kNow Access 2019-2020

We are pleased to share with you our 2019-2020 kNow Access Collage! This is a multi-media collection of how our thoughts, practices, questions, and ideas of access in the arts have evolved over the past year. The collection represents a range of perspectives from artists, curators, scholars and thinkers from within the BIT team and beyond. As you explore this Collage, you’ll find reflections on how access is changing during Covid time and the pivot to online programming; how Hamraie’s concept of “critical access” (2017) is shifting the ways we approach access; resources on access as it intersects with race and gender, and more. We invite you to use this rich resource in your classes, workshops, planning sessions, curriculum development, and more! And please share widely. We are interested to hear your thoughts as you engage this College, so please get in touch through our website or social media channels.

Access in a pandemic / Access in public / Access in the future / Resources

Access in a Pandemic

“This year has obviously been a big one for thinking about access. I shifted to online teaching before the pandemic hit, but the pandemic brought the need to be engaged with students as accessible teaching practice all the more real. It really hit me this year that relationship is at the heart of access. I think I knew this all along, but it’s infused my praxis more than ever this year.”

—Andrea LaMarre

“At this moment I find it impossible to consider the notion of access without considering the ways that parents and caregivers are currently largely overlooked in the context of pandemic work plans.  The “third shift” of planning, managing, supporting, etc (O’Reilly) is always underestimated but it’s never been more evident to me than right now when I’m meant to simultaneously be a full time parent and a full time worker and as a result feel like I’m always failing at both.”

May Friedman

—from “Fashioning Masculinity in Confinement,” by Ben Barry

“A poem for isolation,” by Julia Gray

Distance. Kept away. Stopped.

Purposefully left out. Going in another direction.

Deciding to turn. Not that way.

Who decides who gets to join?

Is it peer review?

Is it a zoom meeting?

Is it a job?

Is it a park bench? Or a grocery store? Or a sidewalk?

Is it a cuddle in a blanket fort?

Giggles and laughter.

Please make space.

From April 24 – May 20, 2020, Creative Users Projects hosted a series of online co-design thinking workshops facilitated by guest artists to open dialogue about accessing the arts and share stories around what it means to access artistic experiences pre and post COVID-19.

Participants shared their memorable experiences as artists and audience members, as well as the ways the current health crisis is impacting their communities or individual lives.

Accessing the Arts focus groups

Access in Public

Access Activator Training, February 2020: In partnership with Tangled Art + Disability, in association with Inside Out Theatre, and with the support of Canada Council for the Arts, we invited facilitators in the cultural sector committed to access in the arts to participate in a professional development training and join a national network of Access Activators. My idea of access changed this year by spending valuable time with a group of dedicated, enthusiastic and caring people.

Carrie Hage, Arts Manager, British Council Canada

Collage of images on table

An image of 22 colourful felt squares with individual designs using pom-poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, cut-outs and words to represent what the Access Activator Training symbolized for the participants. Some words on the squares are ASL = Access; Action Hope; Love, Growth, Respect; Access Opening Heart; Hands up if you’re not relaxed but your performance is; Access is feelings; For the love of people; sense it, feel it, hear it, BUZZ; Creating new stars.

Art in Translation (a project of Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology and Access to Life) serves to document and publish projects, exhibitions, artistic projects and research initiatives co-produced by Bodies in Translation and collaborating artists, scholars, and community members. Check out our latest catalogue, from the Cripping the Arts symposium.

Using a digital platform, Art in Translation aims to provide artistic content in a range of accessible formats, including giving our readers the option to customize their viewing experience using a user interface tool designed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Art in Translation:
A Digital Catalogue Series

This video features two short video clips of David Bobier interacting with his installation pieces, “Talking to Myself” and “Knowledge Keeper.” From Body Language, an exhibition at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery September 21, 2019 – January 05, 2020.

“I’ve been speaking with Eliza Chandler a lot this year about accessible curation as an action invoking crip activism. Specifically, my understanding of accessibility standards and best practices has really shifted thanks to our conversations around Aimi Hamraie’s Building Access, which explores ideas investigating the activist roots of accessibility and how they tie to the disability rights and justice movements. While creative access has always been at the core of how I curate and program, I’m beginning to consider how accessible curation can be seen as an extension of accessible design, and thus it can be designated as a site of meaning-making and world-building.”

Sean Lee, Programming Director, Tangled Art + Disability

Access in the Future

“I’ve been thinking about something a lot for the past…eight months, and I think I believe it now.

I don’t think I write plays.

A year ago, I told my hot house group at Cahoots that I am not a playwright I am an artist.

I wonder about…not making plays at all.

I am a storyteller.

I am a mixed materials tactile artist.

I am a nonvisual artist.

I am a devised, interdependent collective maker.

