In this episode, I sit down with our Community Facilitator, Meli Walker, to discuss what we do to make our online course community more accessible to writers with disabilities and limitations.

This episode marks the beginning of a run of episodes focusing on writing with limitations/disability. Coming up, you’ll hear me talk with writers with various challenges about what they need to write, how they get their needs met, and what it’s like to write when you have barriers in your own body’s ability and barriers that exist in our writing community.

My hope is that this series helps writers find support and ideas to help them engage in writing in a way that works for them. And, for this episode in particular, I hope it gives writers who teach on or offline some ideas for how to make their communities more open to all writers.

Because Meli and I are also just two people with our own limitations and neurodivergence, this is not an exhaustive list of what we’re doing and certainly not a complete list of what we COULD be doing. 

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#90 Write, Publish, Shine Episode Transcript

Transcript with Transcript Outline


Meli Walker, Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson:

Welcome, Luminous Writers, to the **Write, Publish and Shine** podcast. I am your host, author, and literary magazine editor, Rachel Thompson. This podcast explores how to write and share your brilliant writing with the world. In each episode, we delve into specifics on how to polish and prepare your writing for publication and the journey from emerging writer to published author.

Welcome, writers. In this episode, I sit down with our community facilitator, Meli Walker, to discuss what we do to make our online course community more accessible to writers with disabilities and limitations.

This episode marks the beginning of a run of episodes coming up that will focus on writing with limitations slash disabilities. And coming up, you’ll hear me talk with writers with various challenges about what they need to write, how they get their needs met, and what it’s like to write when you have barriers in your own body’s ability and barriers that exist in our writing community.

My hope is that this series helps writers find support and ideas that help them engage in writing in a way that works for them. And for this episode in particular, I hope it gives writers who teach on or offline some ideas for how to make their communities more open to all writers.

When we were recording this, I was a little fatigued, and I also ended up not finishing the episode on time to release it as planned last week. So it felt apt that my own fatigue and mental fog, plus some mild sickness in my household, meant that I had to spend all my spoons and couldn’t work on this spoony content.

Because of this, and because Meli and I are also just two people with our own limitations and neurodivergence as well, this is not an exhaustive list of what we’re doing and certainly not a complete list of what we could be doing. Now here’s my conversation with Meli Walker on making our online course community more accessible to writers with disabilities and limitations.

Welcome, Meli. Today we’re going to talk about offering online courses and writing community and making them more accessible and things that we learned, Meli, for those who don’t know, is the community facilitator within my course and membership community. And we’ve been talking more and more about this.

First, hello Meli. Do you want to say hi? That’s all good.

Meli Walker:

Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah, we’ve been talking before, so I rudely was just going to plunge ahead. But of course, you haven’t said hello to our listeners yet. I think one thing I want to start with is saying, this took me by surprise a little bit how many writers in our community have pretty serious limitations. And it seems to have grown more and more recently. And some of it, I think, is a coming out kind of thing and then some of it must be like an attraction thing the more that I’ve talked about.

Minor divergence and, you know, I added an issue with room on neurodivergence that probably was a bit of a hello over here ‘If you’d like to take a course with someone who is a little bit aware of these things’.

But I do want to also preface this by saying I don’t have all the answers or even many of them. I think there’s something called trauma -informed training, perhaps, because I’ve heard people mention that about trauma -informed things.

And I am not someone who has that training because I’m not even really sure what that is. I don’t really have specific knowledge on accessibility, just other than my own experience and working with writers and listening to what people need and trying to do that.

Meli Walker:

Yeah, I think it’s good to be approaching these kinds of things with curiosity and openness and more like building a library of knowledge for yourself about what can help people and what can support people.

I did a little bit of trauma informed training, but I’m certainly not a counselor or someone who’s a professional and you know, human services or caring for folks, but my understanding of it is that as soon as an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma.

So I think that kind of aligns nicely with the idea of making courses accessible, making programming for writers accessible because just assuming that someone might need the support instead of having people ask for it or having people have to come forward and come out in order to ask for help, so to speak.

So, you know, for this episode, you had posted in our Slack group, asynchronous communication platform that we use for feedback on and provided a list of like, you’re the things we’re already doing that we know that we’re doing on purpose to be accessible.

And then we got a bunch of feedback from writers about some other things that we could be doing or that would be helpful for them or things that have helped them in the past or have been difficult for them in the past.  And so just to say that I am working and learning on this as well.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah I think that’s really important to underscore because these are things that we’re doing but you know there’s so much more that can be done. And writers have told us that even too. Just even this week where we said oh we’re doing this oh yeah but you could also be doing this. So we’ll talk about what those things are. I also feel like I want to underscore that really this is like one person running this course in membership. Meli is a very part-time staff with me and so grateful for her support but it does make me think when we go through just some of the like simple accommodations that we’re able to do that. I wonder I haven’t been inside a writing program in an institution for a long time but I just am curious about how much of that is being offered right now maybe maybe a lot and it would be really interesting definitely to hear from anyone who has other experiences about what things have helped them better access courses and be able to have a safe and comfortable and creative and awesome experience because they were able to participate fully or as much as they could.

