Image of performer at Cripping the Arts

Cripistomologies of Disability Arts Culture: Reflections on the Cripping the Arts Symposium

A special issue of Studies in Social Justice co-edited by Eliza Chandler, Katie Aubrecht, Esther Ignagni, and Carla Rice

Through reflecting on Cripping the Arts, a symposium held in January 2019 in Toronto, this collection of articles and dispatches reflects on Deaf, mad, and disability arts and culture in Canada from various cripistemological perspectives (Johnson & McRuer, 2014). Cripistemologies seek to ‘know’ disability from the perspectives of disabled people and disability experience. 

The articles and dispatches in this special issue position ‘cripping the arts’ – a project that centres disability and desires its disruptions in creating, programming, and experiencing arts and culture – as a political project, one that is connected to disability studies, rights, and justice. As a collection, these pieces demonstrate how representation through arts and culture is a matter of social justice for how it promotes cripistomologies and influence public understanding of the multiple and intersectional experiences Deafhood, madness, and disability through first-person perspectives.

Image description: A performer from Brownton Abbey stretches out a large piece of bright pink fabric, which covers their body. The performer is positioned in a forward motion. The wall behind them is a vibrant blue.

Summaries of each contribution

The special issue begins with a conversation between Vanessa Dion Fletcher (Potawatomi and Lenape) and Max Ferguson. The two artists discuss Dion Fletcher’s performance piece Finding Language: A Word Scavenger Hunt, which she performed at the Cripping the Arts Symposium. 

Andrea Lamarre, Carla Rice, and Kayla Besse elaborate on their panel discussion at the Symposium on how the crip cultural practice of Relaxed Performances is changing theatre in Canada.

Becky Gold’s article thinks through the role that interdependent relationships, leadership, and mentorship play in the professional development of disability artists. These are topics explored in the Leadership panel discussion Gold moderated at the Symposium.

Eliza Chandler, Esther Ignagni, and Kimberlee Collins describe and reflect on the process of creating an accessible version of the Symposium’s program.

Mary Bunch’s essay takes up Bruce Horak’s “Through a Tired Eye,” an exhibition mounted at Tangled during the Symposium, as an invitation to think differently about visual art, visuality, and spectatorship through her conception of “blind epistemology”.

Through reflective sketches, Jenelle Rouse offers an account of her experience at the Symposium as a culturally Deaf attendee and artist.

Stephanie Springgay thinks with Vanessa Dion Fletcher’s artistic practice and how it animates feminist Indigenous sovereignty and decolonizes understandings of neurodiversity. 

In an interview with Esther Ignagni, artist David Bobier recounts his 30-year history of working in Deaf and disability arts. Bobier and the VibraFusionLab use vibrotactile technologies to centre Deaf and disability experiences and change our cultural interactions.

Christine Kelly and Michael Orsini’s essay reflects on the neoliberal demand for arts organizations to prove their value and impact using metrics. 

Chelsea Jones, Nadine Changfoot, and Kirsty Johnson detail the Symposium’s Representation panel they facilitated, in which panelists discussed the politics of representation in arts journalism and possibilities for reviewing Deaf, mad, and disability arts in solidarity with the artists and their communities.

Taeyoon Choi, Aaron Labbe, Annie Segarra, and Syrus Marcus Ware with Elizabeth Sweeney’s dispatch details the artists’ practices and describes how Deaf, mad, and disability art, disabled people, and disability wisdoms are core to envisioning, enacting, and living into the future.

Thickening Fat: Fat Bodies, Intersectionality, and Social Justice

Authors: May Friedman, Carla Rice, and Jen Rinaldi

Book cover

Thickening Fat: Fat Bodies, Intersectionality, and Social Justice seeks to explore the multiple, variable, and embodied experiences of fat oppression and fat activisms. Moving beyond an analysis of fat oppression as singular, this book will aim to unpack the volatility of fat—the mutability of fat embodiments as they correlate with other embodied subjectivities, and the threshold where fat begins to be reviled, celebrated, or amended. In addition, Thickening Fat explores the full range of intersectional and liminal analyses that push beyond the simple addition of two or more subjectivities, looking instead at the complex alchemy of layered and unstable markers of difference and privilege.

You can order the book at Routledge 

Reflections on Cripping the Arts in Canada

Author: Eliza Chandler

Tangled Art + Disability is a nonprofit organization in Toronto dedicated to cultivating disability art through supporting the artistic development of disability, Deaf, and Mad-identified artists (here collectively called disability artists), creating exhibition opportunities for disability artists, and working to bring about systemic change toward a more inclusive arts culture.

Since the 1970s, disability arts organizations across Canada have been working independently and collectively in an effort to bring disability arts into recognition at the levels of audience engagement, funding support by arts councils, and growth in exhibition opportunities.

Disability artists and curators have worked to gain public recognition by producing politically and creatively important artwork, by developing professional practices within and outside largely ableist and inaccessible arts training programs and facilities, and by collaborating on efforts to educate provincial and federal cultural funding bodies about what disability arts are and how to create culturally responsive funding streams to support the development and showcasing of this arts sector.

