Salon 9: October 13, 2020: Accessible Bits

Critical Writing
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At a recent ELO meeting about options for increasing the accessibility of Deena Larsen’s work "Chronic", Deena mentioned us that the next ELO Virtual salon would be dedicated to the topic of accessibility. Since I am writing an essay about the accessibility of electronic literature, Deena invited me to share my work-in-process at the salon.


My essay rewrites and overwrites, with all the political and creative connotations those terms contain, Joseph Tabbi’s essay "Electronic Literature as World Literature, or, the Universality of Writing under Constraint" through the lens of disability. Using three small case studies, I explore the concept of digital accessibility through the concepts of defamiliarization and writing under constraint.

Electronic literature uses defamiliarization to provide a powerful force against mainstream rhetoric surrounding digital media, considering reader engagement and reflection in its success rather than attention counted in time and size of the audience. Using Eugenio Tisselli's The Gate as a case study, I argue that for a work to defamiliarize, its authors need to consider what is familiar to a variety of audiences.

In electronic literature, the practice of writing under constraint is widely accepted as a creative catalyst; through self-imposed textual restraints, we find new meanings and forms. I argue that constraints can become meaningful through  the lens of disability because you have to interrogate your medium by making it more accessible. I use Franci Greyling's Byderhand as an example.

Not every work can be made accessible for everyone, but one must still think through which groups of people are systematically excluded. Through the case study of Lyle Skains' No World 4 Tomorrow, I argue that considering accessibility is key in successfully addressing the intended audience.


During the long and engaged discussion that followed, we considered various elements of accessibility, including the overlap and difference between literary constraints and accessibility restraints, the necessity of identifying intended audiences, how to experience works created by disabled authors. More practically, we discussed various approaches that could help us improve the Accessible Bits document, including types of tagging and spider graphs.

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Hannah Ackermans