ACCESSIBILITY WHAT DOES MEAN?
It’s a question that we’ve been asking at Broken Pencil for many years, particularly in our capacity as event organizers for our yearly zine and indie culture fair, Canzine: festival of zines and underground culture. Does accessibility simply mean a space where people with mobility issues — canes, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs — can move around comfortably? Or does it also mean having a sign language interpreter, providing gender-neutral bathrooms and dimmable lighting? Which services, if any, need to be top priority? And does a lack of any of these services mean the space is fundamentally inaccessible?
These are important questions for anyone to consider if you’re putting on a public event. But when the conversation turns to punk/diy/ art spaces, the discussion becomes particularly fraught. It’s an unfortunate reality that many DIY events from punk shows to zine fairs that consider themselves open to all are relegated to old churches, basements and musty outdated buildings with narrow entryways, no elevators and no ramps. Affordability is definitely a key factor — we Broken Pencil folk can tell you a harrowing tale or two about trying to find an affordable accessible event space on a transit line, particularly while operating on a non-profit budget. This year, we were fortunate enough to secure the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Weston Family Learning Centre as a Canzine Toronto venue. It’s a huge open space with high ceilings, wide aisles, windows, and most excitingly for us, elevators! Although we still need to work on overcrowding issues, this is a huge step up for us in terms of moving towards an events space that is inclusive for all Canzine attendees and vendors.
Not everyone is so lucky. The organizers and attendees of the long-running Montreal zine fair Expozine became embroiled in a particularly heated online debate surrounding the issue of accessibility this past November. As anyone who’s attended Expozine knows, the event’s location at Eglise St. Enfant Jesus — a 150-year-old church — lacks ramps, elevators and can feel cramped, overcrowded and claustrophobic. This year, heated Facebook arguments (are there any other kind?) erupted on the event’s pages as questions and demands about the accessibility of the church were raised. People got defensive; some got nasty. A petition was tabled, calling organizers to work on securing an accessible venue. Tablers and attendees threated boycotts. It was unpleasant, uncomfortable and more than a little ugly; but then again, you could argue that most conversations surrounding accessibility and the need for change often are. To their credit, the hardworking organizers of Expozine are clearly working to change and learn from this experience and have pledged to find a new accessible venue going forward.
Our cover story on the cripple punk movement (by the rad writer/disability advocate Sidney Drmay) tells the story of a burgeoning community of disabled people who are weary of the ableist crap they face on a constant basis, particularly within the punk scenes that have both nurtured and ostracized them. They’ve taken their representation, values and identity into their own hands in the face of a society that misunderstands and often tokenizes their disabilities. We learned a lot from working on this story with Sidney, and hope that it might help you empathize with what it’s like to live in a scene that often forgets about and excludes disabled bodies and minds.