Meli Walker:

Yeah I agree.

Rachel Thompson:

I just want to touch on general accessibility type things that we do that I think a lot of people do already and probably know about and this is just in terms of kind of I guess what’s happening on

the website and in social media so like describing images so if I post an image I will put a description of the image especially of the person in the image as well too just so people who are using screen readers or who you know aren’t able to see the image are able to read a description we transcribed the podcast although doesn’t always happen right away but it does happen eventually for each episode we have a real human who is transcribing for us. Dia Jaffrey and she does a great job with that another thing is like using hashtags with capital letters that’s something that I learned from Amanda Liduk at the Fold who posted something about that years ago

Meli Walker:

But I think it’s called uppercasing.

Rachel Thompson:

Oh is it? Okay cool, yeah uppercasing hashtag. Yeah.

Meli Walker:

Just uppercase to just kind of give you that thing that the first letter of each word is capitalized.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah and what I understood is also screen readers then we’ll be able to discern words because I’ve had that too where I look at a hashtag. I’m like what does that mean because sometimes the letters form a different word that was unintended so it’s nicer for clarity to see it right away. I guess in terms of general accessibility to you know when we offer courses the live courses anyway I do offer some courses that are done entirely on your own although I’m available if people have questions and want to email me but during the live courses there’s like support offered we’re there to have live calls which we’re going to talk about in a moment and answer questions on Slack which Meli already mentioned our chat community where we can meet asynchronously and ask and answer questions and then another thing that and to mention in terms of general accessibility is first of all that online courses have automatic barriers and certainly cost is one of those but then also trying to have like sliding scale options so trying to make the courses a little bit more accessible for people with different financial needs at the time so that they can take courses.

I think that’s good on general but I want to get into how we meet and like how we connect with writers and the places we interact with them. The first is this is entirely done online the first course I ever offered was live human interaction in a library in Montreal but since then everything I’ve done has been completely online and I’ve actually moved away from where most writers I work with live but in fact they now live you know all over the world too that work with me so we meet across time and space and for someone myself with like executive functioning challenges a lot of our writers have that too it’s really hard to figure out time zones and be able to you know off the cuff explain okay what time are we meeting and when is this happening and so you know I use a tool called Calendly a lot for booking because people can book and get reminders which then also you know helps us remember oh we’re meeting in an hour we’re meeting tomorrow and then we also have for our membership we have a calendar that sets things in people’s time zones so one thing we do is we never say what time something is happening at we might say it in eastern we kind of declared eastern time in north america as our like standard time but otherwise we usually say you know click the link over to find out exactly what time this is happening at and those tools will translate into people’s time zones each time.

Meli Walker:

That’s part of the accessibility point we hope is that people are logging in from their own logins into the course materials so that they see the information in their own time zone. That’s just part of working online; it means that you miss some nonverbal information. So it’s important to sort of start with that awareness with the folks.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah in the calls themselves exactly like even Meli right now we’re meeting we see each other’s shoulders and heads we’re also looking at a document at the same time I see Meli’s nodding right now so it’s like okay Meli agrees with what I’m saying I think.  but there’s a lot of nonverbal things that aren’t clear on zoom and this is I mean sort of like the education that everyone has gone through since a lot of things were online from 2020 onwards so just sort of learning okay how do we communicate when there isn’t a lot of that nonverbal information happening and so when we do have live calls and we’ll do like live Q&A calls that people can join if they want to those things they’re often optional or they’re most often like in almost all of my courses are optional there’s one course where people meet and have workshop times that they have to if they sign up then they’re going to show up for those specific times for workshop but the Q&A calls are you know you can join live or you can listen to them in a recording and in those we really stress that being on camera is optional so that kind of works against the nonverbal information because then we don’t really get any kind of body language from those folks but it’s also I feel like helps people feel more comfortable with how they show up and whether they want to be recorded as well too and there’s a chat going on at the same time which can also be confusing and pose some challenges for people and it’s like oh there’s two streams of things happening at the same time that would allow people to participate or give head nods or whatever in the chat so we know we can read the room a bit better. We also built in body breaks so whenever possible it’s like if you’ve been meeting for 30 minutes or so we give a recommendation again optionally for people to stretch or take some water or do something like build a break into the call.

