«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
In that same month, I did an interview with Masti Khor, a queer South Asian performance artist and community organizer who explained to me that Unapologetic's efforts to focus on accessibility are part of a broader trend, "I think that access is becoming a huge deal in QTPOC [queer and trans people of color] communities because of disability justice and the work that Stacey Milbern, Mia Mingus and Leah [Lakshmi] do and have been doing for a long time now, but moving from disability rights from disability justice, which basically means moving from whiteness to POC'ness [people of color-ness]. It’s been influential in our communities the past few years and as more crips of colour come out as being disabled…it's less and less okay to not have ASL... [we won’t have a] politicized QTPOC event…at places that aren't wheelchair accessible. But 2 years ago it was okay to do that. It's awesome we're growing politically and that's exactly where we should be going. I'm really proud of us and part of that access is around emotional pieces too; issues of mental health and taking care of each other. The more and more vulnerable we get in our work, the more we need to have trigger warnings24. I think we always needed to have trigger warnings we just didn't necessarily have the tools or the skills or the normalization of it."
Indeed, it was because of this upswing that Masti indicated that I was able to get in touch with several disability justice activists to learn about what I would need to do as an accessibility coordinator for Unapologetic. Leah Henderson was one of the people that I met and we had a Part of my role as accessibility coordinator involved organizing and passing along the information submitted by performers to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters so that they could be as prepared as possible to interpret during performances. Trigger warnings were part of the information elicited from performers and the form that
performers were required to submit as part of their application process described trigger warning in this way:
"Trigger Warnings give folks at the show opportunities to prepare for subject manner that may elicit heavy, difficult or complicated emotional responses, as well as allow us space to be in control of how/if we engage with the material. Is there any heavy/difficult content in your piece that requires a trigger warning? FYI, there will be active listeners at the show to support folks backstage and in the audience. (Example: This piece deals with misogyny and contains specific misogynist/violent language. Feel free to take a break from the space or speak to an active listener if you need to.)" conversation about accessibility sitting in the backyard of the house that she shared with two other queers. Between munching on the grapes that I had brought, I peppered her with questions.
Was it feasible to have offsite childcare? Did she know how to make closed captioning for the videos that would be shown? Should we have a capacity limit for the event so that it would not get so crowded that people with mobility issues or those using wheelchairs would have trouble navigating the space? Over the course of an hour we continued to talk about the different kinds of work that I would need to coordinate in order to make the next Unapologetic Burlesque show as accessible as possible and she suggested other people that I could get in contact with to help me through this process.
As a way to demonstrate the kinds of accessibility work that goes into an Unapologetic Burlesque show, I include below the accessibility information section that was posted to the facebook event page of the Unapologetic show hosted in December 2013.
“Trigger warnings: Coming soon!
The first two rows of seating at this event will be reserved for folks with chemical sensitivities/injury, folks who have wheelchairs or mobility devices, who need to sit, read the screen, or have access to ASL interpreters, and people of colour.
Two ASL interpreters will be present at the Monday December 16th show. For both shows, all text (performer bios, song lyrics etc.) will be projected onto the screen that will be set up on the stage We will have active listeners present on both nights in case something happens at the event that brings up things for audience members and/or performers that they may want to talk with someone about. If at any time you feel as though you need to leave the space, we welcome you to take best care of yourself and we offer this tips to support you: [website address] So that folks with chemical injury can attend and perform at this event, please come fragrance free. Good information about how to do this is here [website address] At minimum, please refrain from wearing cologne, perfume and essential oils and products containing them.
The venue is wheelchair accessible.
Unfortunately we are not able to provide onsite childcare for this Unapologetic Burlesque Show. We are going to try to make this happen for the next show!
Finally, we are always learning about how to make our spaces more accessible. This is an ongoing process and we will continue to update the event page with information around accessibility. Please contact Matthew at [email address] with any questions, concerns or issues that you may have about accessibility at this event.” While the role of accessibility coordinator had sensitized me to the increasing emphasis on disability justice within queer and trans of color community organizing initiatives, it was not until I attended the BlacknessYes! meeting in May that I became aware of the legal significance of attempts to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. BlacknessYes! describes itself as a community-based committee that celebrates the creativity, histories and resistance of African diasporic, Black and Caribbean queer and trans people in Toronto. In this meeting we were discussing plans for Blockorama, a stage of programming organized each year that takes place during Toronto Pride. More specifically we were talking about the logistics of securing two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters25 for the event. In the exchange that I detail below, Nik brought up this issue by recounting his conversation with Amy, a staff member at Pride Toronto.
Nik: I asked her if there was any movement on our second [ASL] interpreter and she said "no" and I said, "how come?" Syrus: She should have gotten one by now Nik: I said that you should have booked people months in advance, you have the dates. She said that she's going to ask a few people for us Matthew: Why do we need ASL for? Is it for the whole…?
It is typical to have two ASL interpreters at any event because the work of interpretation is quite arduous especially for longer periods of time (more than two hours). The two interpreters will often take turns interpreting roughly every 15-20 minutes.
