Carmen Papalia, White Cane, Amplified, 2015, video still (artwork © Carmen Papalia; photograph by Philip Lui). Image description: In this still from a video, a bearded man wearing a gray hat holds a megaphone to his face. He is walking along a suburban street on a bright sunny day. The caption in the video says, “I can’t see you, I can’t see you, I can’t see you, I can’t see you.”

Open Access: Organizing Accessibility from the Grassroots

A Reading Group with Carmen Papalia
July 8, 15, 22 & 29 @ 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM | Zoom | FREE
To register, please send an e-mail to

In 2015, Vancouver-based artist Carmen Papalia responded to the failures that he experienced as a recipient of institutional disability support services with Open Access, a conceptual framework for accessibility that moves beyond compliance-level protocols with guidelines for mutual care. Consisting of 5 tenets that describe what it means to organize a support structure in the midst of an oppressive system, Open Access mobilizes an interrogation of the conditions that restrain agency and decision making power over strengthening accessibility measures that are the result of legal and regulatory compliance. When put into practice, it problematizes the conventions of the accommodation paradigm for accessibility by encouraging participants to collectively envision a space that suits their needs, then share accountability towards that vision as they organize accessibility from the grassroots. Since first proposing it as his personal position statement on the topic of accessibility in 2015, Papalia has employed Open Access as the basis for performances, interventions and curatorial proposals at institutions across Canada, the US, UK and EU.

In this reading group about accessibility in a landscape of prescriptive programs and restrictive regimes, Papalia will introduce participants to the Open Access framework and to other concepts that have guided his work and advocacy over the last 10 years, including the principles of Disability Justice and the work of figures in the disability movement such as Mia Mingus, Alice Wong and Eliza Chandler. Over a series of 4 meetings, participants will have the opportunity to reconsider their accessibility and public engagement practices towards the production of a new community agreement that centers caring relationships that are rooted in reciprocity and accountability. This series is intended as a point of departure, a new context where participants can determine what accessibility means when approached as a temporary, collectively-held space.


Carmen Papalia is a nonvisual artist with severe chronic and episodic pain. In 2021 he founded the Open Access Foundation for Arts & Culture (OAFAC), a pandemic-era cultural organization that aims to set a new cultural standard for accessibility by nurturing creative and justice-oriented accessibility practices. Addressing the limited representation of those with lived experience of disability in leadership roles within the visual and performing arts, OAFAC’s activities advance disability culture and artistry within a contemporary art context through disability-lead trainings, curation, public engagements, exhibitions, performances, educational campaigns and site-specific project development with artists, curators and cultural workers.

Since 2009 Papalia has used organizing strategies and improvisation to address his access to public space, the art institution and visual culture. As a convener, he establishes welcoming spaces where disabled, sick and chronically ill people build capacity for care that they lack on account of governmental failure and medical ableism. His work, which takes forms ranging from collaborative performance to public intervention, is a response to the harms of the Medical Model of Disability, a framework that erases disability experience by reinforcing ableist concepts of normalcy.

In 2020 Papalia was one of 25 artists who received the Sobey Art Award; in 2019 he was a Sobey long list recipient in the West Coast / Yukon region. Papalia also received the 2014 Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, which supported a 3-month residency at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the 2013 Wynn Newhouse Award. His work has been featured at: The Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, the Tate Liverpool, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and Gallery Gachet, among others.

Presented by the SCA and supported by a SCORE Fund for Innovation in Graduate Education and the SFU Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

July 29, 2021