[Background image: We are Figures, Liz Crow]
Composing Disability, A History
In the late 2000s, Joseph P. Fisher and DC poet Mel Nichols, both at the time employed at Disability Support Services at The George Washington University, had the idea for a conference.
This idea emerged from a tiny practical detail: every undergraduate student at George Washington was required to take the gateway composition course University Writing 1020. As a result, every disabled undergraduate student at George Washington had to take this gateway composition course. University Writing 1020 was the only course in the entire university catalog for which this was the case.
Therefore, Joe and Mel wondered how this linchpin university class was conceptualizing disability, a linchpin state of human existence. How does disability manifest in the writing classroom? What particular conceptions of disability do writing classrooms compose? More to the point: what does it mean to ask students to compose themselves?
These questions, they decided, could only be answered via a conference.
To build this conference, they employed the assistance of Robert McRuer of the GW English Department and Abby Wilkerson of the University Writing Program. Together, Joe, Mel, Robert, Abby, and the offices and departments that employed them designed the first installment of the Composing Disability series. Held in November of 2011, it was subtitled “Writing, Communication, Culture.”
The event was a success, so much so that the parent office for Disability Support Services, what was at the time called the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, commissioned biennial installments of the series. This request was met with three additional iterations of the event, each of which gradually expanded the scope of the series to larger global concerns.
Over time, the scope and shape of the planning committee changed quite dramatically, but it was always working in the interest of scrutinizing understandings of disability at particular historical moments. Every installment of Composing Disability was exciting and was filled with enthusiastic and rigorous discussion. People really seemed to like it.
Though there are no immediate plans for any additional Composing Disability events, the series is something that Joe remembers fondly, and he hopes that this webpage provides a stable historical archive of general information about the conference, in addition to the details on the Composing Disability blog.