September 17, 2020


Eliza Chandler

Earning her PhD from the Social Justice and Education department at the University of Toronto in 2014, Eliza Chandler was dually appointed as the Artistic Director at Tangled Art + Disability, an organization in Toronto dedicated to the cultivation of disability arts, and the postdoctoral research fellow in Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies from 2014-2016. During this time she was the also the founding Artistic Director of Tangled Art Gallery, Canada’s first art gallery dedicated to showcasing disability art and advancing accessible curatorial practice. Chandler is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University. She is the co-director of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded partnership project, Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life. This seven-year, multi-partnered research project considers the close relationship between art, accessibility, and social change as it contributes to the development of activist art, aesthetics, curriculum, and accessible curatorial practices across Canada. Chandler sits on the Board of Directors for the Ontario Arts Council and is a practicing disability artist and curator.

Preface by Elwood Jimmy, Tracy Tidgwell, and Eliza Chandler

We started this project a few years ago. We (Elwood and Tracy) came together as curators on the Translation roundtable to gather artists’ responses to Eliza’s provocation about how accessibility changes experiences of art at a time when the world looked, sounded, and felt differently than it does now. Injustice, of course, has been with us all along and acutely felt and resisted by intersecting communities of Indigenous, Black, people of colour, disabled, Deaf, Fat, and mad people. However, the massive cracks in our systems had not yet been ruptured and left agape by the intense public response to the longtime disregard and murder of Black and Indigenous lives; before the Coronavirus pandemic had us sheltering in place, and began disproportionately impacting the lives of Black, brown, poor, Fat and disabled people, and revealed health and social inequities, like the dangers of living in congregate settings like prisons, care homes, and transitional group homes, inequities that many in our communities have been speaking out against for decades; before liberation movements (re)surged to the front. The reflections below, now nearly two years old, offer us timely insight into different ways of knowing and being that many of us have always held close and have been shaped through living and loving interdependently. These contributions reveal how normative conventions, entitlements, habits, and desires oppress and need to be disrupted. When taken up in this contemporary moment, such uncovering suggests that the construction of normalcy oppresses and, as Dionne Brand so eloquently offers (2020, July 4), is not a state to which many of us desire to return. This collection of responses offers creative translations of the multi-dimensional ways that we can be and are together even while faced with great pain, tension, and uncertainty, and calls us to reconnect to our capacity to take care of one another in small and big ways.

Elwood, Tracy & Eliza

Introduction to the Translation Roundtable by Eliza Chandler

Disability art, a burgeoning artistic practice in Canada / this north part of Turtle Island, takes the experience of disability as a creative entry point. Drawing on the insights of disability scholar and activist Catherine Frazee (2008), not all disability art explicitly represents disability, but all of it springs from the experience, politics, and culture of disability. To fully appreciate and engage disability art requires us to directly take up and appreciate disability cultures, identities, politics, and practices.

As someone working in disability arts, who is in the fortunate position of learning from folks in intersecting disability, mad, Deaf, spoonie, and neurodiverse communities, I have learned that in order to cultivate disability arts to its fullest potential, we need to support disability arts through funding, artistic development programs, programming, and mentorship, and make arts and culture accessible by developing, communicating, funding, and enacting innovative and effective accessible curatorial and programming practices. Of course, these two ideas are connected; making arts accessible is a core disability cultural value that ensures disabled people have access to culture, which is necessary for the artistic development of disability artists.

One way of beginning to make arts and culture accessible, welcoming, and desirable for disabled people and our intersecting communities is to think about all of the ways that art galleries and other cultural institutions have structured their spaces and their practices in ways that have imagined people of difference out of our culture. As artist Carmen Papalia says, “Museums disable me as an audience member for they assume that I experience the gallery in a particular way and don’t account for me as a non-visual learner” (2011).

