Access for all: Top tips for welcoming people with physical disabilities

In this guidance, reprinted from the Spring 2017 issue of Highnotes, Jen Farrant looks at how you can make sure your group is open to people with physical disabilities.

Disabled people join community music groups for the same reason as everyone else; because they are a musician and enjoy making music with other people. Depending on the joining requirements of your group, they may be a highly talented musician or someone who wants to improve their musicianship and have fun with other like-minded people.

So how do you go about making sure your group is accessible to all abilities?

A good starting point is not to make assumptions. For example, not all people who are wheelchair users are unable to walk. Some use a wheelchair due to pain, fatigue, extreme giddiness when standing or not being able to rely on their legs.

One person may be affected one way by a condition and someone else may have the exact same condition and be affected totally differently. Many conditions affect a person differently from one season to a next, or even differently in the morning to the evening.

Give people them the information they need to make their own decisions about participation and what help, if any, they require.

More than anything it is about creating an open culture of discussion, encouragement and support. Here are some suggestions:

Welcoming new members

Make it explicit on your website that you welcome disabled members, what access there is at your rehearsal venue, and that you are happy to talk before hand to discuss their particular requirements. Personal Assistants (PAs) should be able to attend free of charge.

The same person who has that conversation should meet the disabled person and ensure they have all that they need, and are comfortable within the group. Everyone else should not try to ‘help’ the disabled person, but just make them welcome in the same way as an able-bodied person.

As part of welcoming new members explain any requirements about how to interact with existing disabled members, e.g. ‘This is Jen, please don’t move her crutches/don't push her wheelchair/make sure you have her attention before speaking to her as she’s hard of hearing.’ You shouldn’t give personal details, but just broad brush-strokes. This should be done at the same time as pointing out the social secretary, chairman, musical director etc. so that the person’s disability doesn’t become a ‘big deal’.

Visual impairment

If you have singers with visual impairment then lyric sheets could be provided in bigger fonts, some people find it easier with different coloured papers and you could talk to the RNIB to investigate braille options. You could also teach using a call and response method, or working one-to-one.

You can also alter score size using Modified Stave Notation, through most notation software, such as the free MuseScore.


Ideally all venues will be fully accessible, with hearing loops, however many community groups perform at venues such as old churches which may not be. Ask venues if they are accessible as part of the booking process and what adaptations they can provide. The same goes for social events: everyone should be able to take part.

Inform members of concert details, for example if there are stairs to get on to the stage, or if it involves standing. This needs to be done when the concert is first discussed, so that people can make a decision to attend and what help they will need. Can reasonable adaptations be made – for example if it is standing, is it possible for chairs to be provided for those that need it?

This is a huge topic and far exceeds the remit of this short article, but the key points are: don’t make assumptions, give people the information to make their own choices and be supportive of their needs.

Good practice tips

  • Review all members’ needs annually through a survey. Disabilities vary from person to person and even day to day for an individual. Just because they were able to do something last time, that doesn’t mean they can this time.
  • Have a nominated person for disability issues, so that members can approach them directly if there are any concerns. The nominated person should clearly communicate disabled peoples’ needs to the relevant members, especially conductors and musical directors.
  • Sometimes small things can make a huge difference, for example carrying instruments from green room to stage, having space in rehearsals to keep mobility aids near by, picking up music if dropped etc. These are usually arranged at a personal level between players/singers.
  • Never move mobility aids, or push people in wheelchairs without express permission.
  • If a disabled person works with a PA they may have a specific way they prefer people to interact with them, but remember the PA is not the disabled person’s friend. It is best to ask at the start how to work together.
  • Communicate in different ways, for example announcements at rehearsals should be repeated in writing, by posting on a private Facebook group or through email. This helps those with hearing issues but also those who may be using all their energy to focus on the music.

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.