Meli Walker:

Lots of people appreciate being reminded that they don’t need to be on camera and that can be really helpful for other people you know if you’re moving around and the screen is moving that can be difficult for other people watching I guess but we also want to give people the option to be able to move as they want so anyways I find when I’m hosting calls I sort of repeatedly let people know that cameras are optional because a lot of people feel like they kind of need to mask or they need to perform that social obligation of being on camera and like that’s the only way to be a full participant and so we try to let people know that however you want to participate today is cool, is accepted, is welcome and so we sort of plan our live calls around to some extent if a lot of people are off camera we can still have the call go forward if it’s a Q&A call we may end up talking to one or two people on the call who have questions about the course while other people are listening in and maybe don’t have questions that day or don’t have the capacity to bring those questions live but it always helps for the people that are watching the recordings later or maybe people who are tuning in off camera the questions that people do ask usually help other students clarify things or help them feel less alone even or you know so it is still important to have that live time even if not everyone is face in the camera and nodding along doing the zoom nod which can be really tiring. The zoom nod to know that you’re listening can be really really tiring it can be very exhausting. I’m sure you don’t need to be neurodivergent or disabled to understand that experience I think that a lot of people experience that feeling of being tired after being on zoom putting on the zoom performance so yeah just giving people permission to be in their bodies and present how they can on is something that I repeat a lot maybe excessively but just to remind people because I myself even find it difficult as a facilitator find it difficult when I’m in spaces where I’m not a facilitator I sort of feel like I need to be on and so I you know maybe I’m even doing that for myself I’m going oh like I would need that extra reminder no seriously you really can turn your camera off or you really can just show up and wash your dishes or lay down in bed with something over your eyes and how that be on camera too like that’s cool to do that.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah and I’m thinking specifically of a workshop so that’s sort of like just our general Q&A calls but then also we have like workshopping courses where we’re discussing each other’s writing and there is kind of more of a requirement to show up so people like to turn on the camera but then in those calls you know specifically I had a writer one of many now actually since speaking with that writer or just my awareness has perked up and noticed so many more writers who have like post concussive syndrome and are unable to look at the screen for very long or it’s like just really like extra tiring extra harmful for them what we ended up discussing in the course or almost everything actually that I’m almost everything that I’m describing that we do has come because a writer has said oh I have this need so even you know the body breaks built in that I talked about came from a writer saying oh you know I really need to stretch my back after 30 minutes when we do these co-writing calls we’re writing together so then it was like well yeah let’s just add that on and so in the case of this person who had trouble looking at the screen for very long and we’re workshopping and it kind of felt like yeah we need to be on camera for that but there would be a point where I would be describing what’s happening for the week or giving like a mini lecture on something and so we would identify that as here is the time to turn your camera off because you really don’t need to be on camera for the next 15 minutes well Rachel’s talking about this thing and inevitably in that situation the writer who brought that we didn’t single her out or say oh we’re doing this because of this person but other writers who were there were just like oh my gosh thank you so you know like people were relieved that they could turn their camera off that there was like a time a specific time to turn the camera off so just to say that even when being on camera feels even more than an obligation but maybe a bit of a necessity for those smaller group calls that there are ways to perhaps build in a bit of a break. and then another thing that I just do naturally I think is I have a little small talk or unstructured time in calls and that’s just because I’m pretty good at organizing things when there’s a script and talking to people and having a conversation when it’s like oh okay what are we doing right now we’re on a mission we’re doing this and that and the other but having you know a little bit without a script I can be challenged and that’s part of why you know this podcast it does not have oh Meli what is the term for that that I’m always saying I don’t I don’t like podcasts with

Meli Walker:


Rachel Thompson:

Banter thank you, yeah. Banter is not something that I’m a fan of because I just don’t get it and it makes me feel very socially awkward actually because I’m pretty incapable of that so this is a case where this is built into the course because I’m the course offer and I need to build it into the way that the programs happen so there isn’t like our calls start right on the hour and they end right on the hour generally speaking there’s very and even if there’s sort of like a chat time

after it’s more like we’re talking about X and then we go around and each person you know brings up something from that subject it’s not super open. I don’t know. I think our writers definitely have been okay with that and have accommodated me if they would like to have more small talk or unstructured time. I guess continuing about utterances made with people’s mouths the theme here is the writers with misophonia so that’s like people who have challenges with different noises that are made before I knew that term I was aware and I do have some sensitivities around sound as well too and you know just been around different noises that I find difficult to be around and then also I think setting up for my podcast I remember listening to something with Sarah Werner the podcaster who created the right on podcast actually an article about like setting up for ideal sound because I recognize sound is so important in podcasting but one of the suggestions she had was to wear lip balm to stop smacking noises from your mouth and that is something that I do try to do every time I podcast in general I try to do that with the courses as well too. sometimes I can’t find lip balm and I slap on lipstick but in the very like wildly uncontrolled way so I don’t think it’s funny when I look back on our recordings and I have this sort of smeared lipstick but it really is because I’m trying to make sure that this happens to skin for people who are listening (Unintelligible 19:15) and replay later so if you’re in my course community and you’ve seen a video with me with like weird uneven lipstick it’s not necessarily a stylistic choice but it’s a sound choice because it’s also good for people with auditory processing challenges too it’s sort of like you just don’t need extra mouth noise, eating noises