I do not want to be confined by a product.

This feels community-based. This feels natural.

This feels like a practice.

And my easiest, favourite, most delicious and exciting role is dramaturgy. I love to be the midwife for Disabled artists and their ideas and experiences and their liberation.

I love dreaming. Disability Dreaming….

Disability Dramaturgy Dreaming

Dreaming as world making, world building.”

Jessica Watkin

Big Softie and the Unidentified Remains, Unfired clay and found textile soft sculpture. Exhibited in Body Farm at Tangled Art + Disability, 2019.

Big Softie and the Unidentified Remains

Unfired clay and found textile soft sculpture. Exhibited in Body Farm at Tangled Art + Disability. 2019. Photo: Michelle Peek. Image description: Two people reach out to touch Big Softie’s guts, which are soft and dimpled and made from stuffed knee socks and nylon stockings, and examine the Unidentified Remains that are scattered amongst them. At the centre of it all lies Big Softie’s heart, a red patchwork soft sculpture with tendrils extending outward. What is inside Big Softie’s heart?

“I think in the past year I’ve realized that it isn’t an obligation to make things accessible. It is, instead, a privilege to include all humans in whatever I am doing. Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought – it should be a way of doing life and seeing the world. It should be a constant journey of acknowledging my biases and privilege, and dismantling the ways my actions have contributed to segregation rather than integration of all people. 

Working towards access and inclusion has reminded me of my need for humility. I hope to have a heart of curiosity, so that I can always grow, learn, and become better so that other people feel welcomed and loved in my presence. I think we all have a hunger to be seen, acknowledged, and affirmed. Accessibility and inclusion offer that to me, and in turn allows me to offer it to others. It is such a joy to have a very small part in building bridges and spaces for all people to have a seat at the table.”

Angie Lang

Hand gripping tangled ball of yarn
A hand is full of and covered by a multi-coloured, multi-textured mess of yarn.

Contributors explore the tensions that shape how disability and aging are understood, experienced, and responded to at both individual and systemic levels, while avoiding the common tendency to conflate these overlapping elements and map them onto a normative, faulty notion of the human life trajectory.

This perceptive work analyzes the distinction between aging with a disability and aging into disability, and reveals how multiple identities, socio-economic forces, culture, and community give form to our experiences.

Available now from UBC Press.

The cover of the Aging-Disability Nexus book.
A selfie of Max, from the shoulders up, looking at the camera in three quarters view. His hair is shaved on one side, and almost shoulder length on the other, with ear piercings visible on one side. He has a light amount of facial hair and stubble, with sideburns visible on one side.
A selfie of Max, from the shoulders up, looking at the camera in three quarters view. His hair is shaved on one side, and almost shoulder length on the other, with ear piercings visible on one side. He has a light amount of facial hair and stubble, with sideburns visible on one side.

Meet Max Ferguson! Max is Tangled Art + Disability’s 2020 Curator-in-Residence. The Tangled Art + Disability Curator Residency is an opportunity for Mad, Deaf and/or Disability-identified curators to think critically about and develop accessible, crip curatorial practices through a disability cultural lens and crip aesthetics. This residency is co-developed and supported in partnership with Bodies in Translation.

Max (Sarah) Ferguson has been a practicing artist since 1996 and received his BFA from the University of Regina in 2001. He graduated with an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Visual Art and Women’s and Gender Studies) in 2017 and is currently pursuing his PhD in Art and Women’s and Gender Studies at York University. His artistic explorations involve disability studies, gender, non-neurotypical and trans-queer sexualities, activism, the body, surrealism, anti-colonial approaches to artmaking, and psychoanalysis. Max has worked with a variety of media, ranging from computer-based works and readymades, to paintstick, graphite, and digital collage. His practice blends high and low art approaches, and draws from a mixture of art and academic theory, pop culture, and other influences. Currently, his work revolves around hybridized notions of photography, sculpture, music, sound, installation and performance, and involves psychoanalysis, the body, activism, queer/trans theory, assumed whiteness, internalized racism and Indigeneity, and issues of madness and non neurotypical ways of being. He is also a published poet and writer, holds a degree in journalism, and has worked as a political, legal, military and arts writer in four different provinces over the past decade.

You can read about his work at FLOURISHING.

“What I love about fatness is, as you approach a certain size, the hard markers of gender that society has forced onto us dissolve…The gender binary, the expectations of gender performance, all based on something as arbitrary as this bag of seawater which will always fail no matter how pious you are.”

– Quote from a participant in the Sizing Up Gender project, led by May Friedman, Ben Barry, and Calla Evans
A macro photo of brown skin.

