Towards renewed descriptions of Canadian disability movements: Disability activism outside of the non-profit sector

Christine Kelly


There are a limited number of academic accounts of disability movements in Canada; however, the existing literature provides relatively consistent descriptions. According to this literature, the disability movement seeks incremental, rather than radical, change through government-led policy, legislation and legal challenges. This work explicitly or implicitly uses the activities and actors from non-profit disability organizations as the platform for documenting and analyzing the movement. In this article, I argue the documented parameters of the Canadian disability movement are only part of the picture. There is a much broader and conflicted world of activism in Canada, constituting multiple disability movements. This article looks beyond the non-profit sector and incorporates expanded definitions of 'activism' inspired by third-wave feminisms to reveal a more complex picture of contemporary Canadian disability movements. The article proceeds with a brief summary of existing descriptions of the disability movement in Canada. I then discuss the challenges faced by non-profit organizations in a period of hyper-neoliberalism and suggest social and economic factors push radical and creative disability activism outside of this sector. I provide five counter examples of Ontario-based disability activists and artists who disrupt the existing accounts and broaden our understanding of who and what constitute disability activism. The article concludes by providing some questions and tentative characteristics that head towards renewed descriptions of disability movements in Canada.


activism; art; Canada; disability movements; do-it-yourself; leadership; neoliberalism; non-profit; radical; third wave

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The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies is Published by the Canadian Disability Studies Association-Association Canadienne des Études sur l'Incapacité, and is hosted and supported by the University of Waterloo.

ISSN 1929-9192 Canadian Journal of Disability Studies (Online)