The AIM Lab has emerged through incremental efforts over the course of eight years. In this sense, the AIM Lab has been “in the making” for some time already. Here is our story:  

In 2013, Kim Sawchuk, Laurence Parent, Arseli Dokumaci, and other researchers affiliated with Concordia’s Mobile Media Lab formed the Montreal In/accessible Collective (MIA) in collaboration with our community partner, RAPLIQ (Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec) and Catalan artist Antoni Abad. MIA collective developed a series of media projects on disability and discrimination, including the Megafone project, MIA video capsules, and Virtual Poster Series Traffic Lights. 

The Megafone Project, developed by Abad, used the application Megafone, which enabled its participants to publish photos, text, videos, and sound recordings of various accessible, inaccessible, and half-way accessible places, sites, technologies, objects, and random daily realities in Montreal, ranging from subway entrances to stairs; from cars parked on sidewalks to terraces with no ramps; from cash machines that are too high for a person in a wheelchair, to inaccessible access points. Using this methodology, project participants produced a location-based taxonomy of barriers, half-way access, as well as good points of accessibility, with tags such as “barre!”, “presque” (almost), and “bravo!”, over the course of two years (2010-2012). Our collaborative mapping project resulted in this intricate geomapping of in/accessibility in Montreal.  

In a second project, MIA collective, in collaboration with RAPLIQ members, produced a series of video capsules demonstrating disability discrimination in Montreal’s urban environment. One of our MIA video capsules, created in collaboration with disability activist Marie-Ève Veilleux, drew public attention to the inaccessibility of polling stations in Quebec, contributing to the establishment of an Accessibility Committee for provincial elections.  

MIA’s third project, Virtual Poster Series, Traffic Lights, was a virtual exhibition that combined the research-creation projects that the collective and its individual members had undertaken over the years in order to intervene in ableism through the use of digital media. The projects included: Architectural Ableism (a collaboration with RAPLIQ), Montreal*in/accessible (a collaboration with Antoni Abad); and Cripping the Landscape 1: Quebec City by Laurence Parent. Virtual Poster Series was published as part of the online exhibition, Cripping Cyberspace: A Contemporary Virtual Art Exhibition, curated by Amanda Cachia. 

Building from this groundwork, the MIA collective gradually evolved into broader projects and collaborations. In 2014, two core members of MIA, Kim Sawchuk and Arseli Dokumaci, co-founded and co-chaired the first working group on Disability and Performance at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. The Institute is a collaborative, multilingual, and interdisciplinary consortium of institutions, artists, scholars, and activists working on issues of performance and politics throughout the Americas. Since 2014, our working group (WG) has held four international gatherings, including our first ever meeting in Montreal in 2014, and subsequent meetings at the 2014 Bodies-In-Transit: Articulating the Americas (and Beyond) Convergence in New York (the US), the 2016 Encuentro Festivals/Conferences in Santiago (Chile), and the 2019 Encuentro in Mexico City (Mexico).  

The inaugural meeting of our WG brought together international artists, activists, and scholars from across the world, and it took place during the Encuentro Festival/Conference, MANIFEST! Choreographing Social Movements in the Americas, held at Concordia University in 2014. During the Encuentro, our WG not only had artistic and scholarly exchanges, but also made a public intervention in order to draw attention to the inaccessibility of art venues in Montreal. (You can read more about our working group’s statement here: The intervention and overall activities of our WG were so impactful that they generated an ongoing debate and provoked awareness around art and accessibility in Montreal.  

Drawing on this burgeoning synergy and ongoing discussions, we decided that it was long past due that we have a disability working group (WG) housed in Montreal. Through cross-departmental efforts, and just a few months after the Encuentro Festival, we founded Quebec’s first Critical Disability Studies Working Group (CDSWG) in a university context at Concordia. Sponsored by Concordia’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, CDSWG branched across departments, bringing together students, faculty, researchers and creators from Communication Studies, Art Education, Anthropology, Sociology, History, the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Educational Technology, Applied Human Sciences, and more. 

