Music news

Project launched to improve accessibility for disabled musicians

woman at a gig sitting on somebody's shoulders

12th August, 2012 is a date James Risdon won’t forget in a hurry, without putting words in their mouth we guess it was one of the happiest days of his life.

The musician, who has profound vision loss, performed in front of a global audience at the London Paralympic Games closing ceremony with Coldplay, as gigs go - it’s hard to beat.

But without a worldwide sport event and Chris Martin by his side, he knows only too well how challenging it can be for a disabled performer.

“I know how exhausting it can be. Not only do you have to be good at what you do, there are additional practical things to consider, such as travel and existing away from home and familiar surroundings and support,” Risdon told The Canary.

“There are musical issues, too, such as having music in accessible formats and having time to prepare it. Then there are things that others rarely need to think about, such as can I access backstage, how can I find my way from the venue to where I am staying, where can I get food?  

“Some things are just the challenges of having a disability, but other things are artificial barriers that could be removed with some imagination and thought.”

Risdon is supporting a project at Birmingham City University [BCU] which is setting out to make music accessible for everyone.

Research compiled by Youth Music in 2020 revealed 52 percent of disabled people wanting to learn music could not find a teacher to fulfil their needs, 25 percent don’t know how to find an adapted instrument and 67 percent said they could not afford to take up playing music.

That’s pretty hard hitting when you hear that 80 percent of the disabled people who participated in the study said making music provided a positive experience.

A study rolled out by Attitude is Everything in 2019 surveyed 100 deaf and disabled musicians, 70 percent said they kept their condition a secret in the fear that it could break down relationships with a venue, promoter or festival.

Emma Brown, from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire [RBC], is participating in the research whilst studying for an MA in Music and Performance.

She said: “As a musician and an amputee, I have a lot to say about music and disability. I believe there are two fundamental elements that need to change: attitudes and access. I would love to make music equal.”

Brown enrolled at RBC, part of Birmingham University, because it offers great accessibility and quality education. 

But, she added: “Sadly, that’s not always the case. I want to see people and organisations think about accessibility before they have a disabled musician join. With the connections this project has, we can give disabled musicians a voice and make noise in the music industry to create change.”

Risdon is optimistic that the study will see a brighter future for disabled musicians.

He said: “I hope this research shines a light on what everyone is doing so we can collaborate. Music brings us together. We have shared interests, networks and opportunities. If we speak with one voice, the music business – and world at large – will listen and take note.”

[ The research project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. ]

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