DISABLED musicians are absent in music education, says a new report by Youth Music.

Youth Music, the national music and young people’s charity, has published its Reshape Music Report, which sets 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.

One disabled musician from Wrexham, 56-year-old John Ramm, who is a blind drummer, percussionist, singer, guitarist, and sound engineer, took part in the survey.

Prior to the pandemic, he was building a steady list of clients mixing and engineering for bands using his own PA, and teaching drums privately on a one-to-one basis, something which he has done for many years.

He also plays with two bands and for his local church and enjoys playing and singing at open mic events and folk clubs in his local area.

However, 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 2020 has provided 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 Future, Youth 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 per cent) 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 per cent of disabled people surveyed know how and where to source an adapted musical instrument.
  • 80 per cent of disabled people surveyed find music-making a positive experience, but only 61 per cent know how and where to access financial support to make it viable.
  • 67 per cent of disabled people surveyed cited financial reasons as a severe barrier to access.
  • Only 7 per cent of disabled children and young people surveyed are making music in groups run by their local Music Education Hub.
  • Just 48 per cent of music educators surveyed feel confident teaching music on adapted instruments and only 27 per cent of Music Education Hubs provide adapted equipment as part of their instrument loan service
  • 63 per cent of music retailers surveyed are unaware of any specialist products or adapted instruments to make music more accessible for disabled people, and only 38 per cent know how and where to source adapted instruments.

Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music, said: "While there has been some progress, particularly over the last five years, Reshape Music illustrates 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 per cent 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, a disabled musician and Reshape Music co-researcher, added: "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."

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.

Reshape Music: A report exploring the lived experience of disabled musicians in education and beyond, can be downloaded in a variety of formats via https://youthmusic.org.uk/reshape-music.

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.