Guest blog: Making music accessible for people with physical disabilities

The OHMI Trust is a UK based charity that works to remove the barriers to music making faced by people with physical disabilities. Rachel Wolffsohn, General Manager of the Trust, explains how.

For leisure-time music groups, the benefits of music do not need to be argued but have you ever considered that there are many people who might be excluded from music making? Think of any musical instrument and the chances are that without ten highly dextrous fingers, the instrument will be unplayable to any reasonable standard. As a result, thousands are excluded from music making, including most disabled children.

The OHMI Trust strives for full, undifferentiated participation in musical life for disabled people through the creation and provision of adapted musical instruments and enabling apparatus. It also undertakes and commissions research into pedagogic practices, instrument design, and manufacturing methods.   

Musician John Kelly playing his instrument the Kellycaster, which was created by Drake Music. Photo: Jas Sansi Photography

Developing instruments

OHMI runs an international competition that challenges instrument makers, designers and technicians to create and develop high quality musical instruments. The competition runs in three categories:

1. Playable - instruments with all the qualities of a conventional instrument but are playable without the use of one hand/arm. Previous winners include a flute, clarinet, bagpipes and Chapman Stick.

2. Enabling Apparatus - stands/harnesses etc. that allow standard instruments to be playable. Previous winners include stands for cello, trombone, clarinet and trumpet.

3. Concepts - ideas that require further development. The next round of the OHMI Competition will be open in April 2020.  

Working with instrument makers, the OHMI Trust then develops these designs for a wide range of physical disabilities to participate fully in making music. Since the first round of the competition in 2013, the OHMI Trust has now acquired a range of instruments that it hires out, both traditional and electronic, but there are many for which solutions have still to be found. 

An ensemble formed of OHMI music makers from Birmingham perform at a summer garden party

Who benefits?

Our beneficiaries are people who have a disability that affects their upper limbs. Statistics specifically on the incidence of upper limb disabilities do not exist, but there are some indicative and informative statistics:

  • 3.9 million people report that they have an impairment affecting dexterity (Department for Work and Pensions, March 2018)
  • 1 in 400 children are affected by Cerebral Palsy (NHS, March 2017) 
  • 1 in every 1,000 children have hemiplegia (HemiHelp) 
  • 15,000 children under 16 have arthritis (NHS, December 2018) 
  • 100,000 people have a stroke each year including more than 400 children (Stroke Association, February 2018) 

In addition to sourcing instruments OHMI also has a scheme for teaching children and young people with physical impairments. OHMI Music Makers began in 2015, and a third of the original cohort of children are still enjoying learning!

Opening up the music

OHMI is addressing the lack of significant data on music and physical disability by commissioning and undertaking research into instrument development, the barriers to participation, teaching methods, and the social impacts of our work.

In order to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try adapted instruments OHMI manages an instrument hire scheme. This allows people to test equipment for a minimum of a year so that they can ascertain whether the solution meets their musical interests as well as their physical needs.

OHMI is addressing the lack of significant data on music and physical disability by commissioning and undertaking research into instrument development, the barriers to participation, teaching methods, and the social impacts of our work.

The Petry sisters Inga and Elena both use a cello stand designed by the Ohio-based charity May We Help. The stand won the Enabling Apparatus category of the 2015 OHMI competition. 

The OHMI Trust is the only organisation in the world seeking to address this issue. In the world of sport, disabled athletes have been given the support and specialist equipment to become elite athletes but in the world of music, prior to OHMI, this was not the case. Moreover, with instruments that have been found and developed through the work of OHMI, disabled musicians will be able to perform in the style and ensemble of their choosing. 

Through partnership with a variety of educational, health and disability organisations, awareness of the needs of the physically disabled community and the available solutions is increasing year on year. OHMI has increased the range of instruments and enabling apparatus but also reduced the costs to those who choose to purchase the equipment for themselves.  

To find out more about the work and how you can support OHMI visit

Find out how to hire instruments through OHMI's scheme.