The Concordia Working Group on Critical Disability Studies was founded in 2014 to address inclusion and exclusion of people with physical or cognitive impairments from fully participating in social, political and cultural life in Montreal. Over the past three years, a few researchers and graduate students based at the Mobile Media Lab were working on disability and ableism related projects. Through these projects, they met a lot of people working on Critical Disability Studies (CDS) around the university and the city. In June 2014, a group of academics, activists and artists were involved in the working group “Performing Disability and Enabling Performance” at Encuentro in Montreal. This working group has been an occasion to connect with many people interested in CDS based in Montreal. We were aware that there was no hub to share that research or collaborate. A group of faculty requested funds to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture to start a working group in CDS. Their application was successful. . The Critical Disability Working Group met for the first time on September 15 2014.
The working group, whose membership has exploded over the course of 12 months, serves as a dynamic platform for the exploration of inter and trans-disciplinary crossovers and points of disjuncture on the meaning and experiences of disability.
The initial group was comprised of an interdisciplinary team of scholars and creators from six different departments representing the Humanities, Social Sciences and Fine Arts: Communication Studies (Kim Sawchuk), Art Education (Juan Carlos Castro and Lorrie C. Blair), History (Steven High), Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema (Shira Avni), Educational Technology (Ann-Louise-Davidson) and Applied Human Sciences (Shannon Hebblethwaite).
We can now add faculty from English, Political Science and Creative Art Therapies to our list of implicated disciplines, as well as more members from each of the Departments that we have listed, above. We also have members from McGill, UQÀM and Université de Montréal. As our increasing numbers indicate, there is a need for this type of scholarship, that we are filling not only at Concordia, but in Montreal and in Quebec where critical disability studies is only starting to emerge.
We meet approximately once a month. Members share their research and offer suggestions and critiques. We work to gather and create more critical disability projects and research. We are also involved in disability activism.
During our first year of existence, we met in the Education Department. We are now thrilled to have our own space on the 11th floor of the EV building. This space will be our headquarters where we will hold meetings and events.
Working Group Chairs
September 2014-January 2015: Professor Kim Sawchuk
January 2015-present: Professor Owen Chapman
Aimee Louw (MA, Media studies) and Laurence Parent (PhD candidate, Humanities)
We met 7 times.
September 15, 2014, October 20, 2014, December 1st, 2014, January 19, 2015, March 2nd, 2015, April 13, 2015, May 11, 2015
Events organized by the CDSWG
September 21-22, 2014
When I Walk – with film director Jason DaSilva
- Film screening in collaboration with Cinema Politica and workshop on video-blogging
Our event with Brooklyn filmmaker and web developer Jason Da Silva brought in over 250 people. Through the organization of the event, we encounted several obstacles. We made public the struggles experienced by reading a letter before the screening of the film.
- DaSilva gave an afternoon talk to members of the working group discussing his methods, personal experiences of filmmaking and fielded questions. During his talk a fire drill occurred. No measures were taken by Concordia to facilitate the evacuation of people with mobility aids, and many of us (including our guest) were instructed to wait by the elevators, which had automatically shut off. We have footage of this experience.
March 27, 2015
Talk by Professor Mara Mills
Professor Mills visited us from New York University where she teaches and is part of the NYU Council for the Study of Disability, a field that is growing in scope and attention.
Professor Mills presented research on the relationship between audio description (of images and movies) for blind viewers, other forms of audiovisual translation (e.g. dubbing, scanlation), and new techniques for image indexing/search (e.g. Google Image Search). She also shared the history and work of the New York University Council for the Study of Disability.
March 30-31, 2015
Disabled Theater – Theater HORA (theatre company from Swizterland)
Our presentation of Theater Hora’s performance Disabled Theater was well-attended and recieved. We were able to crowdfund a significant amount of money towards the performance as this was a “free” event. Disabled Theater featured 12 performers who each began by speaking about the perceptions of their disability. The second act involved most actors performing a choreographed dance. We were also able to have a Q&A period following the piece that stimulanted dialogue about disability and performance.
More on Theater HORA & Disabled Theater
Disabled Theater is a theatre piece that challenges the traditions found within the framework of theatre and re-imagines the stage as a space where disability is not expelled from our lives nor hidden behind the screen of political correctness but is instead has a bearing on the aesthetic and political dimensions of life.
Student organizer : Michelle Macklem
August 6, 2015
Lunch with Harry Reid, disability researcher from Northern Ireland
Members of the working group had lunch with Harry Reid. His work is at the intersection of digital media and disability.
Other events involving CDSWG members
March 23, 2015
Radical Affordances : Emerging Scholarship, Art, and Activism at the Intersection of Media and Disability Studies – McGill University
Inspired by McGill postdoctoral researcher Arseli Dokumaci’s current work on disability and affordances, the panel explored the potentials of “radical affordances” in relation to mobility, everyday performance, as well as artistic and activist practices. Featuring six Montreal-based emerging scholars and practitioners, the presentations included projects and case studies that offer new tools to expand the affordances of existing technologies, as well as creative approaches that reveal unsuspected possibilities in familiar devices and media.
The event was curated by Tamar Tembeck. Working Group members Arseli Dokumaci, Florian Grond, Aimee Louw and Laurence Parent presented their work, along with scholars from other institutions and fields.
April 26, 2015
Writing Disabilities: Poet + Activist – Round-table Discussion at the Blue Met Festival
Indigenous poet Annharte and disability activist Laurence Parent discussed accessibility in their respective communities and how artists have a duty to consider making their work accessible to all. Moderated by Kim Sawchuk, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies and Research Chair, Mobile Media Lab, Concordia University.
September 4, 2015
Lower(the)Depths – Barak Adé Soleil & Creative People Caucus
Lower(the)Depths was an iteration or reinvention of the play Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky that took place in Montreal. The show resulted from a Montreal artist residency of the Creative Peoples Caucus. The showing took place 10 days after the group met and began the creative/ rehearsal process. Members Of the working group were involved in facilitating the residency , Aimee and Danielle were residents, conducting live archiving of the creative process. The archive can be found at lowerthedepths.wordpress.com
Media coverage and open letter
The Theatre HORA event was covered by Concordia News, CKUT, CBC and CTV.
Concordia News (Web Preview): March 18th
CKUT Upstage w/ Sarah Deshaies (Radio): March 26th (segment starts @ 45:08)
CBC 6pm News with Morgan Dunlop (Television) (segment starts @ 26:27)
Jacqueline Wallace and Laurence wrote an open letter to Health Minister Gaétan Barrette’s about Bill 20. We argued that the legislation proposed under Bill 20 would harm people with disabilities and undermines their rights and access to care. Many members of the working group signed the letter, which was published in the Montreal Gazette on May 6, 2015.