We can identify how museums and other culture spaces assume we experience these spaces when we ask questions such as: When was the first time you visited a gallery (or maybe you haven’t visited one yet)? When you visit galleries or other cultural spaces (if you do), do you feel that there are some unspoken rules, ways of behaving/engaging that you aren’t aware of and you feel you should be? If we do visit galleries or other cultural spaces, the questions we ask before attending may be similarly revealing, questions such as: Is the gallery/venue accessible? Will there be an Elder at the event? What time will the event be over so that I can schedule my wheel-trans ride? Will the videos be captioned? Will there be audio description? Do I have to pay to get in? Is there a dress code? Is the art for sale? Does the food cost money? Will there be alcohol, or will it be a sober event? Will there be an all-gender washroom nearby? Can I talk to people? Will people talk to me (even if I don’t want them to)? Can I talk to the artist? Can I make noise? Can my kids scream? Will it be loud? Can I sit down? How long do I have to stay? Will someone be there to guide me through the exhibition? Will I be able to understand the artist statement? Will my experience, identity, community, and culture be represented? If so, by who? I invite you to add to this list based on your own experiences.

These questions tell us that, normatively speaking, cultural spaces and practices are built for some and not others. They also prompt us to ask, as Syrus Marcus Ware (2014) asks, “What would our institutions look like if we got rid of this [normative] way of thinking?”

Thinking with Papalia and Ware, I would like to use this round table to discuss the dynamics, considerations, and provocations that emerge from these cultural practices. I’m going to offer a couple of examples of how disability arts and cultural practices change the way we create and participate in culture. I am curious to hear about how your cultural and community practices also give us a sense of how to answer the question, “What would our institutions would look like if we got rid of this normative way of thinking?” (Ware, 2014).

Disability art and disability cultural practices are provocative. They provoke us to pay creative attention to the endlessly different ways that bodies and art interact. They teach us that when we approach the space of body/art interaction as a site of multiple possibilities, new practices emerge that allow for more enriched meaning-making experiences.

What other cultural practices can be used to open up our culture, and change who and how we create and participate?

This roundtable is co-presented with Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life, a project of Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph.


Elwood Jimmy


The word accessibility has come to be associated with different forms of accommodations related to mobility and language. However, we very seldom question what this accessibility gives access to.  These associations are also restrictive because they privilege a modern-colonial way of being that elevates individuality.

View Full Response

Alex Bulmer

Sensory Priority in Art

This provocation leads me to consider sensory priority in art and how norms often lean toward the visual. I am also intrigued by the true nature of translation and how it differs from re-imagining.

View Full Response

Gloria Swain

It is important for creative and cultural spaces to focus on inclusivity and accessibility. While mainstream galleries and spaces are physically accessible, they are not necessarily accessible. […] Galleries should address accessibility issues because art is universal, and diversity translates through personal experiences, cultural sharing, addressing political issues and individualized creativity.

View Full Response

Taeyoon Choi

Translators of culture have the same responsibility as translator of languages. They need to preserve the integrity of original text, while making the new text accessible to the intended audience. Translators, between the worlds of Disability Arts and the rest of the worlds, have a commitment to the community, a collection of individuals.

View Full Response

Carmen Papalia

On Disrupting Barriers in the Area of Accessibility

My 2015 work Open Access defines accessibility as I understand it—as a measure of agency informed by the social, cultural, and political conditions in a given context.

View Full Response

Vanessa Dion Fletcher

Translation Notes

For my contribution to the roundtable, I have taken Eliza’s text and translated it into Lenape, using my limited Lenape language skills and a Lenape English dictionary. This translation becomes a creative act: translating, responding, questioning, reaching.


View Full Response

Sky Stonefish

[Click “View full response” to see Sky’s visual response to the prompt]

View Full Response

Jenelle Rouse

Interpretation Dance

Although the majority of society sees deafness (or being Deaf, to be precise) as a disability, I see being Deaf as an invisibility.  For example, when you see me for the first time, you would never think that I am deaf until I open my mouth or use my hands to make a comment.  Instead of communicating with people using spoken languages or auditory-centric cultural practices, I connect through body movements which are part of my artistic language.  Dance and emotions are also part of that language.

View Full Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.