Accessing the Arts

This post was written by current Disability Studies student, Robin Kellner.

How accessible are the arts? Accessing the Arts was a symposium full of stimulating conversations with art bursts in between at the Abilities Centre in Whitby. The end goal was to pick apart that very question.

The symposium attracted a diverse group of visual artists, performers, producers, as well as professionals working in the field of disability. I was pleased to bump into two familiar faces from the Intervenor Program at George Brown College including Sandra Owen-Peters and Betty-Jean Reid. Wherever possible, we brainstormed ideas about how to promote accessibility to the arts within the deafblind community. We hope to continue this dialogue and expand our ideas within our field.

Fabulous organizations and advocacy groups promoting accessibility to the arts for people of all abilities were all part of the dialogue. Among those present were representatives from the Buddy’s and Badtimes Theatre, located in the Church and Wellesley Village in Toronto. They strive to provide an outlet to groups that have difficulty accessing the arts elsewhere. One of our art bursts was presented by Wolfsounds who brought me to tears with a performance about love starring actors who have disabilities. I was also excited to learn about Reelwheels, a Vancouver-based company committed to promoting a deeper understanding of disability amongst its audience.

While there are a variety of accessible avenues for the arts, our round table discussions revealed that we still have a long way to go. Visual artist Elaine Stewart kicked off a round-table discussion by sharing that “it is difficult to be a part of a gallery opening if you cannot get through the door (Stewart, 2014).”

So I got to thinking … why can’t planks be put on top of door steps? Elaine recalled times when City officials asked the artists to move the temporary ramps they had created because they were obstructing the sidewalk. This attitude is a pure example of ableism; the accommodation made for people who use wheelchairs is causing an inconvenience for the pedestrians who need to walk around the ramp.

Panel discussions provided an opportunity for more storytelling from actors, funding providers, and everyone in between. One producer spoke about a time when the lighting on the set of a play did not follow an actor who had to sit down half way through the performance due to her disability, and was therefore stuck in the dark.  I was also surprised to learn, from a woman who is deaf, of a theatre-related event where the organizers would not provide ASL interpreters. Questions and comments were thrown at the guests throughout the symposium to allow us to learn and grow from each other.

As stated by the hilarious stand-up comedian and advocate Alan Shain, “accessibility is a complex issue (Shain, A. 2014).” My pen was moving energetically throughout the day and I appreciate the opportunity to have been there. Accessing the Arts broadened my understanding of the amount of barriers preventing accessibility within the arts and beyond.

More information can be found on the Book of Judith website:


Shain, A. Accessing the Arts. Symposium discussion. June 13, 2014. Whitby, Ontario

Stewart, E. Accessing the Arts. Symposium discussion. June 13, 2014. Whitby, Ontario.



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