Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada, through the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) to mandate and regulate accessibility standards for public and private sectors in all key areas of daily living. The purpose of the act is to make the province accessible for Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. This regulation applies to every person or organization that provides goods, services, or facilities to the public or third parties and that has at least one employee in Ontario.
What is disability? The social model of disability, coined in 1983 by Mike Oliver, proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society.
The social model of disability is a civil rights approach to disability. If modern life was set up in a way that was accessible for people with disabilities then they would not be excluded or restricted. This model arose in contrast to the Medical Model of Disability, which states that disability is caused by the health condition a person has and the nature of this condition will determine what they can and can’t do. The medical model would say that in order for everyone to participate fully in society, everyone would need a non-disabled body and mind. This makes ‘disability’ the result of the person being different, rather than society being exclusive.
The Social Model of disability removes the onus from the individual and places it back on a society that has, throughout history, demonstrated “disabilism” as a method of discrimination against those with impairments. A social model perspective does not deny the reality of impairment nor its impact on the individual. However, it does challenge the physical, attitudinal, communication, and social environment to accommodate impairment as an expected incident of human diversity.
Producers can look at the social model of disability as a starting point from which to create an inclusive atmosphere in the design of the show, in all of its forms — online, in the rehearsal hall, in daily notes, and through the production to the benefit of the audience. In order to create accessibility, producers must recognize their responsibility in making individuals able or unable to engage with their art. The onus is on the organizer of the event or activity to make sure that the activity is accessible.
In an interview between Alice Sheppard and Laura Flanders, they discuss "The Vessel", a public art installation in New York composed of many floors of stairs. There is an elevator that takes you to the top, but the experience of the artwork includes stairs. The video is below, link to transcript here.
In the interview, Alice asks, "Why would you construct a public work of art that is massively and culturally inaccessible?...Inclusionary thinking, compliance kind of thinking is the elevator that will get you to the top. Participatory, cultural, and aesthetic thinking is about what is the experience being in the art itself." (Bolded for emphasis.)
Accessibility affects many different areas of producing, including:
Click each heading to learn more!
In the video above, over the course of two interviews, Jess and Alice question our attitudes towards disability and explore how art can challenge our notions of the normative. Alice Sheppard is a disabled dancer/choreographer and the artistic director of the company Kinetic Light. Jess Thom is a performer and comedian with Tourettes and the founder of Touretteshero.
The following organizations raise awareness and provide programming that supports the access and social equity of various disabled communities:
- Creative Users Project is a data base of Disabled artists (performers, writers, designers etc.) and an information hub for Disability Arts
- The Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons seeks to raise awareness in the government and the public and business communities of the skills, needs and abilities of persons with disabilities
- PACE seeks to deliver excellent support services to people with disabilities so they can live their lives.
- The Centre for Independent living Toronto seeks to contribute to the achievement of social and economic equity in collaboration with people with disabilities through an inclusive approach.
- Autism Ontario is the province's leading source of information and referral on autism and one of the largest collective voices representing the autism community. They provide positive advocacy resources, webinars, and have collaborated with theatre companies like Shakespeare in the Ruff to develop resources and programming accessible to folks with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).