Meli Walker:

Brushing your teeth can help as well the people making recordings brushing your teeth and brushing your tongue and your palate can really help with those extra mouth noises too

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah I find that even cleaning my teeth I don’t know why but it helps me because I have small articulation issues too as I have trouble with the word that word articulation ironically in that moment but yeah so I think just having a cleaner mouth somehow brightens my ability to speak. I’m not sure why. I pay a special attention to that when I’m recording any kind of audio and a lot of my courses now come with audio and we’re going to talk about the lessons coming up I maybe paid a little less attention when I was doing video because there’s so much other information to pay attention to and a side note to that I guess because there was all these other things to pay attention to I realized it was better just to record audio so most of my courses used to be offered as video courses and with like transitions and you know I was wearing the right clothes and my lipstick wasn’t smeared and I think it was better for me to focus really on the text and creating like the sort of audio experience for writers and again I think maybe this is like a post 2020 thing to where people are kind of tired of being on so many video calls and so just more video wasn’t necessary when it came to the deep thinking that’s required of doing these courses. I already mentioned transcribing I guess I didn’t mention captions too like we used to use a separate software for a long time that plugged into zoom and now zoom has a built-in caption but it’s not great still like it definitely I think what does it say instead of lit mag love it always is like lit mag just it doesn’t quite capture our specific language of writing

Meli Walker:

Yeah captions and you remind people where to find those settings in the zoom space

Rachel Thompson:

And when we do a live call with a lot of people mealy maybe I want to throw to you to talk about this because you do this recapping that happens in the chat too so it’s like in addition to the captions Meli is sort of if someone else is hosting probably myself or if we have a guest in Meli is there in the chat typing things out do you want to talk about how you approach that because I love how you do it

Meli Walker:

Yeah thank you I mean it started with someone would mention an author and a lot of times people will mention authors or mention books or mention websites or mention literary magazines or mention just various things that someone watching who doesn’t have the same writing experience or maybe is newer to the world of writing doesn’t know and so it started with me putting those links in the chat people would say well what author did you say or some people are you know afraid to ask that so just to not have to have people ask for that clarification I would just google it if I don’t know but and find the right spelling and put that in the chat so that people could follow up with that looking into that later if they want and then yeah and then we just started doing more and more of that where you know I would say oh the speaker’s name is now talking about submitting to residencies or now we’re looking at this writing prompt we’re doing a writing prompt for the next five minutes or we’re having a stretch break so that people can have the option to follow the chat if they want to they can turn the chat off if they find that overwhelming but then we also end up with a chat transcript that we can you and I Rachel in a transcriber even can use later to make sure that we check those references and we cross check and be able to have those notes you know some people would call them show notes in podcasting but that people could follow up on those things later and we would have sort of a record. so that’s really fun I like doing it I don’t think about anything else is which is a lot for me and really have a few different tracks going on and so it’s a really fun way for me to pay attention to pay deep attention to what’s happening and then hopefully people who need it benefit from that to.

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah you’re talking about the links that you drop and then also other writers may drop in another link and then we kind of communally build this list of resources that end up getting posted on alongside the video which is really helpful. for me who’s the one who’s taking the video posting it and then I’ve got this chat transcript that I can grab everything that we need from so that’s our live calls that we turn into recordings I’m sure there’s more we do even when I send out the list to the writers in our membership and course community to say hey these are the things off the top of my head that I think we’re doing and is there anything else that you found helpful or not helpful. I felt like I was probably missing many things and I’m sure I am now but I think the sound concerns and the meeting across time and space and then thinking about nonverbal information is all like really good places to start that feel to me like it’s just absolute essentials now it’s like we wouldn’t do a call without thinking of those things. so I’m gonna raise the slack and our chat right now and just one thing that’s come up recently although it’s funny because actually the same writer and another writer who also had a second recurrence of concussion had said during the first phase of recovery I was working with them and had said you know I’m having trouble reading on screen and I said you know was audio gonna work for you so within slack and they said yes and so I started sending audio messages to that writer within slack and then oddly it didn’t really become like something that was top of my mind or that became a practice for me but then just in this most recent cohort of lit mag love this most recent cohort of lit mag love a writer again was mentioning this in a Q&A call about how you know reading on screen was challenging and the writer had to pace himself as they went along and so I was able to ask you know is audio better for you that’s not always true because I’ve also encountered someone you know shortly after having a concussion who said actually both are just not great I just need no information and I need to lie down close my eyes so of course there’s not really much he can work around with that but if audio is a better option as it was for this writer realized well you know most of the messages and updates that I post I could also be posting as an audio message so we’ve been doing that too and it also creates you know slack itself generates a transcript also an inaccurate one with some kind of funny mistakes around literary language but yeah so it’s like it doesn’t add extra and it helps me even clarify what I wanted to say in the message to read it out loud and I’m just really happy that we have that accommodation to kind of lighten because someone’s struggling with reading on screen and they’re already taking an online course there’s a lot of reading on screen happening in the **Lit mag love** course they’re researching lit mags online there’s just a lot of reading so whatever we can do to lessen that reading load I think is beneficial.

