both normative/traditional ways as well as in other modes accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities and illnesses.

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Doing Visual Research from a Disability Studies Perspective

As usual, I’m caught up in the language. I’m searching for some resources to help me figure out how to use visuals in ways that are accessible to people who use text-readers and other technologies. If I’m going to use visual research methods for a disability studies-oriented project, I need to carefully account for the affordances and limits of using such methods. (Or at least I need to hold myself accountable for thinking through visual accommodations). Since I’m starting/documenting this research on this blog, I thought I’d start looking into visual accessibility by figuring out how to make the blog itself more accessible.

Like the millennial I am, I started with Google. My first search terms included “image descriptions for vision impaired,” “how to make my blog more accessible,” and “how to make my blog more disability friendly.” My inner rhetorician was on high alert; I don’t like calling people “impaired,” but I thought that the phrase might be a commonly used in advocacy communities and would thus generate more results. From these searches, I found a few useful pages/articles (listed in the order I discovered them):

A). The American Foundation for the Blind has a page specifically dedicated to making your blog accessible to blind readers.  They offer seven “tips” that I’ve copied here:

  1. Choose an Accessible Service
  2. Describe Your Images
  3. Avoid the Dreaded “Click Here” or “More…”!
  4. Put Your Blogroll on the Right-Hand Side
  5. Check the Comment Form—Is It Labeled Properly?
  6. Use Flexible Font Sizes
  7. Don’t Force Links to Open in New Windows

B) “The Transcontinental Disability Choir: How to Make Your Blog Accessible in Five Not-Very-Complicated Steps,” a 2009 Bitch Media article by Anna Pearce offers five similar steps that I’ve paraphrased:

  1. Use transcripts
  2. Describe pictures
  3. Make link text relevant (i.e. not click here or more information)
  4. Don’t over-ride browser defaults, especially for text size
  5. Check out how your blog looks in multiple browsers
  6. Pearce mentions that, as a bonus, you can test your website to see how accessible it is – very helpful!

C)  A WordPress community post by Siobhan McKeown titled “25 Ways to Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible” covered all of these items and a few more, which I’ll list below:

  1. Use headings correctly – use only one H1 per page and use heading sizes in order
  2. Use or add skip links to your theme – a link that allows users to move beyond the page navigation
  3. Use underlined links
  4. Use or add ARIA roles
  5. Use lists for easy reading
  6. Don’t rely on color alone and be mindful of color contrast
  7. Ensure tables are marked up correctly

I am going to attend to future blog posts with these ideas in mind, paying particular attention to the points about images. I’m not sure that my visual autoethnographic study of my swollen body parts will transform the field of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies (or anything else for that matter), but that won’t be an option until more people can experience their glory. (HA).

Speaking of selfies, I came to a realization while I was taking one of my knees this morning: selfies are incredibly performative. Those of you who are Judith Butler fans are probably well-aware of this an anticipated that performativity and selfies would go hand in hand…but it only occurred to me that I was concerned about my performance–and the appearance of my knees–when I realized I was arranging them to portray their optimal bloated-ness. For me, Lyme Disease has been both an invisible illness and an obvious physical disability. Like many chronic pain sufferers, my pain seems more real if it is somehow marked on my body and is constantly shifting from better to worse, from joint to joint, etc. I sometimes want to mark my pain in other obvious ways when it is not clearly evident on my body because it confuses people around me, including my doctors. How could I be in pain if I look so normal? Why should I be seeing a specialist for pain that is only intermittent? In any case, despite my concerns from earlier today, I hope these Lyme selfies can be useful even if they don’t always show visual evidence of my pain. I think they highlight a key rhetorical problem: pain isn’t always clear, experienced in a linear fashion, or unambiguously attributed to one cause…but it can be helpful to claim that to get more aggressive/effective treatment.


Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

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