Disabled musicians absent in music education, says new report by Youth Music

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Reshape Music

Youth Music, the national music and young people’s charity, has published Reshape Music – a report setting out the significant barriers faced by Disabled musicians to access music education and music-making.

Developed with the Take it away Consortium, a group of leading music charities, the report includes the first-ever national survey into Disabled people’s experiences of music education and music-making. The research team, including eight co-researchers, who are all disabled musicians, gathered the views of hundreds of music makers, music educators, and music retailers.

The report highlights the inequalities and misunderstandings disabled people face when it comes to music. Issues raised in the report include the majority of disabled people being unable to find teachers who meet their needs, not knowing where to source adapted instruments, and a lack of understanding about how to access funding to make music-making possible.

The upheaval of the 2020 national crisis, provides an opportunity for music education, retail and the wider industry to build inclusivity into the recovery. Reshape Music sets out the urgent need for educators, retailers, and the music industry to improve access and choice for Disabled musicians, to increase representation of Disabled people in the paid workforce, and to upskill music teachers to better support disabled musicians.

The calls closely follow A Blueprint for the FutureYouth Music’s campaign urging the music industries to diversify and recognise the huge creative and commercial opportunities to be gained from nurturing a range of talent.

Key findings from the Reshape Music report include:

  • The majority (52%) of Disabled people surveyed have not been able to find a teacher who meets their learning needs and understands what additional support they require
  • Only 25% of Disabled people surveyed know how and where to source an adapted musical instrument
  • 80% of Disabled people surveyed find music-making a positive experience, but only 61% know how and where to access financial support to make it viable
  • 67% of Disabled people surveyed cited financial reasons as a severe barrier to access
  • Only 7% of Disabled children and young people surveyed are making music in groups run by their local Music Education Hub
  • Just 48% of music educators surveyed feel confident teaching music on adapted instruments and only 27% of Music Education Hubs provide adapted equipment as part of their instrument loan service
  • 63% of music retailers surveyed are unaware of any specialist products or adapted instruments to make music more accessible for Disabled people, and only 38% know how and where to source adapted instruments
Image of a white woman supporting a young black toddler in a wheelchair to play the violin

Reshape Music Assets – Key Statistics from the Report

Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music, said:

“While there has been some progress, particularly over the last five years, Reshape Musicillustrates in very stark terms that the views, lived experience and expertise of Disabled people are still absent in the planning and delivery of music education and music-making. As a result, policies, programmes and infrastructure are often developed in a way that excludes their involvement and participation. This is discriminatory and particularly alarming knowing that there are 13.3 million Disabled people in the UK equating to 21% of the total population.

COVID-19 has brought these inequalities into sharp focus with Disabled people being disproportionately affected, facing further barriers to accessing services and being at higher risk of contracting the virus.”

Jess Fisher, Disabled musician and Reshape Music co-researcher, said

“Music has always been my way of expressing myself, it gives me a sense of purpose. Just because a musician is Disabled or needs specialist equipment or adaptations or even support, shouldn’t stop them from having the chance to make music.

Disabled people often feel overlooked and excluded, but music-making can make you feel connected to others and part of something bigger. Especially throughout the pandemic, it has been a lifeline for so many people. I hope by sharing my experiences it inspires others and helps music educators and the industry to understand how to make music-making more inclusive.”

Reshape Music challenges music educators, retailers and the wider music industries to act by putting in place specific plans to make practical changes. The recommendations in the report include:

  • Music education and music industry organisations must increase the representation of Disabled people, with an action plan and timescales in place
  • Recruitment should state explicitly where there is an underrepresentation of Disabled people, and opportunities should be targeted to reach Disabled people. This includes salaried, freelance and contracted positions, as well as voluntary roles
  • Spaces need to be fully accessible for Disabled musicians, performers and audience members. This includes venues, education spaces and retail outlets. Organisations should routinely seek to understand and address the broad range of access barriers
  • Music education and industry organisations should work closely with Disabled musicians to better understand the barriers they face to progress in their music and careers. They should involve Disabled people from the outset in all work that is designed to support them
  • Specific budgets should be put in place at an equitable level to ensure Disabled people can fully participate in music education programmes

Matt Griffiths continues:

“At Youth Music, thanks to the support of the National Lottery and Arts Council England, we will continue to strive for a more equitable and just music education system, and at the same time, take our own organisational actions to drive change.

These include increasing representation of Disabled people in our team and on the board, allocating specific resources to ensure that Disabled children and young people can access music education and music-making, and working with experts with lived experience of disability to shape our programmes and practices.”

Blaine Harrison, lead vocalist of Mystery Jets said: 

“The conversation surrounding inclusivity is without a doubt one of the most important ones of our time, and much like the many other corners of social justice, it too often suffers from becoming rapidly politicised. We’re living in an era where our core human values are undergoing close re-examination and radical reform on a global level.

What has always set the arts apart is its rare and unique ability to bring people together. As with a play or a painting, a piece of music can speak in a language which anyone can understand, and ultimately belongs to the people. But access to opportunity is often a different story. Giant leaps in tech over the past 25 years have given artists new tools and instruments to realise their creative potential, but how many of these instruments are designed with possible adaptations in mind, and how easy are they to try out?

Reshape Music stands out because it is led by the people most affected by the conversation around inclusion in the arts – young people with a lived experience of disability themselves, and I consider the findings to be of great interest. Both to anyone looking to carve out a path in music, and equally those on the sidelines, looking for new ways to improve the landscape for the bright lights of tomorrow.”

Also commenting on the report, Leo Long, Disabled musician and Reshape Music co-researcher, said:

“Finding tutors who support our ambitions and help us to get our music out there is so important. I was lucky, at times when I struggled academically my music tutors were really supportive, helped challenge me to learn music by ear and how to collaborate with non-Disabled musicians, which was a very big step for me as an autistic person.

Music gives me an opportunity to communicate to the world and express emotions that I sometimes find hard using words alone. During lockdown I often felt confused and upset, but joining events online gave me the chance to make new friends and play with musicians from all over the world. I’m not an expert at languages but it didn’t matter because music was the thing that bonded us, and it gave me something positive to focus on.”

Reshape Music: A report exploring the lived experience of Disabled musicians in education and beyond, can be downloaded in a variety of formats.


Youth Music and the research team want to hear from disabled musicians about their experiences, their successes, their struggles, their music: join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ReshapeMusic.