Meli Walker:

Yeah just recognizing to that being in this digital space and having to navigate something like slack which some people haven’t encountered before just being aware that that might be new for people and reminding them that you know yes slack is where we’re posting our lessons for example or slack is where we’re communicating about some things that maybe aren’t on the course page that are more ephemeris or you know just questions and things like that but this isn’t a slack course this isn’t you know as you say to people this isn’t a technology course this is a writing course and so making sure that people understand that we are using this and it is because it’s sort of the best we have for now it does work for the most part but some people are not going to find it super comfy and just to be aware of that and to say you know you don’t have to absorb everything on slack you don’t have to respond to everything on slack you can re-ask a question if you’re going through the threads is difficult or just send a DM or here’s the email address or just letting people know that yeah we’re using slack but also you know there’s ways around it and hopefully the person is not missing out on the sense of community too much and the sense of doing something in a group too much and that slack is not so much of a barrier that they feel left out or cut out of the experience. yeah that’s a kind of a balance that we have to strike

Rachel Thompson:

Yeah like at the end of the day is an online course and you’re going to have to use your computer and it’s amazing and a miracle that we can communicate across this distance and do all this stuff like I always kind of try to remember that even as it’s like often challenging and can be stressful I think sometimes there’s a pressure that people feel that is a real thing too like to feel like oh I should know this or I should be able to learn how to do this more quickly and I think part of what we do in the first week of a course is really try to repeat that mantra a lot. This is not a technology course, this is a writing course. the reason I do that is to kind of take the shame out of that shamey feeling maybe that people have about oh I don’t get this I’ve never used this kind of chat tool before I don’t know how to attach a file I don’t know how to you know I also use PDFs in the course too and sometimes they’re fillable PDFs and writers don’t know how to fill in the PDF too and so it’s just like being clear that all of this is do what we’re asking you to do in the course in the best way that you know how so it’s like you don’t have to fill in the PDF you can just put text into the chat and then we kind of like take it from there we just are like okay does this work are you able to do this thing in the past I’ve done this more but we’ll send you know short videos just with like a step by step of how to do a simple task within Slack as well but then at the end of the day if that’s really challenging most people who are joining an online course know how to email and so it’s like just email me the information I’ve done that in the past too. we kind of like accommodate at all those different levels but at the same time I do try to coax people and I think if you can get out of that shame place around the tech which is easy to fall into when you feel kind of like oh everyone else gets this but not me if we can kind of calm down that shaming voice that makes things feel more fraught and challenging then people if they can have that breakthrough where they’re like oh I learned how to post this thing oh I’m able to answer something they do have a better experience in the course because they’re interacting with the other writers in the course I mean the other writers are often really great too and they’re just like you did it you know like nobody’s there judging people about their ability to use or not use tech and just coming up from poetry too there’s just so many people who were back when I started in poetry too were like just entrenched luddites as well to people who didn’t have email addresses so like that’s sort of those are my people even though I suspect most of them do now have had to succumb and have actual email addresses to stay connected in this very online world these days. I love that the people are really focused on paper. I mean I love real books I love things happening in real life as well too and so if that’s where people have spent most of their time that’s a lovely thing and yet also if you want to connect across the world, around the world with all these different writers this is what we’re using to do it and we’re here to help you figure it out.

Meli Walker:

I love to see when people show like their submission system for submitting to literary magazines and they brought it on a calendar like a printed calendar or they have it in a notebook or they you know and they drew their own table with the ruler and and this kind of thing because that’s you know embodied experience and a lot of people have need that connection to their body in that way to feel creative right it’s you know collage or writing by hand or that difference and so if that’s available to people and that’s comfortable to people then they should do that you know and they can send us a picture of it if they want or just tell us about it and say you know I have my calendar and that’s how I’m going to do it because that’s what works for me so yeah I think we try to make room for different ways of doing things I guess we’ll talk more about that in the lessons which is our next thing to talk about yeah.