Nik: [interrupts] No it’s just from 4-10 [pm]. Mostly when there is talking and performances, I guess even the dance performers. When we give them [the ASL interpreters] the lyrics in advance they can interpret them.
Matthew: So we don't book our own ASL?
Nik: It’s supposed to come from Pride [Toronto] and their budget as a big organization and it has to basically [pause] they have all these laws that they have to adhere to and I haven't really put that to her Syrus: It is a law because all we need is one person to make a request in advance [for ASL] and because of the AODA guidelines [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act], if someone is requesting for customer service access, you have to provide it unless you can provide evidence of undue hardship, which is the wording of the law, which it [Pride Toronto] is not because it is one of the major [festivals] Because BlacknessYes! works in partnership with the registered charity, Pride Toronto to host Blockorama, the legal stipulations that they face around accessibility are quite different from the situations of other queer and trans of color community organizing groups who, given their informal status and more tenuous links to formal institutions, are not legally obligated in the same way. Nevertheless, I bring up BlacknessYes! and the AODA guidelines, as an entry point to discuss the specificity of disability legislation in the province of Ontario in order to unpack the way in which accessibility work is conceptualized and practiced.
While earlier legislation such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code drew attention to the disadvantaged position of people with disabilities, disability activists and community organizations have more recently identified the need for greater efforts to remove barriers to full participation for people with disabilities within Canadian society (Beer, 2010). The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act came about as a result of their work to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities. The AODA
passed into law through the Ontario legislature in 2005 and it states:
"Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario, the purpose of this Act is to benefit all Ontarians by, (a) developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and (b) providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standard" (Government of Ontario, 2005) Disability scholars have linked policies like AODA to specific understandings of disability.
In her analysis of disability policy in Canada, Jongbloed identifies a medical model which "conceptualizes disability as the attribute of a person who is functionally limited and biologically inferior and represents the individual as a patient with special medical needs who deserves a charitable response in the form of provision of health services" (2003, p. 205). From the 1920s to the 1970s this approach to disability in Canadian society meant that policies were oriented toward providing medical treatment and support services. This state of affairs began to change in the 1970s with the emergence of disability activists and groups such as The Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (now known as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities) who rejected individualized and pathologizing understandings of disability and instead focused on social factors (Jongbloed, 2003). Shakespeare (2013) identifies this "social model" as one in which disability is conceptualized in terms of a dichotomy between individual and private impairment on the one hand and a structural public disability on the other. As opposed to the medical model in which disability is seen as an individual deficit, the social model conceives of disability as the relationship between people with impairment and a disabling society. Ginsburg and Rapp state "this paradigm insists that disability is not simply lodged in the body, but created by the social and material conditions that “dis-able” the full participation of a variety of minds and bodies. Disability is thus recognized as the result of negative interactions between a person with an impairment and his or her social environment" (2013, p. 54). Instead of focusing on individual intervention as in the medical model, the policy implications of the social model emphasize the importance of removing the barriers that have been imposed on people with disabilities. The AODA and indeed the notion of accessibility itself fits squarely within the realm of the social model as the goal is the transformation of the social conditions that are responsible for the challenges faced by people with disabilities. 26 Organizing for disability justice, organizing for the un-initiated Yet exploring QTPOC’s efforts to secure disability justice by examining the conceptual and juridical underpinnings of this work does not necessarily serve as an exhaustive analysis of the accessibility organizing carried out by groups like Unapologetic Burlesque. One way to get a better sense of the import of QTPOC accessibility work is to examine its reception among various audiences. In this section, I highlight the different kinds of responses that audience members offered to the accessibility efforts implemented at "Superqueero Holiday Potluck Dinner", the Unapologetic Burlesque show hosted on December 16, 2013. The show took place Disability scholars have noted that the social model has been useful to disability movements not only in its effectiveness as a means of leveraging resources to transform disabling conditions but also as means of building a positive sense of collective identity. Instead of understanding disability as a personal failing, the problems of disability are relocated from the individual to the conditions that disable them (Shakespeare, 2013). At the same time, some scholars have noted the weaknesses of a social model of disability. If the challenges associated with disability are seen to be the result of external conditions it is easy to downplay the very important role that impairment plays in the lives of disabled peoples. Tobin Siebers states, "changes in the built environment will not improve the situation of some people with painful disabilities. The reality of certain bodies is a fact, while harsh, that must be recognized" (2008, p. 5). In seeking to draw attention to the way that, "the medical model pays too much attention to embodiment while the social model leaves it out of the picture," (2008, p. 25) Siebers proposes a theory of "complex embodiment" in order to address these limitations. Such a theory, "raises awareness of the effects of disabling environments on people's lived experience of the body but it emphasizes as well that some factors affecting disability (such as chronic pain, secondary health effects and aging) derive from the body... The theory of complex embodiment views the economy between social representations and the body not as unidirectional as in the social model, or nonexistent as in the medical model, but as reciprocal. Complex embodiment theorizes the body and its representations as mutually transformative."
(2008. p. 25).