Initially, CDSWG was a modest effort. It provided a space and dedicated blocks of time where researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, community activists, and practitioners committed to critical disability studies, could meet to discuss their current research and develop ideas for future collaboration. We began with holding series of research presentations, workshops and screenings by CDSWG members.  

In just a matter of months, our activities rapidly increased.  Other researchers, staff members, NGO’s, local community members and many more who were genuinely interested in questions of disability and access began to contact us, wanting to learn and do more. Over time, our networks expanded through further collaborations with local, national, and international artists, activists, community members, and grassroots organizations, and with a series of events, including two international symposia. A year after its founding, CDSWG branched beyond both the university and Montreal.  

Given its expanding needs, the Milieux Institute began housing CDSWG under its Participatory Media Cluster and its accessible physical space in Concordia’s downtown campus in 2015. Since then, CDSWG continued its activities at an ever-increasing scale.  

As a way of demonstrating the span of CDSWG’s achievements over this short period of time, some of our events included:  

  • Sponsoring and hosting, Swiss theatre troupe Theatre Hora’s Disability Theatre Performance (March 30 and 31, 2015) the Black Box Theatre, Concordia University
  • Supporting Baraka de Soleil artist residency (in collaboration with MIA, 2015)  
  • Hosting “Please Do Touch! David Johnson’s exhibition Sculptures from the Inner Space,” exhibition by David Johnson, curated by Florian Grond (March 2016).  
  • Organizing Quebec’s first ever Critical Disabilities Studies Symposium, Inviting Movements: Emerging Critical Disability & Deaf Perspectives and Practices Symposium, May 2016 (Organizing committee: Danielle Peers, Giuliana Cucinelli, Kim Sawchuk, Laurence Parent, Owen Chapman)  
  • Organizing workshops and speakers-series in collaboration with Cinema Politica (Emmy winner, Jason da Silva, When I Walk, 2014 and Simi Linton, Invitation to Dance, 2016) 
  • Organizing talks by Mara Mills, 2015, and Gerard Goggin, 2016 
  • Supporting Enable Montreal, 2018
  • Organized “Disability, Deafhood, Access!” event, 4th space, Concordia University (December 2018). Organizers: Sam Thulin, Ashley McAskill, David Bobier, Kim Sawchuk.     
  • Curated “Vibrations” exhibition (outcome of a partnership between the CDSWG, VibraFusionLab (London, ON), and Together! 2012 (East London, UK))” Curators: Sam Thulin, David Bobier, Kim Sawchuk.   
  • Organized “VIBE: challenging ableism and audism through the arts” international symposium, Concordia University (November 30-December 2, 2018) (Organizing committee: Ashley McAskill, Kim Sawchuk, Sam Thulin) 

All of these incremental efforts over the years have now taken us to a stage when our needs and demands exceed the capacities of CDSWG. We need a permanent accessible space, infrastructure, equipment, and an expanded team of researchers and personnel to pursue our projects. The AIM Lab was born in response to this pressing need, and through our ongoing collective work and efforts to help strengthen critical disability studies in Quebec and broader Canada.  

Given the barriers within academia and other public venues, it will come as no surprise that there is a scarcity of spaces for disability to be addressed as a cultural, social, and political issue, and for disability communities to flourish in the university. Disabled people need access to spaces, equipment and communities in order to do research and create collectively. Furthermore, academic ableism itself needs to be challenged, unsettled, and intervened in. The AIM Lab seeks to address these pressing needs. Designed as an open, flexible, accessible and welcoming space, and composed of a variety of media technologies, maker’s tools and state-of-the-art workstations, the AIM Lab will provide a space where disability creativity, knowledge and survival skills can be generated, accumulated and circulated.  

