kNow Access 2020-2021

Welcome to the 2021 edition of the Bodies in Translation kNow Access collage. As we transition out of a global pandemic, we asked our partners, collaborators, and friends to reflect on the last year and share how their thoughts on issues of access has changed. Their responses, reflections, and materials they shared are gathered here.

Access and Art in a pandemic  / Access to Life / Access and World-making  


Access is a jail cell door that is either 1) locked and I’m trapped inside, 2) unlocked but the door is closed so I don’t realize I could leave if I want to, or 3) the door is wide open for me to walk through.

More online events and meetings has improved my access. It has unlocked many doors and held doors wide open when inclusive practices are used.


Welcome to my Regulated Body Valentin Brown

How do you become something that everyone hates?

As my mentors says: becoming a giraffe is not an option.

Sometimes, I would cross the street to pass me in the night.

My thesis: the man-repellant wears off, only goes so far, and was exchanged in a game I can’t win.

I don’t know if they can win either, because many men seem to be in a state of perpetually giving up. Do I sound like a non-believer?
I can’t help it.

Men might talk to me, especially the other white ones chasing pipe dreams.

Maybe I just think I am a bird-hearted cowboy, or a glass- hearted pigeon. Is that a kind of believing in a future?

Maybe, I’m just too hairy for most lesbians now.


Although the term “access” has always been in my mind, it has been buzzed around and discussed amongst professionals of different disciplines (arts, education or other). There is such art behind this term where we (individuals and/or collective groups) could examine it with a political view.  I feel we need to decipher our personal and professional spaces such as homes, institutions, parks, and/or outdoor gathering places. Indeed, nature, man-made, built environments, and life experiences are products of individuals’ access(ibility) to wherever (spaces) and/or whatever (information). 

Access – rather than the fact it has changed over time, I deliberately added a deepen meaning to it. I connected the term with my experience and dance artwork; I also thought about how to get audiences to see and/or feel when they come to interact with certain barriers. For instance, when I walked into a studio room I rented for my projects, I mentally measured the space and foresaw how I could move around.  I questioned:

When members of an audience encounter a barrier, what reactions would they be?  

I reviewed my previous artworks…I realized I often used yarns or ropes to represent “barriers” and “access.”  I went ahead and sketched the room visualizing how I incorporate the ropes into my wordless dance story.  I then decorated and experimented. 

Once a lockdown lifts, I hope to show non-deaf and individuals without disabilities that there is another meaning to “access”—through my dance. I also hope audiences will internalize such experience and then apply it by taking a pause to active think about access and people. I would encourage audiences to do so when they plan to implement or host a social-related program, event or activity. In short, I hope it would be their habitual practice of doing than talking.

There is a feeling of reflection to send us wings.

It feels like a meadow of faith, that wants to spring.

Its home is the heaven of goodness, to make us strong.

We climb up to the hill of experience, to where we belong.

My initial thoughts around this notion of access would be the work we are doing on designing a new full system handheld vibrotactile device that should be inexpensive enough for purchase by individuals and by galleries, museums, theatres, etc. The idea is that can then be plugged into audio systems anywhere and can then become the personal property of individuals for home use. This new research has come about as a result of COVID and the problems with reusing pillows, vests, etc. in public places because of health and safety. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has instigated an unprecedented mainstream interest in – and adoption of – access practices, particularly in relation to the digital pivot. This pivot was largely possible due to the long-term, relentless advocacy efforts of D/deaf, mad and disabled activists, artists and scholars. However, mainstream society has generally failed to credit them for leading the way towards surviving the pandemic through crip cultural practices and innovations. Instead, we have witnessed the rise of an unabashed expendability rhetoric around D/deaf, mad and disabled people’s lives and its enactment through ICUgenics and other ableist policies and practices. At the same time, digital access over the past year has been – and continues to be – conceptualised in terms of a rigid check-list of accommodations. Such a superficial, performative approach to access belies deeply ableist assumptions and attempts to assimilate disabled body-minds into the normative world, with all its violences and inequities.