Rachel Thompson:

So we’ve talked about live and recordings and the slack where we do the chat then the lessons themselves are on my website it’s like a private access thing so people have to log in one of the first things actually just speaking of that tech thing is people realizing oh what’s my login and how do I reset my password that’s sort of often the first step and also a good test for me to know okay where is this person at in terms of being able to use the online tools and then I kind of just watch out for that person who maybe had a little bit more of a challenge resetting their password I know okay we’re gonna have to help them get comfortable and slack and comfortable using the website as well when it comes to the lessons so they’re delivered as I mentioned often in audio now and there’s written text as well and a lot of writers tell me they just read the text and they never listen to the audio and that’s great too. it’s funny because I guess I thought for a while like the audio is being more of a transcript but some writers it’s not that they don’t listen to things or they have challenges listening to things but they just want to be able to read again it’s like we’re writers and we like reading so most of the courses I offer except for you know I was giving that exception of the workshop type ones but allow writers to complete the courses in their own time and way I help them with deadlines if people tell me early on you know I’m really someone who needs deadlines I need to know that you’re waiting for me then I will be like I’m here I have a deadline for you come on let’s go but if people have different levels of energy you know are running out of spoons is you know that’s come up a lot in the last week when people are like I’m out of spoons for this today then I allow for extra time and for people to work on the course in their own way and then also I give lifetime access to all the course materials so they’re able to work on things later if they need to sometimes we have like an extension. I’m usually my attention and feedback is limited to the five weeks of the course so the **Lit Mag Love** course is five weeks. the revision of course is also five weeks and that’s when I’m giving feedback to people but then they still have access after if they weren’t able to complete everything

Meli Walker:

Yeah that usually helps people feel a bit more space around things that they can take a rest and

take a break away from the course for you know several days of the week because they know that they have access to the course lessons later I think you know for me just thinking I would experience that more as being able to sort of just do it without doing it perfectly or doing it in this idealized way doing the lessons sort of going through them and going okay let me just have a bit of a lighter touch to it rather than you know this is my one chance to get this lesson right it’s like once this course is over in the live session I can just return to this I can log in again and I can say what was that lesson about you know revising in this particular way let me go look at that again and I know that I have that little library for myself for later I think that helps people I notice in the first week or so of a course. it’s said in most of the materials and when you sign up that you’ll have lifetime access but often people want to clarify that and just even hearing that again I think helps them go here I think they can just chill out a little bit because I know I can return to this.

Rachel Thompson:

Actually what you said just there about it being said on the course sign up page reminded me of something that I haven’t put on this list but it’s just knowing that people need information there’s just so much information out there in general and then when you’re taking a course like I have a very long page that’s with all the information of what’s in the course and for you to decide whether or not you’d want to sign up for it comments from past course participants to give you an idea of what the experience was like for some writers but it’s just a big page full of stuff and then we say in like the orientation calls in the welcoming emails everything is like you have lifetime access and still yet again this is said absolutely with no shame it’s about information overload in the first couple weeks or even halfway through the course someone will say do I still get to use these lessons after I’ve completed the course and we’re always able to say yes, yes you are. but it speaks to the fact that you do need to repeat things in different ways and show them at different times too where people are like just onboarding a lot of information things, are new to them. the course itself has a lot of things that are very new to people and they’re just learning busy learning and figuring things out and seeing things in different ways and it’s probably a big thing that I learned especially in the first years of offering courses and even now like we’re going to talk about some of the feedback we got to about getting set up for the lessons when we asked our writers this week about accessibility it’s just like there’s never a time where you’ve said things too many times you know like you just have to keep saying it over and over in different ways because there’s just so much information and it’s hard to remember everything and as much as I know how the course works and that you know all my courses have lifetime access then it doesn’t mean that people have just like picked that up the first time. also because it’s a bit different, maybe it’s not like always the case. in a lot of courses it’s like you can do the course during the course period and that’s it yeah so well Meli do you mind bringing the feedback from writers about getting set up for the courses too?

