Ethical Considerations for Consulting Visually-Impaired Students

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

East Central Writing Centers Association

Conference Location

University of Notre Dame


One of the inherent problems in writing centers is shared spaces that exist between different departments on college campuses. At times, we are sought out by students who may have greater needs than we are able to accommodate, resulting in a power struggle in which the ethical role of a consultant can be blurred. One instance of this takes place when students with visual disabilities (SWVD) want transcription services or help formatting in Microsoft Word, which can transfer authorship of work. In these cases, the services that ought to be performed by assistive technology or, in an ideal situation, an aid at disability services are performed by the writing center. Stressors within their university experience can contribute to this over-reliance. These range from disrespectful treatment to a general lack of awareness from students, staff, and faculty, which could be remedied by training. Origins of this issue stem from the ways in which disabilities are viewed by society, or are perceived as a sub-culture which often increases isolation. There is typically a lack of awareness and understanding with the visually impaired having different needs regarding appropriate communication that staff and faculty could benefit from increased knowledge of. Some of the suggested communication techniques voiced by the visually impaired themselves are: asking if they need help rather than making assumptions, using light touch, taking the initiative to introduce oneself, and explaining what the sighted person is doing in their company. The existing literature on the subject is typically written by the non-disabled population. According to Myers & Bastian, there are few studies which directly voice the needs of the visually impaired. Panelists will connect the divergent works of Moh, Myers, Bastian, and Boquet to address issues writing center consultants face when working with the visually impaired community and other concerns that surround this growing college population. According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics, the number of college students with disabilities has tripled in the last 20 years due to legislation such as 1990’s passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). Although these laws have mandated equal access of opportunity, post-secondary education has remained an area of great challenge, preventing many disabled students from finishing their degrees. Speaker 1 will discuss legal issues pertaining to ADA and IDEA, contrasted with the reality of higher education for SWVD’s and ways in which their needs are not always met by staff and faculty. Speaker 2 will discuss personal experiences dealing with SWVD’s and how the ethical boundaries of a consultant’s role can become strained. Other issues, such as negotiating identity in the writing center will also be addressed. Speaker 3 will discuss ways to both maintain ethical boundaries with and better serve SWVD’s by way of improved communication methods. Time at the end will be provided to generate discussion from attendees.


Higher Education

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