Who’s leading the way toward accessibility in Toronto’s music scene?

People with disabilities are often excluded from shows and parties, but a few musicians and promoters are looking to change that


STOPGAP ON TOUR BENEFIT CONCERT featuring Tim Moxam, Culture Reject and Sienna Che, Thursday (September 19) at the Cameron House (408 Queen West), 6 pm. facebook.com.

VENUS FEST featuring The Vaselines, Charlotte Cardin, Tei Shi, Han Han, Fiver, The Weather Station and others, Friday-Sunday (September 20-22) at the Opera House (735 Queen East), 7 pm. $25, festival wristband $55. venusfest.net.


Over the past few years, conversations have been taking place throughout the local music scene to make it more inclusive and open to a variety of different people. But none of it explicitly address the exclusion of people with disabilities – as patrons, performers and purveyors – due to inaccessibility. 

But a few local promoters and musicians have been leading the charge toward accessibility both at their own events and in the scene in general. 

“Working toward accessibility is a way to consider many experiences, which are sometimes seen or unseen, private or public, unique or relatable,” says Venus Fest founder Aerin Fogel.

This weekend is the third year for the festival, which celebrates feminism in the arts and creates space for women and non-binary performers. It’s also the first year the whole festival takes place at the Opera House. It’s an intentional choice of venue, says Fogel. Accessibility has been a priority since the beginning, and Opera House owner Athena Ellinas-Towers has been supportive of that every step of the way. 

“Compared to other large-scale venues in the city [the Opera House], had a lot of great built-in access points such as an entrance with no steps and a large main floor bathroom with transfer bars,” Fogel says. “But the main floor of the venue has three levels with steps in-between, so it was not fully accessible at all levels. Attendees with certain mobility devices would be able to enter and watch from the back of the venue, but not come closer.” 

It’s typical for seated patrons and mobility aid users to be sectioned off separate from other concertgoers. Even if basic accessibility needs are addressed, that arrangement fails to consider the social barriers to access that the disabled community faces. 

Last year, Venus Fest planned to rent a ramp to make it possible for patrons with reduced mobility to move between levels. Instead, the Opera House chose to be a part of the solution and purchased a ramp, making the space more accessible not just for the festival, but for all shows. 

“I’ve had my own journey with invisible disability, so I might be more inclined to think about accessibility than someone who has not,” says Fogel. “But learning different ways to create a welcoming and equitable space for your community is very simple. You can ask questions. You can hire an accessibility consultant. You can improve step by step over time. It’s worth it.”

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Samuel Engelking

“Learning different ways to create a welcoming and equitable space for your community is very simple,” says Aerin Fogel of Venus Fest. “You can ask questions. You can hire an accessibility consultant. You can improve step by step over time. It’s worth it.”

Crip Rave is a new Toronto-based collective and event platform that addresses accessibility in the electronic music scene. The first event took place at the end of August as part of Bricks and Glitter at Unit 2 with artists Syrus Marcus Ware, 3 N 3 R G Y and DJ Crip Time. 

“Crip Rave is informed by legacies of crip, mad and disability engagement with art as resistance, as well as histories of sonic resistance that have been practised across time and space by queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities,” say founders Renee Dumaresque and Stefana Fratila in an email. 

Toronto’s electronic scene is rooted in rebellion and community – but accessibility remains a major point of oversight. 

“There has always been push-back and activism to make electronic music spaces safer and more intersectional,” they say. “But the exclusion of crip, disabled, sick and mad folx is an aspect of contemporary rave culture that is largely taken for granted by non-disabled people. 

“Every community, organizer and promoter has to make hard decisions about what they’re willing to sacrifice when planning any event. But it’s no coincidence that crip, mad, sick and disabled folks are displaced over and over again when organizers and attendees just accept that venues aren’t accessible.” 

When considering accessibility, they say, typically organizers only think about accessible entrances. But there’s more to it than that.

“We need to be thinking about washrooms, seating and stretching areas, snacks and free water, the overall sensory experience, harm-reduction supplies, as well as the presence of personal care and other types of volunteer support.”

The second edition of Crip Rave happens in 2020, with hopes to continue to evolve with feedback and collaboration from the community. They envision a world where rave sites are accessible to everyone. 

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Stefana Fratila (left) and Renee Dumaresque started Crip Rave to work towards accessibility in the electronic music scene. “Every community, organizer and promoter has to make hard decisions about what they’re willing to sacrifice when planning any event,” they say. “But it’s no coincidence that crip, mad, sick and disabled folks are displaced over and over again when organizers and attendees just accept that venues aren’t accessible.”

Local initiative StopGap provides ramps to businesses whose entrances are accessible by one or two stairs. It’s a small but crucial action, and the ramps have helped make Toronto more accessible. The ramps have become ubiquitous at local shops and restaurants. 

On Thursday (September 19) at the Cameron House, singer/songwriter Tim Moxam hosts a fundraiser in partnership with StopGap supporting their StopGap On Tour initiative. The event also features Culture Reject and Sienna Che, and I’ll be a guest speaker.

Also a carpenter, Moxam volunteers as a builder for the organization, which has given him a deeper understanding of inaccessibility. 

“It’s been incredibly eye-opening,” he says. “You’re met with people who clearly don’t care and you’re met with people who’ve been fighting that same fight for years and years.”

Luke Anderson, founder of StopGap, has been one of the people fighting that fight in Toronto. But delivering ramps outside of the city, and especially outside of the province, is a more difficult process. 

“The idea [with StopGap On Tour] is to create artist-led StopGap ramp builds and fundraisers, and to have those bands bring at least one ramp with them on tour,” says Moxam.

Singer/songwriters Jason Collett and Kate Rogers have also signed on. The east coast leg of the tour has already gone through places like Halifax and Victoria, PEI. After a successful GoFundMe campaign, the tour will next head west in October with ramps in tow. 

The highlight of Moxam’s tour, he says, was connecting with New Brunswick DIY venue owner Dave Love. Love, who has multiple sclerosis, re-purposed an old building on his property into a music venue called The Cottage because he was struggling to attend shows at venues in the Kingston Peninsula area. Though The Cottage didn’t need a ramp, Love connected Moxam with Backstreet Records in Fredericton, which did.

As an ally, Moxam says he wishes able-bodied people would put some time into learning about accessibility. 

“If you have not experienced [inaccessibility], you are so far removed from it.”

Rachel Romu is a musician, accessibility consultant and disability rights activist.

@nowtoronto | @rachelromu

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