Meli Walker:

In preparation for this episode as you mentioned we asked people glad to the list of things that

you know we thought we were already doing and let us know if we’ve missed anything and then in that we’re usually receptive to feedback in general so some folks brought forward some things that would help them and you know I think that’s how a lot of these things get and then in the first place is because we get feedback so you know appreciating that people bring these things forward because you know often we miss them or we just it’s not our experience and so we’re learning and trying to accommodate these things as they come. so yeah so anyway so people gave us feedback and there were some feedback about like making sure that people feel prepared and know what to expect about the course before the course starts rather than at the outside of the course that’s something that you know into some extent from our own perspective we have the course page and like Rachel has said there’s all the information at the sign up and so it becomes this thing of adding information adding information but also it’s about how that information is presented and when that information is presented and who presents that information and how is it made available so for example someone said I’d like to have a full syllabus and a layout of all the like logistical aspects of the course before I start the course and so that’s a great point for sure and so that’s something that we can work on and then there are other writers who will say well I can only pay attention to the course when the course starts I want to just show up live and have things described for me or prepared for me or you know so that I can ask questions as we go and that works for some people so I think with any education especially in a more dominant or more traditional education there’s doing the course material there’s learning about physics or there’s learning about submitting to lit mags or learning how to do the calculations the actual content of the course but then there’s the logistics of doing the course that can be a real barrier for people so it can really help people if they can understand what to expect. like where’s this link what’s gonna happen here when are these calls and should I spend the spoons or use the spoons to attend that call or not.

Rachel Thompson:

people just need different forms of information I think and some folks just want to like just go along for the ride and it’s like I need to know what’s happening next I don’t need the big picture and some people really need the big picture and I think part of that feedback too was like coming from people with neurodivergence I may be misstating this and I apologize to the people who are listening if you were one of the people giving feedback but I think there was like anxiety related to that too so that kind of anticipation as well too and just like for my own anxiety I need there to be clarity about everything that’s happening and I need it captured in a piece of paper that I can hold in my hands so note taken on that and actually at the outset of this call I meant to dimension this too which is you know getting feedback like that too in a way I didn’t intend it this way but but maybe it felt a bit like I would want to take a little victory lap of like oh isn’t this great all these cool things that we do for accessibility and I want to share it on my podcast and tell other people doing writing programs about that but also of course you know people can and should because I’m open to this say what’s not working for them and what comes up sometimes is a little bit of defensiveness where I’m like but what about my victory laughs. I’m going on the victory lap about how great you know all these great things that we’ve done. and I think it just requires constantly learning and listening to what writers mean.

Meli Walker:

Yeah I think too there’s like the wave of just that little splash of feeling lost of not having done enough or just empathizing with someone feeling a little adrift and knowing what that feels like but mostly I think we’re both grateful that people feel safe enough to give us the feedback right like that’s not something that is a given in a lot of educational or learning spaces or community spaces for someone to say what doesn’t work I think just shows that they feel safe to do that and they feel that that will be received well or received with kindness or with compassion or understanding and so that’s part of being a writer and being a facilitator is having reflection and saying okay what part of this is me in my own feelings and what part of this is a sadness that I’m feeling at not being able to do you know me dealing with my own limitations how can I respond in a way that’s helpful and not hurtful how can I use this as a growing opportunity you know and how can I just feel grateful that I have this group space where people are learning and changing and growing together in a way that feels creative and exciting and curious and open which are part of the guidelines of the community you know.

Rachel Thompson:

I think also related to that is we are committed to listening and trying to make things as accessible as possible but you know people can also bring their own accessibility you know like it’s sort of like do things in your own way as long as it works too it’s sort of like well actually the way that Rachel’s presented this information doesn’t work for me I need to do this that or the other and if that’s something you’re able to do then that’s great and sometimes people will come into courses too and kind of ask me for permission to break the rules which I always find deliciously ironic because it’s like you want to break the rules but you want me to say it’s okay to break the rules and always I say “Yes, of course” like do this in a way that is going to work for you and serve your ability to participate in the course.

Meli Walker:

One of the next things we’re going to talk about as an example is having alternatives to mindfulness or you know sort of meditative or contemplative sort of getting in your body grounding centering activities maybe you want to talk a bit more about that Rachel about what that means but that’s another example of like you know maybe receiving feedback or in your own experience realizing oh I need some way of like being embodied before I get into the writing or I need to have a transition time between like you know I just packed all the lunches or got that other paid work out the door and now it’s time for me to do my creative writing and so I want this transition of meditation or mindfulness to get me into the generative writing and then you know we find out that actually that doesn’t work through beta testing which is something we haven’t mentioned is that courses get beta tested as well and so we get a lot of feedback that includes accessibility pieces there and so coming to find out that actually some people are skipping those pieces or fast forwarding through or you know and so figuring out again what is the right form for this content to give that to people who need it but it also let other people skip it if they don’t need it is kind of an example of how to be flexible and provide fluidity and options for people.

