Access art consultation workshops 2021

On July 7-28, 2021 17 Deaf / Disabled / Neurodiverse Artists met to discuss shaping and mapping public spaces for the Toronto Year of Public Art. For inaccuracies or alternative formats please contact: devon(at) . Visual notes were created thanks to Sarah LeFresne, 2021.  Below is a summary with visual descriptions and notes.


This visual summary contains information from the first session. It features a black and white drawn portrait of the guest speaker, Sean Lee, in the top left they have shoulder length hair, glasses and a dark top. There are blue text bubbles, yellow brush strokes, and green accents all around. A spaceship zooms across the centre of the image. The main learning from the session is that Access is Political, Relational and Creates Community. For content please refer to the summary notes below.

Week 1: Accessing the Past
History of Disability Activism and Creative / Critical Access vs. Checkbox Access

  • Brief History
    • 60s and 70s = beginning of disability right movement
    • Many in community questioning why so many of us were institutionalized, isolated, and exploited
    • Prior to any disability protections acts
    • Only model of understanding disability was Medical Model
    • Movement advocated for disability to be seen as Human Rights and Legislative issue
    • Created current Social Model to understand disability
  • Medical Model – indicates that disability is something located solely in one’s own body
  • Social Model – social and built barriers to participating in society are the disabling factors
  • Disabled communities use various cultural practices, such as \ image descriptions, when gathering to mitigate ableist assumptions about who is participating
  • Legislative work done largely by disability community to materialize access has resulted in ADA (American Disabilities Act), or the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities), or the Accessible Canada Act
  • For legislation to pass, the concept of access was pared down to quantifiable check boxes
  • Conventionally accessible vs. meaningfully accessible?
  • Creative and Critical Access
    • Is political, relational, and creates community
    • Allows disability to shape culture rather than enforcing the normative landscape
  • Accessibility as a site of generative and robust access aesthetics

QUESTION: Looking back, what makes you feel safe accessing public art sites?

  • Quiet / non-busy environment
  • Adequate lighting
  • Clearly denoted boundaries of where the art begins and ends
  • Art that is created by diverse communities
  • Being in disabled community when experiencing the art
  • Welcoming environment
  • Accommodating public, other viewers, and employees
  • Taking people’s access needs at face value
  • Not assuming that everyone using ASL is Deaf
  • Clear and accessible plaques and information about the work

This drawn visual summary contains information from the second session. It features black and white portraits of the guest speakers, David Lepofsky (no hair, shirt and collar) and Thea Kurdi (short hair, glasses) on the left. In the centre is a drawing of David bumping into an angled and unmarked pillar, and a picture of the Mona Lisa with arrows pointing to lips, a hand, an ear, a nose, and an eye, denoting that art should be a multi-sensorial experience. On the right, blue and green text bubbles float above a drawing of a public art piece made of blue poles sticking out of the ground at unsafe angles. Core information is that access is an opportunity rather than challenge against creativity and that access benefits everyone. For summary notes please refer to the notes below.

Week 2: Current Approaches & Experiences

Discussion Questions: How do you currently experience public art? What are the barriers and features you look for?

  • Non-visual notifications making the art known (ex. sound alert)
  • Physical parameters of art made clear at foot, middle, and head height
  • Must not stick out into the path of travel
  • Multi-sensory experience
  • Smooth surface for wheel based mobility devices
  • Understanding that accessibility goes beyond wheelchair accessibility
  • Quiet, non-busy location
  • Audio/visual description of the work
  • Mini-models of large scale works available at reachable height
  • Mini-models of 2D works
  • Easy access to information about the art that has embedded accessibility (ex. Plaques with braille)
  • Calm lighting
  • High colour contrast
  • Info buttons that present audio information about the work should include visual description of the work
  • If the whole work can’t be made accessible, make part of it accessible
  • Accessibility should be embedded into the Request for Proposals, required for making public art
  • Ability for the art to integrate with people’s accessibility technology (ex. QR codes)
  • Accessibility should be built into the art rather than considered afterwards

This drawn visual summary contains information from the third session. On the left are black and white portraits of the guest attendees from the City of Toronto, Katriina Campitelli (long hair, light sleeveless top) and Johnson Ngo (headphones, dark top), with City Hall in the background. In the centre is a confused stick figure looking at a signpost that says “applicant”. On the right, blue and green text bubbles float beside social media symbols. There is also a number of solutions and barriers listed and creative access is defined as system clarity, paid mentorship, decision making power and feedback. For summary notes please refer to the notes below.

Week 3: Future Ideas for Shaping Spaces

Discussion Questions How could we make public art commissioning processes work better for Deaf / Disabled / Neurodiverse artists? What are the barriers and solutions? 


  1. Staff / Juror Bias
    • Lack of understanding among City staff/juries about the artistic journeys of Disabled artists (ie. CVs, work histories, and exhibition histories outside of the norm)
    • Tokenism
    • Lack of understanding / appreciation for non-western forms of art
    • Lack of appreciation for merit of disabled perspective
    • Staff / jurors using position for personal gains
  2. Public communications not reaching far enough or targeted to Disabled communities
  3. Not enough lead time in applications
  4. There is too much paperwork / paperwork is too complicated, too convoluted / paperwork favours English speakers 
    • People don’t even know where / how to begin or who to ask
  5. Lack of transparency
  6. Lack of mentorship
    • Calls are people who have already presented at that scale and budget (how can new people get into the system?)
  7. The system doesn’t care about Neurodiverse / Deaf / Disabled artists 
  8. A lot of public artwork isn’t safe for us, so we’re excluded before we even try to enter the system
  9. A lot of public artwork doesn’t offer enough different engagement options
  10.  City is understaffed.


