My research on deaf individuals’ ways of navigating graduate school draws on conversations with deaf individuals who are currently in or recently graduated from graduate school. I consider the coping strategies these individuals developed to assist in completion of their programs as well as the coping strategies that graduate programs have developed to aid disabled students in program completion. As research areas, accessibility and disability studies are useful sites for technical communicators to promote the disciplinary goals of social justice and advocacy for users’ rights, participation, and dignity. Primarily, technical communicators have made contributions to a large breadth of accessibility topics in a relatively brief period. From teaching accessibility to novice web developers to designing accessible online classrooms to promoting critical accessibility case studies as technical communication pedagogy, accessibility is clearly in focus not only for current technical communicators but also in the training and education of future members of the field.
My investigation of how these deaf individuals made it through their graduate programs (or, in one case, didn’t make it), employed interviews and document analysis to build case studies, from which I was able to conclude that more graduate programs must envelop universal/participatory design strategies in their program and courses. As such, this research sought to shift away from dominant narratives and toward a methodology in which those who undergo the same experiences are engaged in the research, but it also urges the Technical and Professional Communication field to continue “valuing marginalized perspectives and make space for people to move toward the center, allowing them to shape, re-imagine and re-envision the institutions and organizations forming the context for much of technical and professional communication” (Walton, Moore, & Jones, 2019). By studying the stories of deaf graduate students as a specialized population within the broader discourse of disabled college students as a whole, we can learn about personal coping strategies as well as school-created networks of support—and in doing so, recognize that the challenges these students face when they desire to advance their education and the methods of accommodating them are forms of technical communication—my project brings universal design into the larger conversation about public forms of technical communication.
Future Research Goals
I want to continue research in the fields of accessibility, universal design, and accommodation practices (for, but not limited to, people with deaf/blind/sensory disabilities) in secondary and postsecondary education. To begin, I would like to network with more experts in the field such as Cawthon and Garbergolio at the University of Texas, Austin; Browning at the University of Pennsylvania; McGuire, Scott, & Shaw at the University of Connecticut; Cagle at the University of Kentucky; Zdenek and Kerschbaum at the University of Delaware; Melonçon at the University of South Florida; and Bergstahler and Oswal at the University of Washington.