Over the past year, I have come to learn about the concept of “critical access” (Hamraie, 2017). This approach centres D/deaf, mad and disability voices, culture and politics, conceptualising access as a deeply relational, iterative and frictional praxis. As a researcher on Bodies in Translation and Creative Users’ Accessing the Arts project, I am collaborating with artists and researchers to develop “difference-centred design,” an approach to human-centered design that is disability-led and critical access-focused. We aim to widely circulate the emerging insights from this exciting project within the art sector and beyond. My hope is that community members and leaders will generatively engage with such crip design approaches and politics in their collaborative design of policies, programs and practices with and for D/deaf, mad and disabled communities.

Access to Life

This year I was so struck by politicians turning the language of access on its head, by arguing for the right to access death by lethal injection (and denouncing the so-called barriers to doing so!). It was so disorienting. 

At the same time, led by disabled elders people were creating a sense of community through the disability filibuster where great care was taken to ensure accessibility, though there was also stumbling and leaning along the way. But a great openness to the process. 

-Artist, Aislinn Thomas

Access and World-Making

Graphic of digital strategy stew

When I first heard the phrase “Digital Strategy” 6 years ago, I drew a blank – is that just a really swanky website? Or is it those ads in my feed that somehow read my mind?

I might not have known then what the ingredients of a digital strategy project were or how to cook one up, but I knew the world was transforming to digital and I knew Deaf and disability artists needed to be part of that change.

It has been a long time hinting and promising its release (I’m sorry for the wait) but alas, here it is: Accessing the Arts: Towards Difference-Centered Design, a “pre-released” report. In other words, here’s a good chunk of it and there will be more to come!

A shout out of gratitude to our research team Margaret Lam and Rana El Kadi for your big hearts, and your brilliant brains on this important work.

And a special thanks to especially you – for reading our newsletter every week, for following our work, for sharing your stories with us, and for your help shaping the vision for an accessible arts future.

For all of us, yes you too, it has been an enormous journey getting here but if I’ve learned anything about digital strategy, it’s that, no matter how far you think you’ve gone or how much you think you’ve learned, you’ve really only just begun.

You can download the Accessing the Arts report on our website.

Crip Times logo


“There’s been a large focus on developing your voice, finding your voice in the various mediums. And also you have a foothold in museums and art galleries and art institutions. We’ve done very well at that. My feeling now is that the time is to focus our work on reaching our own communities. People – young people – who, especially could benefit from the work that we do…and to find a way to encourage Indigenous young people because coming from the era of the residential school, you know ‘education’ has been a negative word. And how do we begin to change that around? And I think there’s a real strong sense that we are connected to the visual arts as a people in terms of expression.”

Link to Crip Times page

>> Better Practices: A meme-able crip public education campaign

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘best practices,’ but what are ‘better practices’? 

We know from principles of disability justice and Relaxed Performance that there is never one way to meet everybody’s access needs. Access requires flexibility and creativity as we figure out how to be together in supportive ways.

As many people across the world are working online, we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned about more accessible arts, activism, and communications from and with our communities. 

The following educational memes were produced in 2021 by Kayla Besse during her tenure as the Public Education Coordinator with Bodies in Translation, Creative Users Projects, and Tangled Art + Disability. 

Alt-text or image description Instagram post.
Instagram post with the text, “Should you write alt-text or image description?” above an image of the Old El Paso girl meme reading, “Why don’t we have both?”
The only accessible seat Instagram post.
An Instagram post reading, “Me sitting in the only ‘accessible seat’ at the art gallery,” above the Bernie Sanders wearing mittens sitting in a chair at the Biden inauguration meme.

it began
in silence
a moment unheard of

birds sharing their song

there was purity
there was no otherness

too soon i fell backwards
towards sorrow
towards grief
sitting emptiness

i want to sigh into it
to breathe
to sit with the ah

reaching wildly
pushing forward
falling forever