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Living dis/artfully with and in illness

Authors: P. Douglas, C. Rice, & A. Siddiqui

This article experiments with multimedia storytelling to re-vision difference outside biomedical and humanistic frames by generating new understandings of living dis/artfully with illness. We present and analyze seven short videos created by women and trans people living with illness as part of an arts-based research project that aimed to speak back to hegemonic concepts of disability that create barriers to healthcare. We call for a welcoming in of disability studies’ disruptive and re-imaginative orientations to bodily difference to unsettle medicine’s humanistic accounts. In turn, we advance medical post-humanistic approaches that call on disability studies to re-embody its theories and approaches.


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Relaxed performance: exploring accessibility in the canadian theatre landscape

Report Highlights: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape (2020) is a booklet that presents findings from the May 2019 Report on Relaxed Performance (RP) research on RP training across Canada, co-sponsored by the British Council and Bodies in Translation.

Summarizing the first research on Relaxed Performance in Canada, the Report Highlights booklet engages interview, survey, and environmental scan findings to understand representations of RP and explore experiences and impacts of RP training across the country. The booklet relates the findings to disability arts and legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA, and Bill C-81: The Accessible Canada Act. 

The results weave together a beautiful web of evidence synthesizing four broad domains: 1) experiences of and recommendations for training, 2) research and theory, 3) community building, and 4) policy.

Use the booklet to deepen your understanding and practice of access in theatre, or to learn more about creative ways that people are moving toward greater accessibility in the arts.

The Report Highlights: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape booklet features large text, easy-to-read language, images, icons for visual communication, and alt text for easier access, and is available in English, French, and Spanish.                        

Download the booklet in English
Download the booklet in French

RP report

Download the full 2019 report here


Relaxed Performance: Exploring Access is a series of 3 videos in which arts practitioners from the UK and Canada explore the principles and practices of Relaxed Performance in the arts.

Access each video in ASL, LSQ, English Closed Captions (CC), French Open Captions (OC), and with extended audio description (AD).

What is a Relaxed Performance? 
Qu’est ce qu’une représentation décontractée?

How do we incorporate Relaxed Performance in digital media?
Comment intégrer la représentation décontractée aux médias numériques?

What are the broader effects of Relaxed Performance on society?
Quels sont les effets plus étendus de la representation décontractée sur la société?

This video, in ASL, explores the question, what is a Relaxed Performance? Follow the links above to access each video in ASL, LSQ, English Closed Captions (CC), French Open Captions (OC), and with extended audio description (AD).

The Exploring Access videos are part of our larger Relaxed Performance offering which includes resources and materials for arts practitioners, arts organizations, scholars, and the public. Find these resources on the Access Activators website.

Co-produced by British Council, Tangled Art + Disability, and Bodies in Translation with the support of Canada Council for the Arts and The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Cripistemologies in the city: ‘walking- together’ as sense-making

Authors: Eliza Chandler, Megan Johnson, Becky Gold, Carla Rice, Alex Bulmer

Throughout this article, we take up works of disability artists whose practices engage with the act of walking/traversing as a method and form of sense-making. Specifically, we take up two performances by blind theatre artist Alex Bulmer—May I Take Your Arm (2018) and Blind Woman in Search of a Narrative (2018-2020) —in which walking, specifically ‘walking-together,’ is embedded as both a performative element and an integral mode of inquiry. We think about what Bulmer’s works, along with works by Carmen Papalia and Arseli Dokumaci, teach us about knowing and being known through an urban landscape, creating a “cripistemology” (McRuer & Johnson 2014) that builds on David Serlin’s (2006) notion of “disabling the flâneur.” Throughout this arts- based inquiry, we suggest that Bulmer advances a practice of “cripping the flâneur” (Campbell, 2010) as she demonstrates how we might come to know ourselves, our cities, our neighbours, and blindness through the epistemological vantage-point of blindness.

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Healthcare providers’ experiences as arts-based research participants: “I created my story about disability and difference, now what?”

Authors: Phyllis Montgomery, Sharolyn Mossey, Carla Rice, Karen McCauley, Eliza Chandler, Nadine Changfoot, Angela Underhill

Little is known about the experiences of healthcare providers as research participants in qualitative studies employing methods that encourage disclosure of their own disabilities. In this paper, we describe the experiences and implications of creating personal stories of disability and difference for healthcare provider participants in an arts-based study. The study design is a supplementary secondary analysis of a subset of data from a larger study focused on transforming negative concepts of disability and difference entitled, Mobilizing New Meanings of Disability and Difference: Using Arts- Based Approaches to Advance Healthcare Inclusion for Women with Disabilities. This supplementary study explores the experiences and perspectives of 17 healthcare provider participants who completed semi-structured interviews following creation of a multi-media story about their experience of disability or difference. Using creative non- fiction methods, two narrative streams are identified about healthcare provider experiences and the impacts of participating. The first addresses shared positive experiences about the research. The second entails more ambivalent reflections on their involvement as participants. The tension between the two experiences generates considerations to forward a mutually beneficial alliance to disrupt ableist understandings in healthcare and reveals new meanings of disability that are agential and integral to the stories and storytellers themselves.

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