This year Sizing Up Gender tackled a project about gender identities, fashion, and fat. Through this work we considered the limitations of exciting resources and knowledge for access to authentic representation. The project led to macro photographs such as this one above which sought to interrogate traditional ideas of representation and instead open the door to alternative creative possibilities.

A photo of Sean Lee
East-Asian man (Sean) smiles at the camera. He wears steampunk glasses and has cropped hair with blunt bangs. He wears a beige shirt-dress that is animated by spots of fringed sleeping animal drawings.


Words from host Hannah McGregor: “I sat down virtually with Sean Lee, Director of Programming at Tangled Arts + Disability, to talk about radically accessible curation, the transformative possibilities of disability as disruption, and the exciting work of Tangled and Bodies in Translation.”


Read the transcript in full here.

Read the show notes here.

“My thinking around accessibility has been most significantly shaped this year by Aimi Hamraie’s conception of ‘critical access studies‘ (2017). Hamraie reminds us that Deaf and disability experiences and politics must be at the core of our thinking and designing for accessibility. When we create accessibility plans for events with the intention of making them ‘accessible for all,’ this can often have the unintended consequence of excluding or eliding the experience of Deaf and disabled people. As BIT has always believed, building accessibility should not be focused on including disabled people into the norm, but working to transform arts and culture led by disability experiences. We draw this wisdom from disability justice activists, specifically Mia Mingus’s (2011) essay Changing the Framework. I think the most effective way to build accessibility in arts and culture through a critical access approach is to hire and work with experts from the Deaf and disability communities – of which there are many! This is also how we learn about emergent and innovative accessibility and crip cultural practices.”

Eliza Chandler


“Is inadequately addressing Indigenous people’s vulnerability to a disease like COVID-19, yet another settler way of getting rid of us?”

I am Indigenous, an Anishinaabe-Kwe from Namegosibiing (Trout Lake in Treaty 3 territory), but now living in Oshkiigmaang (Curve Lake First Nation) in the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabe territory.

Self-isolating in this time of working to stop the spread of COVID-19, has given me lots of time to think about what is going on. I wonder, “How is this COVID-19 serving the ruling class?” Throughout settler history, Indigenous peoples have been deemed expendable by our governments to infectious diseases introduced by Europeans, and more recently from the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009. Even while there is recognition from the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada of the increased vulnerability of Indigenous communities to COVID-19, I wonder how much will really change for Indigenous peoples. The recovery of the economy from this pandemic will also involve the continued view that Indigenous peoples’ lives can be shortened and expendable to do the “dirty work” or work “no settler will do” of extractive industries. Meanwhile, broken treaties result in inadequate housing, education, healthcare, income supports, unsafe drinking water and repeat settler history that Indigenous peoples are treated less than human. Is inadequately addressing Indigenous people’s vulnerability to a disease like COVID-19, yet another settler way of getting rid of us?

Alice Olsen Williams, in conversation with Nadine Changfoot and Kayla Besse. Read this interview in full in the Bodies in Translation newsletter.

“It is important to maintain that COVID time is not the same as crip time. COVID time is emergency time that has to be endured rather than settled into.  We look forward to the passing of COVID time and try not to get comfortable with our new reality. Crip time, in contrast, is planned, built collectively, maintained, and sustained.”

—quote from “Crips and COVID in Canada,” by Esther Ignagni, Eliza Chandler, and Loree Erickson


Syrus Marcus Ware, a member of the Performance Disability Art Collective and Black Lives Matter Toronto, writes about the critical work of Black artists and curators, and ways to achieve lasting change, for Canadian Art: “Give Us Permanence—Ending Anti-Black Racism in Canada’s Art Institutions.” 

>>Crip Camp

“This year, I feel that my understanding of access grew through my increased learning about disability histories. I watched Crip Camp on Netflix, and it was almost unbelievable that such a thing exists. It taught me that there is no revolution without access, which feels especially urgent in this cultural moment.”

Kayla Besse

Contributing to the Into the Light: Eugenics in Education in Southern Ontario exhibition project has been an incredible experience in learning there is no one-size-fits-all approach to access. The project has shown me that access is nuanced and particular in ways that involve many combined layers of experience, emergence, and understanding.

The project continues to teach me the beauty of knowledge translation processes oriented towards access and the close attunement they foster while extending and prolonging the time and space of social relations and obligations. Such processes feel like exactly the kind of work needed to counter, move through and beyond oppressive knowledge systems.

Evadne Kelly, Re•Vision postdoctoral researcher


The following is a list of compiled resources and further reading:

A warm thank you to those whose submitted responses, images and artworks contributed this year: Carrie Hage, Eliza Chandler, Angie Lang, Andrea LaMarre, Evadne Kelly, David Bobier, Jessica Watkin, Ben Barry, Sean Lee, Cyn Rozeboom, Kayla Besse, May Friedman, Julia Gray.