Books & Articles

Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation

Restricted Access (New York University Press, 2016) investigates digital media accessibility—the processes by which media is made usable by people with particular needs—and argues for the necessity of conceptualizing access in a way that will enable greater participation in all forms of mediated culture.

“Restricted Access transforms our understanding of what ‘access’ means in an age when so much writing on new media fetishizes participation. Elizabeth Ellcessor reveals the ways in which ability, culture, and technology are all entangled in questions of accessibility. Timely and sophisticated, Ellcessor’s book is a major advance in media studies and disability studies, and will also be of great interest to scholars in policy.”

—Jonathan Sterne, author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format

Through interviews with policy makers and accessibility professionals, popular culture and archival materials, and an ethnographic study of internet use by people with disabilities, this book reveals the assumptions that undergird contemporary technologies and participatory cultures. Restricted Access makes the crucial point that if digital media open up opportunities for individuals to create and participate, but that technology only facilitates the participation of those who are already privileged, then its progressive potential remains unrealized.

Restricted Access relies upon evocative examples to demonstrate the importance of alternate uses, marginalized voices, and invisible innovations in the context of disability identities to push us to rethink digital media accessibility. Many of these examples are archived for review and teaching purposes.

“Ellcessor invites us to reflect upon digital media contexts from the
standpoint of disability and to reconsider the concept of accessibility through a multidisciplinary lens, engaging and linking both critical disability studies and media contemporary cultural studies to see how these fields might inform one another from a theoretical and methodological view.”
– Amalia Hoban, Disability & Society, 2018

“With a multidisciplinary lens, comprising media and cultural studies, disability studies, ethnography, and critical theory, Ellcessor formulates an “access kit” of five specific tools (regulation, use, form, content, and experience) to approach interactions across bodies, cultures, and technologies from diverse angles. Not only does this kit structure the book’s chapters, but it also provides future researchers with a remarkably useful methodology adaptable to their specific interests, case studies, and findings.”
– Ekin Pinar, Film Criticism, 2017

“Restricted Access lived up to the heady expectations promised by its name. Ellcessor’s depth of knowledge, the breadth of her research, and the painstaking detail with which she articulates her points makes this book a must read for academics, as well as technical communicators working in the health, software fields, or Web publishing fields.”
– Nicole St. Germaine-Ditts, Technical Communication, 2016

Interviews & Press


Disability Media Studies

Disability Media Studies (NYU Press, forthcoming 2017), co-edited by Bill Kirkpatrick, proposes the formation of a field of study, based in the rich traditions of media, cultural, and disability studies.

This book is intended to be accessible, teachable, and friendly to newcomers to the study of disability and media alike. Case studies include familiar contemporary examples—such as Iron Man 3 (2013), Lady Gaga, and Oscar Pistorius—as well as historical media, independent disability media, reality television, and media technologies. Chapters consider disability representation, the role of media in forming cultural assumptions about ability, the construction of disability via media technologies, and how disabled audiences respond to particular media artifacts.

Each chapter is preceded by a short abstract, orienting the reader by explaining the background and contribution of the essay. Additionally, two afterwords—one by Rachel Adams, the other by Mara Mills and Jonathan Sterne—reflect upon the collection, the ongoing conversations, and the future of disability media studies.


Emergency Media: Immediate Access, Instant Alert

This current book project examines the effect of digital technologies on the field of “emergency media”—those media technologies, services, and forms of content that are intended for individual use in extremis. Case studies include 9-1-1, mobile applications, and social media.

Of particular concern are questions of access and identity in a time of digitization, privatization, and rampant inequalities. How may new technologies restrict access to needed media and services, and how might users (citizens) push back to enlarge access and challenge the ideological limitations of “emergency”?

Selected Articles

“‘One Tweet to Make So Much Noise’: Connected Celebrity Activism in the Case of Marlee Matlin,” New Media & Society (2016). doi:10.1177/1461444816661551

Cyborg Hoaxes: Disability, Deception, and Critical Studies of Digital Media.“ New Media & Society (2016). doi:10.1177/1461444816642754

“Is There a Sign for That? Sign Language Interpretation and the Visibility of Access.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology. 23:4 (2015). 586-598.

Blurred lines: Accessibility, disability, and definitional limitations” First Monday. 20:9 (2015).

“<ALT=”Textbooks”>: Web Accessibility Myths as Negotiated Industrial Lore” Critical Studies in Media Communication. 31:5 (2014)

Tweeting @feliciaday: Online Social Media, Convergence and the Subcultural Stardom of Felicia Day.” Cinema Journal. 51:2 (2012). 46-66.

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