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’.
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.
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
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