November 2, 2015 – On November 27, CAPACOA will present a unique professional development session on The ART of Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts. As a prelude to this session, panelist and moderator Michele Decottignies wrote the following post on the history and the aesthetics of Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts.

The Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts Alliance of Canada (DDMAC) is thrilled to be participating in CAPACOA's 28th annual conference on The Culture of inClusion. Inclusion is a topic of particular importance to professional Canadian artists who live with impairment(s). As with other diverse communities, we too have traditionally been excluded. Not long ago the majority of people with impairment(s) were shuttered away in institutions. In fact, we've only more fully integrated into society, and assumed full authority over our own lives, over the past 50 years.

Yet what a potent half century! Canadians with impairment(s) have effected significant gains in community inclusion, education, transportation, housing, employment, and supported living for the 15 to 20 per cent of the population that we represent. In fact, Canada was the one of first countries to entrench human rights protections for persons with impairment(s), by including us in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1986. We were also the first country in the world to engage in disability arts production, with Factory Lab and Tarragon Theatre's hugely successful production of David Freeman's CREEPS in 1971!

Cahoots Theatre: ULTRASOUND (workshop) by Adam Pottle, May 2015. Photo of Chris Dodd and Elizabeth Morris by Dahlia Katz Photography.
Two characters hug one another

Since then, professional artists with impairment(s) have proven ourselves to be a competent community of accomplished cultural producers who have made significant artistic contributions to Canadian society. Our domain is vibrant and expansive. It is multidisciplinary, with theatre, dance, visual art, and new media being the most prominent disciplines. It encompasses about 30 arts organizations and 300 independent artists. Many artists among us have achieved considerable artistic acclaim, including Jeff Healy, Jane Cameron, Lyle Victor Albert, Persimmon Blackbridge, Tiphaine Girrault-Bath, and Joe Coughlin. Collectively, we've positioned Canada as a leading contributor to the global Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts movement.

However, while there is currently an abundance of access and equity discourse about our domain, there is little discussion about the artistic and aesthetic value of our domain's contributions to the professional arts industries. Yet this information is exactly what artistic presenters, curators and producers have told us they needed to make informed programming decisions. As a result, CAPACOA is putting forward the creative case for Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts, with the support of our Alliance, the Deaf Cultural Centre, Cahoots Theatre, Propeller Dance, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

We're proud to present a discussion and a demonstration of the ART of Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts in Canada. Within this, a distinction is made between artistic works that are identified with Deaf, Disability & Mad cultures and artistic works that are inclusive of artists with impairment(s). While the former makes use of impairment-specific aesthetics, the latter makes use of adapted, traditional aesthetics (the differences between the two are poignantly illustrated in Eliza Chandler's short digital story, SHIFT). Both promote the distinct ways that impairment(s) inform and enrich artistic expression and appreciation, bring about innovations in artistic content and form, and advance utterly unique perspectives on the human condition.


Michele Decottigniesby Michele Decottignies

Artistic Director, Stage Left Productions

for the Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts Alliance of Canada


The ART of Deaf, Disability & Mad Arts will be presented at the 28th CAPACOA conference, The Culture of inClusion, on November 27th. This professional development session is made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.


Additional resources

Expanding the Arts: A Guidebook for Working with Artists who are Deaf or have Disabilities



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"The CAPACOA Conference offers a critical national opportunity for presenters to engage with developing trends and challenging issues in the performing arts, enabling them to be leaders of change for their audiences and communities."

Karilyn Brown, Performing Lines Australia