Image description: A white page with 9 photos in a grid and with titles under. On top of the page it says, “m.i.a.” And next to m.i.a is the following description: “Collective of researchers, affiliated with Mobile Media Lab, who are engaged in forms [of] interdisciplinary projects that contain practice-led and theoretical inquiries into the confluences of critical disability studies and mobility studies”. First photo is a map covering United States and Mexico and with a wheelchair icon holding a megaphone, the title says, “Montreal*in/accessible”. Second photo is a man with a green shirt in a wheelchair photographed from above, with pink balloons, the title says, “Architectural ableism”. The third photo is two people hugging each other in a close-up, the title says, “Performance & Disability Database”. The fourth is an image of a urban street, with the title “Cripping the landscape”. The fifth is a close-up of a hand filling a cup, the title says: “Everyday taskscapes”. The sixth is a photo of a train station, with two people carrying luggages and a person in a wheelchair in between them, the title says: “Embodying Mobile Methods”. The seventh is a photo of a street crossing in yellow, with the title: “Access + obstacles”. The eighth is a person holding their hand above lifting a red veil, the title says: “Encuentro Work Group”. The ninth is a subway station at Becker street, the title says: “Wheeling NY City”. 

Image description: A map of Montreal with a lot of pinned spots in different colours (mostly black and red but there are also a few blue, yellow, purple pins). In the middle of the map is an enlarged photo of a staircase going to a second floor and another staircase leading to a ground floor entrance. There is bit of snow around. On top of the map are a series of keywords like “aberrations”, “bravo” and each of these keywords corresponds to a pin colour on the map. On the very top of the map is a yellow line where it says, in order of appearance, “Montreal in/accessible”, “Emetteurs”, “Etiquette”, “Carte” (this keyword is highlighted), “Statistics”, “Forum”, “Media”, “À propos”. On the top right hand side, it says “sear” and the rest of the letters of the word is missing, indicating that this is a screenshot of a website.


Image description: A group of people sitting in a circle in a room with two columns and black curtains in the background. There are some big coloured pilates balls stored to the left hand side of the photo. 

Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photo by Arseli Dokumaci

Image description: A blackboard with text written on chalk on it that reads: “positive exposure”, “cripping the camera”, “change what you see, see what you change”, “Reelabilities film festival”, Simi Linton, Heidi Latsky, “allies”, “new kinship imaginaries”, Tanya Titchkosky, “politics of wonder”.
Image description: A blackboard with text written on chalk on it that reads: “disability as dramaturgy”, Aberystwyth, Cyrff Ystwyth, “performance additions”, “20 years in hospital” (circled), “politics of appearance”, Simon Whitaker. 

Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photos by Arseli Dokumaci.

Image description: Two people on a staircase. One has short hair and is wearing a dark shirt and jeans. They are crawling down, holding onto the handrail with one hand and lifting a wheel up with another. The second person has curly, purplish shoulder-length hair and dark glasses. They are seated on the staircase as they hold a wheelchair with both hands and lean forwards. 

Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photo by Laura Blüer.

Image description: A logo with two slanted intersecting circles (one in pink and the other in yellow) on top and below is a slanted green rectangular with black, italic letters CDSWG in capital superimposed the rectangle. 

Image description: Four people sitting in front of a screen, where a text is projected. A person in a wheelchair, wearing red sneakers, is speaking to a microphone. To their left is another person in a wheelchair wearing a red tie and a causal blazer, and looking at them and smiling gently. To their right are two people around a table. One is wearing dark glasses and looking at distance with their hands on the table. The other is wearing red trousers and holding a notebook. 

Inviting Movements: Emerging Critical Disability & Deaf Perspectives and Practices Symposium Opening Panel, 2016.

Image description: A dark blue logo on a white background. Two hands facing each other and tied by a rope entangled. In the middle of two hands is the title “VIBE” in capital letters.

Vibrations logo design by Darian Goldin Stahl, 2018.  

Image description: Three VIBE symposium assistants seated at a table, smiling, and holding their name tags to the camera. In front of them on the table are rows of white name tags on blue strings.

We would like to thank the past coordinators of CDSWG and those who have worked hard to make these events, projects and activities happen, including: