Accessibility for

Representation in Galleries & Museums

Image: Brick wall with See Me and Hear Me written above the windows.


When disability is represented in museum or gallery spaces, it is often tokenized or othered, limited to a reflection on lived trauma and something to overcome. Of course, lived experiences inform artwork, and work based around identity is incredibly valid. But when that’s the only frame of reference offered for disability in arts spaces, it becomes problematic.

As Hanan Hazime says in this 2021 Akimbo article opens in new window, “even arts organizations with good intentions often contribute to the essentialization of Mad/disabled folks by only offering opportunities for representation that focus on dispelling stigmas, raising awareness, and sharing narratives of lived experience.” (Akimbo, 2021).

Developing an Understanding

The questions that should always be asked when we see a lack of representation - or only one kind of representation - in the arts is: who is programming, who is chosen to participate, and who is being marketed to?

Accessibility in galleries and museums should be thought of as a shared responsibility as Emily Watlington says, “between artists, curators, and venue directors, rather than an afterthought or the job of museum educators alone.” (Art in America, 2021).

It’s impossible to predict specific access needs, and not all needs can be met by one set of changes alone. For artists, considering how their work is viewed, which vantage points it can be seen from, and offering “access riders” – a list of accessibility needs to show their work - can help with accountability between makers and organizers. For galleries and museums, sharing resources is important - accessibility and design guides can be shared amongst organizations (Art in America, 2021).

Including accessibility in exhibition design is not only ethical and essential, but also acts to expand tired notions of clinical, white walled gallery spaces. Magnus Resch and Stefan Heidenreich ask the art world to “be brave” by not only creating an environment but a new experience where the viewers give meaning to art by allowing them to participate (Artsy, 2019).

Illustration of a lit lightbulb

Spotlight: Tangled Art + Disability (TAD)

Tanged Art Gallery sign.

Tangled Art + Disability (TAD) is redefining how the world experiences art and those who create it. TAD is a not-for-profit art + disability organization dedicated to connecting professional and emerging artists, the arts community and a diverse public through creative passion and artistic excellence. The mandate is to support Deaf, Mad, and disability-identified artists, to cultivate Deaf, Mad and disability arts in Canada, and to enhance access to the arts for artists and audiences of all abilities (Tangled Art + Disability, 2018).

Tangled Art + Disability is committed to cultivating inclusion and accessibility in the Canadian arts ecology and leads by example in terms of accessible arts programming. Tangled acknowledges the need for both knowledge & resources to support accessible programming (Tangled Art + Disability, 2018).

Tangled is dedicated to exhibiting Deaf, Mad and disability arts and artwork with the highest standard of accessible curatorial practice and strives to operate within an equitable, ethical, and inclusive framework ensuring audiences, artists, board, staff, and partners have access to services, programming, and gallery space (Tangled Art + Disability, 2018).

TAD policies and practices are informed by:

  • a responsive principle that relies on the contributions and voices of our community
  • a framework that supports the development of disability-identified artists being agents of knowledge, change, leadership, and production
  • a community and disability-led practice that sees accessibility consulting formed by our lived experiences of disability and intersectionality
  • a role as a catalyst for cultivating disability art, Deaf and Mad arts, and inclusion in the arts.

Tangled Art + Disability recognizes that accessibility practices are always changing and shifting by the knowledge and experience of how inclusion is modeled in our communities. TAD understands that for its goals toward equity and inclusion to be reached, it is necessary to evaluate its policies and practices on an ongoing basis (Tangled Art + Disability, 2018).