Two legal requirements necessitate making the college composition classroom an accessible environment: “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act” and the “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”. According to the US Department of Education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ensures that

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”

Most often, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Acts enforces that public institutions, like universities, provide “auxiliary aids” to support students’ learning, completion of assignments, and university involvement. For instance, this may include providing disabled students with notetakers, recordings of class lectures, or some other accommodation. While a disability resource office (or equivalent) may handle such a request, composition instructors can mitigate a student’s need to rely on legally mandated accommodations by implementing the principles of Universal Design to create an accessible learning environment, in the spirit of an inclusivity.

In addition to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, institutions of higher education must also comply with Titles II and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to CAST,

“prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in all public entities…[and] private post-secondary institutions.”

Typically, sections II and III of the ADA require that institutions of higher education provide learning materials in an equivalent accessible format. For instance, the institution might be responsible for translating a textbook to braille or providing transcriptions of lectures. While, again, the disability resource office may handle such requests, composition instructors have a valuable opportunity to model multimodality by providing lectures and learning materials in multiple formats and, thus, making their classroom more accessible to a range of students.

Making the composition classroom already-accessible is particularly important, considering Brenda Jo Brueggemann’s claim that institutions have a record of using “the economic argument…to deny access” (792). According to this claim, institutions figure disabled persons as a financial cost or a deduction to their profits and, subsequently, offer only minimal accommodations– enough to skirt by under the law. Given this, instructors who rely on disability resource offices to make their classrooms accessible, may inadvertently create an environment of exclusion, since disability resource offices may not do enough to support disabled students. As such, it is recommended that WPAs and composition instructors consider disability resource offices as a supplement to accessible instruction, rather than the primary provider.


  • “Auxiliary Aids and Services for Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities.” United States Department of Education. Accessed 4 May 2018.
  • Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “An Enabling Pedagogy: Meditations of Writing and Disability.” JAC, vol. 21, no. 4, 2001, pp. 791-820.
  • “Legal Obligations for Accessibility.” CAST 5 May 2018.