Rachel Thompson:

yeah that’s a very recent example where I beta tested a course with guided writing in it and the feedback was so mixed it was hard for me to figure out what to do exactly because especially people with ADHD said that mindfulness just kind of gets them off track they need to start right on track and not have okay you know we don’t need the invitation to breathe deeply and get centered before starting this writing session but then on the other hand a lot of the other writers in the course said they need that they absolutely was essential to them so trying to figure out how to do both of those things and basically I ended up building language within the recording itself for that lesson so it was like I front loaded the permissions look to say do this in the way that works for you this is what I’m going to do for the next little bit but you can do your own thing and then come into the writing that aspect actually like talking with people with ADHD or you know I mentioned people who have most concussive symptoms and you know these types of really specific conditions that have specific needs within our course community is something I do hope that’s part of what I want to do in the podcast this year is actually dig a little deeper into those and learning from writers about how they give themselves those permissions lips and how they do that kind of DIY working around within the course because they have specific needs or what are just simple things that people have done to help them participate more fully and I guess another way of the DIY too it’s just there was a lovely thread recently in our Slack community of writers who were talking about this challenge of being able to read for long times on screen and then helping each other figure out on their computer how to get the reading voice to read their text out loud so that’s just one example of you know a work around that’s not something it’s not like that I’ve built that particular readout for certain texts because certainly like some of my courses it’s like you go and you read an article or you read a piece of Flash memoir for example in the course we just beta tested and those aren’t offered with audio not a lot you see a few lit mags now offering audio versions but it’s not that common and so to be able to figure out how to do that yourself on your own computer is kind of cool and it was really cool to see the writers who had the same challenge talking about this is what I do and this is the software that I’m using this is the tool that comes built into my computer I think getting into some of those specifics will be something that will be really exciting to talk more about in upcoming episodes as we turn this into a series.

Meli Walker:

yeah I’m looking forward to that and just a reminder of how community is really powerful and important because you know as individuals the culture puts a lot of responsibility on us to transform things on our own and I think change happens in groups and communities and in collective energy and gathering knowledge and sharing that knowledge and being transparent and being reflective and willing to grow so yeah I feel grateful that we’re talking about this.

Rachel Thompson:

Me too, so thank you for talking about this with me today. I think that’s it in terms of what we’ve done again. This is like the initial list and then the initial list kind of created more to-do lists of things that we can work on as well. I do plan to talk with writers about some of the specifics of what they are doing to have better access to courses and you know writing with limitations and writing with disability thank you Meli for joining me to talk about this today

Meli Walker:

Thank you

Rachel Thompson:

So that was our conversation on making our writing community more accessible as you heard one of the benefits of turning our attention to this for the podcast episode for this very episode was getting feedback about some of the immediate things we could do as we bring new writers into the course community so we’ll be working on even more changes soon and more adaptations as we can in the coming months and years I’m sure watch the speed for the run of episodes where I sit down with writers in our community to get really specific about various challenges they face for writing, what they need, how they get their needs met, what it’s like to write when you have barriers in your own body’s ability and barriers that exist in our writing community.

The Write, Publish, and Shine podcast is brought to you by me, Rachel Thompson. Production assistance by Meli Walker. Sound Editing by Adam Linder. Our transcripts are made by Diya Jaffery.

You can learn more about my work to help writers write, publish, and shine at When you’re there, sign up for my Writerly Love letters, sent every week and filled with support for your writing practice.⁠

If this episode encouraged you to ask for things you need in your writing community or adapt how you work with writers I would love to hear all about it. You can always email me at

And tell other luminous writers about this episode. You can do this by sending them to the podcast at or searching for Write, Publish, and Shine wherever they get their podcasts.

Thank you for listening—I encourage you to support one another in our writing community and ask for what you need.

I am a settler-Canadian, born in Treaty One Territory and raised in Treaty Two Territory.

I’m recording on the lands of the el-Muzzina Bedouin in South Sinai, Egypt. This is beside the Red Sea, in relative proximity Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis has reached catastrophic levels. Sadly, my government in Canada recently cut funding to the UNRWA, jeopardizing the lifeline for millions in Palestine. Much more aid is required to meet those needs, not less. The consequences these cuts in funding will have on the ground contradict the provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice, which include immediate measures to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid flows into Gaza. This is a terrible step backward when we need to be calling for more humanitarian aid and a ceasefire.

My name is Meli Walker. I’m recording from the territories of the Sechelt and Squamish nations, people who’ve cared for these lands and sea for millennia and continue to do so. I believe the future is and should be Indigenous-led.

Transcript Outline

00:01 Introduction to this episode.
00:33 Meli’s introduction
01:07 Navigating Accessibility in Online Writing Communities



Understanding Writer Limitations

Strategies for Inclusive Online Course Communities

10:18 Navigating Nonverbal Communication in Online Calls





Creating Inclusive Spaces

Addressing Sensory Challenges

Slack and Beyond

Embracing Diversity in Learning Styles and Accessibility





Creating a Supportive Learning Environment

Embracing Different Approaches to Writing Preparation

Community Power

Accessibility in Action: From Feedback to Adaptation

48:37 Ending words

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