  1. Intersectional and Disabled identities represented on staff and juries
    • Develop a clear and public set of standards
    • Governance of access standards
  2. Develop a communications and outreach plan targeting Neurodiverse / Deaf / Disabled artists
  3. Instate flexible deadlines that can accommodate Crip Time
  4. Use plain language in all communications:
    • Step-by-step instruction guides
    • Calls for artist applications
    • Artist applications
    • Offer paperwork in many languages or translation services
    • ASL translation Vlogs
    • Public campaign (posters, Twitter, IG, etc.) showing people where to go for various types of information from the City 
  5. Offer jury feedback
    • Help people develop skill set
    • Help people understand communication within the system
    • Clear reasons for exclusion (so people aren’t just left wondering if it was ableism)
  6. Created mentorship programs
    • Human and emotional support from staff
    • Connect Disabled artists with others who have received funding
    • Require funded public artists to mentor diabled artists
    • Offer funded mentorships 
  7. Prioritize Neurodiverse / Deaf / Diabled artists
    • Take time to connect
    • Slow down the pace
    • Be intentional
  8. City needs to respond appropriately and quickly when made aware that a public art piece is causing harm
    • Amend or remove it
    • Add protective perimeters
    • Change position or location
  9. Embed public art with technology (ex QR codes) 
    • Create a corresponding app
      • Includes image description
      • Soundscapes
      • ASL vlogs
      • Translation
      • Notifications
      • Artists info

This drawn visual summary contains information from the fourth session. On the left is a black and white portrait of Philip Cote (short dark hair, dark vest and collar shirt) an Indigious knowledge keeper. In the bottom corner the question “How do we move forward both in refining shared tools, casebuilding and improving access to creation?” At the top centre: “Why is it important that Deaf / Disabled / Neurodiverse artists can shape public spaces?” A collection of ideas surround and connect these two questions. Key notes are to not be afraid to break traditional rules of engagement with art and that this can lead to new possibilities. For a summary from notes please see below.


Week 4: Process Forward

Discussion Question:

 #1 Why is it important that Deaf / Disabled / Neurodiverse artists can shape public spaces?

  • Our lived experience makes us experts on how art can be created for our community
  • We are community leaders
  • Representation and participation of diversity within Disabled community
    • Different lived experience 
    • Different access needs 
    • Advanced spatial perception
      • “when creating spaces crip folk tend to think imaginatively to fit a wide array of needs”
    • Different regional experiences
  • For public art to be ‘public’ we must be included
    • Everybody should be able to enjoy public art, that is what makes it public
    • Can we keep calling it ‘public art’ unless everyone can experience it?
  • No downside to increased accessibility
    • Benefits all people in public spaces. 
    • Universal design
  • Including diverse perspectives and engagement allows us to gain a deeper understanding of human experience 
  • Accessibility = educational tool
  • To create a wider sense of belonging in space
    • “Deaf, Disabled, Neurodiverse public needs this art to experience identity and to feel supported to create change”
  • Access creates opportunities for increased creativity! 
  • Challenging perceived limitations can encourage bigger and better ideas
  • Access can remove hierarchies in art that create distance between public 
    • “Nothing about us without us”
  • Value of our specific insight should not be overlooked
    • great joy that comes with challenge 
    • Gift that we have to share in the narratives we spin through culture. 

Discussion Question: 

#2) How do we move forward both in refining shared tools, casebuilding and improving access to creation?

  • More virtual inclusion and hybrid approaches provide more opportunities to connect.
  • More communication
    • Information about projects
    • Shared tools
  • Access to creation
    • Support to understand application
    • Follow through with access at all stages
  • Intersectional understanding of marginalization
    • Representation at all levels 
    • Getting to a place where your voice can be heard,working at the foundation level — making sure things are not being overlooked. 
    • Casebuilding will require resources.
  • Share what the obstacles are and maybe things can change
  • Recognize economic barriers and controls over use of public space
    • Removal of encampments from public space
  • How can Disabled Artists become members of grant juries?
    • Request / reach out to council
    • By invitation
    • Some you may need to be referred
    • Apply to be on the Board
    • Make friends with City Counselors
    • Getting involved helps things to change
      • It’s difficult for people without lived experience to incorporate it meaningfully
      • People may not understand the validity of accessibility in a project
    • Often only 1 person on jury is disabled
      • Burden of representation and education
      • Tokenism
  • Should we brainstorm other ways to access funds since the system is broken?
  • Data collected will be shared / open data and hosted by three different platforms
    •  City of Toronto
      • Put components into main public art platform
    • AccessNow
      • Open data sets
    • ArtsPond
      • Integrate into ecosystem map
    • Other Uses
      • Assess existing works
      • Educational Tool / Commissioning self assessment tool.
        • Architects
        • Granting bodies
        • Commissions
      • How can we make it sexy
        • Illustrations
        • Videos
        • Expand core material

Philip Cote shared a song

  • A short prayer for everyone
  • Sundance song
Skip to content