Cripping the COVID Classroom

Centering Students through Transformative Disability-Informed Instruction



The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on how educators approach instruction, as this transition to online learning shifted the center of higher education classrooms. As two disabled educators, we parallel this to a transformative learning experience and invite faculty to embrace this as an opportunity to examine who is centered in our classes. Drawing on Mezirow’s (1991) theory of transformative learning, we contend that the pandemic is itself a disorienting dilemma, or a situation whereby traditional models of education do not work. However, instead of starting from scratch, we suggest that educators look to people who have experience navigating similar academic barriers: disabled persons. In outlining disability-informed instruction, we begin with power and autonomy, which are present in every class but have additional histories and meanings in disability studies. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) wrote about the importance of “pivoting the center” to empower learners, and although she was speaking in terms of race, the same need to be recognized exists for disabled students. More direct and meaningful engagement and reflection is possible by inviting students to utilize their ownvoices (Duyvis, n.d.) to process their experiences. Additionally, professors can reduce executive dysfunction by employing plain language in course communications and adding flexibility to incorporate both crip time (Samuels, 2017) and dynamic disability (Benness, 2019). We offer both broad conceptual and practical solutions for increasing accessibility in the digital classroom. Our hope is that faculty walk away with applicable methods for creating inclusive learning environments that empower students.