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


  • Christine Kelly School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University



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


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.

Author Biography

Christine Kelly, School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University

Christine (Chrissy) Kelly is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa where her research examines Personal Support Worker education in Ontario. Her other research interests include attendant services, feminist disability studies, feminist care scholarship, Canadian disability movements and theoretically-informed approaches to interdisciplinary health research.

How to Cite

Kelly, C. (2013). Towards renewed descriptions of Canadian disability movements: Disability activism outside of the non-profit sector. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 2(1), 1–27.