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Where are all the disabled Musicians

When was the last time you saw a disabled musician onstage in Australia? ‘We’d like to work with disabled musicians, but we don’t know where to find them’ – a prominent music company told me a few years ago, when I was working with them to develop their Disability Action Plan. As a disabled musician myself, I wondered about this too. As a listening artform, you don’t always see the performers and of course not all impairments are visible anyway. I knew a handful of professional disabled musicians, and the household names like Evelyn Glennie and Ray Charles, but where was everyone else?

This is one of the things I’ve set out to discover on my Churchill Fellowship, which will explore inclusive music programs, festivals and venues that actively engage disabled people. We know that disabled musicians can experience barriers to training pathways and that the backstage areas of many music venues are not accessible. To see how our industry can produce more professional disabled musicians, I’m interested in looking at the ways in which disabled people can engage with music, as both creative participants and makers but also as audience members.

Last year, I had the pleasure of volunteering with Hack Sounds, an initiative of 107 Projects in Sydney, which offers an inclusive entry point into the world of electronic music making for people with and without disability. But this is one of the few regular programs in Australia that empowers disabled people to make music themselves. In terms of the music audience side of things, it’s been wonderful to see paraolympian, Dylan Alcott, launch Ability Fest, which is being used as an inclusive platform to normalise disability to encouraging everyone to come together in a celebration of live music at an accessible venue (with elevated platforms, pathways, quiet zones, companion ticketing, ramps etc). This festival was devised because most other contemporary music festivals across the country are inaccessible. These are only two initiatives, and I believe there should be many more across the country, so that more people with disability can access these sorts of opportunities.

Over the next few months, I will be visiting world leaders in this field, to talk to them about and observe their programs, workshops, training and events. I’ve focused on the UK and USA, countries which have led the way in arts and inclusion, because their disability legislation is stronger, its been around longer and has stronger community support. Some of the types of things I’ll be learning about include sign language interpretation at music festivals, sensory and relaxed music performances, adaptive music technology, targeted programming and universally accessible venue design. I will be travelling to 2 different continents, 3 different countries and 18 different cities to meet with around 70 organisations and over 100 individuals. Below is a nifty little video showing where I'm off to.

On my return, I’ll be sharing my learnings far and wide with music organisations, festivals and venues across the country. I know that our music industry is hungry for this knowledge and has a genuine desire to do better. It is my hope that the information I bring back and the resources and ‘how to’ guides I’ll be producing will plug our knowledge gaps and empower music organisations to become more accessible across the country. As a person with disability, music has had a huge impact on my life and I want everyone to be able to have access to this essential part of our culture. 


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