Oswal, S. K., & Meloncon, L. (2017). Saying No to the Checklist: Shifting from an Ideology of Normalcy to an Ideology of Inclusion in Online Writing Instruction. WPA. Writing Program Administration, 40(3), 17.

Note: All pull quotes below are from this paper. The additional comments and questions are my own, unless otherwise attributed

Salient Details


Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Quality Matters Rubric (QM), and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) checklists “perpetuate an idea of normalcy” and should not be blindly applied but rather engaged with critically by online writing course (OWC) educators.


  • To recommend a way forward for OWC that is meaningfully inclusive of students with disabilities.
  • To argue for a “move from an ideology of normalcy to an ideology of inclusion.”

Conceptual Framework:

  • Writing Studies, Online Writing Instruction and Disability Studies literature

Note: authors’ reference a theoretical framework relative to the above but it is not outlined here.

Note: authors’ positionality or bias is not addressed although professional bios are included.

Note: authors are both interdisciplinary, having technical communication and disability studies fields backgrounds


  • literature review
  • normative argument based on secondary sources and presumably on the experience of the authors’ but that isn’t directly addressed.
  • critique of three popular checklist tools “used to plan, implement, and assess online course construction and delivery”
    • Quality Matters assessment rubric (QM)
    • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
    • Universal Design for Learning framework (UDL)


  • to realize “the goal of a user-centered accessible design for OWI” authors recommend participatory course development
    • instructor works with students (of all abilities) in the course to discuss/determine course materials, assignments etc. that meet the accessibility needs of the group
  • authors suggest that repeating this model over time will build the educators’ awareness of real-life accessibility needs better than adherence to a blanket checklist ever could.
  • QM fails to address accessibility issues
  • WCAG is too technical / techie to be easily used by WPA
  • UDL principles are broad and can be applied without awareness of disability, accessibility, or accessible technologies

My Notes With Quotes:

Writing Studies scholars have produced a sizeable body of critical scholarship around issues of disability and accessibility (e.g., Dolmage, Disability; Kerschbaum; Lewiecki-Wilson and Brueggemann; Meloncon, Rhetorical; Oswal, “Participatory”; Slatin and Rush; Walters; Zdenek)…

existing scholarship specific to OWI and accessibility (see Hewett and DePew; Oswal and Hewett; Oswal and Meloncon; CCCC OWI committee)…

recent scholarship provides more specific suggestions on making courses accessible (e.g., Oswal and Meloncon; Oswal “Accessibility” and “Physical”)…

Amy Vidali asks, “how we can revise our WPA narratives to better include disability and diverse embodiment?” (34)…

Brizee et al. build on their previous work and discuss the usability research that went into the re-design of Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab…

Christopher Power et al., who have studied the usability of these guidelines, report that WCAG 2.0 address only about half of the problems that blind users face in typical web pages.

To Do: Review all cited works

…our immediate discontent with these checklists is the failure to adequately engage with them in a critical way (Dolmage; Oswal, “Physical”; Wood et al.)

….Wood et al. assert that checklists are useful as far as they “offer a place to start”, but they also emphasize that the checklist can make the process reductive (147)

Observation: The criticism of what these authors refer to as “checklists” is similar to the argument made by Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan in Exploring Pedagogical Culture for Accessibility Education in Computing Science that the notion of “best practices” is incongruent with any pedagogical approach that honours socially constructed knowledge. This is an important argument for me.

The importance of designing accessible online learning spaces was clearly high-lighted with the publication of the Conference on College Communication and Composition’s Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction: Principle 1, which is described as an overarching principle, states: “Online writing instruction should be universally inclusive and accessible.

Observation: This position statement implies the courses should be accessible to all. It logically follows that the read/writing skills needed to produce accessible course content would need to be taught / reviewed / assessed. How often does that happen?

Observation: There is a strong emphasis in the paper on the responsibility of educators to build skills and awareness but what about the responsibility of the students? The co-creators? Still feels like there is sense of “distributed learning” underlying the argument, rather than socially constructed learning.

As Sushil Oswal and Lisa Meloncon reported, many faculty are not “paying attention” to accessibility, and they do not realize that part of their role as instructors is to play a major role in making their OWCs accessible…

We previously argued that the field had to begin to build capacities in writing programs by training graduate students and faculty in issues of accessibility: “for accessibility to be effectively implemented across programs requires a fundamental shift in ideology; it requires starting with accessibility as a parallel to learning outcomes” (294)…

Question: What kind of references are these? What would be the appropriate alternative in APA for what looks like citing your own previous works?

To do: Look up other papers by these authors to see if they did a qualitative or quantitative study on “paying attention” to accessibility.

As WPAs [writing program administrators] and institutions are struggling to provide sufficient professional development for faculty to create OWCs, more often than not they turn to checklists to provide guidance to faculty caught in unfamiliar territory often with few institutional resources to help guide them.

Observation: I have a similar sense but I’m wondering what support the authors have for this claim. Statements like this one make me think the authors are drawing on personal experience.

Question: The authors are faculty. As a masters student, would I need to be able to substantiate a claim like this? If I made a claim based on discussions with professional and academic colleagues, what’s the appropriate way to cite that claim?

WCAG guide-lines have applicability both for content creation and delivery of content…However, the failure of widespread adoption of WCAG guidelines within OWI may be because they seem too technical. They have been primarily designed to support software developers…How well can guidelines designed for software industry concerns serve the needs of online learners and educators? How does the technical focus of these guidelines detract us from the pedagogical needs of our disabled students?

Observation: This supports my concern that educators would hesitate to see how WACG applies to their workflow. This is why I’ve separated out the reading/writing-related guidelines – I’m curious to know if the skills are more easily incorporated into workflow and pedagogy when they can be read as literacies.

It might be important to point out that each disabled user participates in online technologies and pedagogies from an entirely different vantage point shaped by their social, physical, and educational experiences.

Observation: there is no one disability or accessibility experience, but could we not improve our understandings/conversations if we built language / literacies / awareness?

Ongoing participatory feedback about accessibility issues from disabled students in each of our courses and the resulting iterative design and pedagogical improvements by faculty and instructional designers not only can ensure that programs are legally and ethically compliant with existing laws and regulations but also elevate the overall quality of our programs.

Observation: Yes.

…an ultimate move towards a more inclusive access depends on how we perceive ourselves and our students, Tobin Siebers once asked, “What difference to human rights would it make if we were to treat fragility, vulnerability, and disability as central to the human condition, if we were to see disability as a positive, critical concept useful to define the shared need among all people for the protection of human rights?” Looking at the frailties of our own bodies…

Observation: I’m intrigued by this discussion of frailties. Are we so discomforted by our own fragility that we assume others are discomforted by theirs? Is that why, relative to issues of race, class or gender, we hesitate to openly discuss ablism / accessibility in classrooms (with students) or critically engage with it in pedagogy?

Question: Is literacy that disregards the language skills and proficiencies needed to communicate effectively with people who use assistive technologies in digital environments ablist literacy?

To Do: Look up Rhetorical Accessibility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies journal. It is edited by co-author Lisa Meloncon.