On this page, I will discuss the barriers that musicians with disabilities faced during Much Taboo About Nothing, and their experiences of barriers in other parts of their career in the music industry.
Firstly, after Much Taboo About Nothing had finished, I reflected back on the process of putting the show together and the performance itself. I found the following topics a potential barrier for the musicians with disabilities who were part of the show; access, mental health, autism, cerebral palsy, and performance.
Below I will discuss each of these and how they have proven to be a barrier for the musicians and myself who performed at Much Taboo About Nothing. Following my own observations, I will then discuss the findings from the other acts who answered questions relating to my initial research questions based on their experience of being part of Much Taboo About Nothing and the barriers they have faced.
In the planning of Much Taboo About Nothing I knew which artists I was going to ask to be involved with in the show. This included two people with physical disabilities, one of whom being a wheelchair user. This meant that the venue would need to be easily accessible and also have disabled parking very close by too.
The venue that was chosen was to be at York St John University as I did not have a budget to pay for any venue outside the university, but I was able to use the university for free. This limited my choice of venue space due to access issues, as after reviewing a variety of venues, it became apparent that only one of the venues within the university was wheelchair accessible. This exemplifies the social model of disability in that there were physical barriers as Oliver et al (2012) describes previously.
Theatre Studio 1 was the chosen venue and had two entrances, however only one entrance was wheelchair accessible and so planning of getting equipment from outside needed to be factored into the set up of the show.
The organisation, Attitude is Everything, conducted research on the barriers that musicians with disabilities have faced, with regards to access. They found that, out of 96 artists who contributed, 79 had played live shows and ‘1 in 2 are disabled by physical barriers at most gigs, and 1 in 5 have had to cancel a show due to physical access issues’ (Attitude is Everything, 2019). Again, the Social Model of disability coming into play.
As Kris Halpin, one of the performers of Much Taboo About Nothing stated; ‘a standard stage setup that’s maybe 1ft high is still too high for me to step on to and I’ve fallen trying to get on and off stages LOADS of times’. Venues do not see the full extent of what a simple change could do to the safety and well being of artists with access requirements.
Another example of the considerations that are needed when ensuring access for those with requirements, is travel. The band Ausome, were travelling down from the North East by train and I had to factor in travel arrangements for them due to one of them having a physical disability. This meant that taxis had to be used to get to and from the train station at either end, and planning for this had to be implemented before the day in order for this person to be able to participate.
The examples presented above, are just a snapshot of access issues faced by performers with disabilities. It is this initial barrier – that of just gaining access to a venue which holds back many disabled performers.
Some of the artists in Much Taboo About Nothing mentioned that they have had some struggles with their mental health recently and how this has impacted on their music, either influencing the songs they’ve written or not being as focussed on music as usual. This notion of using music to express themselves, mirrors Macdonald, Hargreaves and Miell’s (2002) definition of Music in identity (MII) as they use music to create their identity as a musician and performer.
There seems to be not much specialist support around for musicians with disabilities struggling with mental health and I believe more needs to be done to address this issue especially as ‘2 in 3 have had to compromise their health and wellbeing to perform live’ (Attitude is Everything, 2019).
Autism and Ausome’s well-being
Having worked with young people with autism for a number of years, I have experience of some of the challenges that they face, including the levels of anxiety that they can have in new situations and scenarios. During Much Taboo About Nothing rehearsals with Ausome, we had been rehearsing with their POD leader Dean, who played guitar alongside them, however the day before the gig, Dean had to pull out due to illness.
This meant that Ausome would not be performing as they knew it from rehearsals with Dean but with a sub-guitarist instead. Having a structured day and the group knowing what is happening throughout, helps to alleviate some anxiety levels and keep the performers more at ease for the performance. As Attitude is Everything found out, disabled performers wellbeing was being put at risk due to societies lack of understanding and lack of support from disabled performers, for example, ‘lack of information about sound checks and set times have made me very anxious’ (Attitude is Everything, 2018). With this in mind, I emailed the plan for the day with relevant timings to each member as soon as I could, so they could prepare themselves for the change in routine and know that they could ask me questions to help ease their anxiety about the day.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) can cause challenges with movement for the person affected. In Much Taboo About Nothing, both myself and one of my acts have CP. This meant that we both needed support to set up our instruments and equipment. Kris is a wheelchair user, and so access needed to be a priority as well as accommodation after the show due to fatigue from CP. For myself and my personal challenges, I face challenges with my speech and so talking to people I encountered on the day that did not know me brought about some issues as they did not fully understand me the whole time when I had questions, or they needed answers.
Much Taboo About Nothing was a show in which all acts had a disability and all acknowledged that they had one too. During the promotion of the event it was hard to decide whether or not to mention disability, as sometimes I’ve found this can make people shy away from the performances due to various reasons, such as the taboo around it and whether they’d get the standard of musicianship they are use to with non-disabled musicians’ gigs. With this in mind, I only mentioned that I had a disability, but I believe it could have been interpreted from the title that all performers had disabilities. This bought up the questions of, did this impact on the audience attendance; which was small, and was the reason for this being the publicity approach I undertook of highlighting my disability, but not others? Or was it the fact that I do not have that wide a range of networks in York? Or was it a combination of the two, and simply highlighting my disability led to people shying away?
This links back to my initial aim of breaking down the taboo around disability.
This leads onto the last barrier I identified – identity. How we are perceived by society and the music industry and sector, can impact on how well we can do what we do as artists. If the main focus is on our disability, then our full ability, primarily as musicians, is overlooked and we do not get the same opportunities abled-bodied musicians do.
As Ausome responded;
‘Getting the opportunity to perform on another platform, performance space, perform as artists, not knowing disabilities, put across message don’t look at us as disabled people but as who we are, can get the wider message out there, we’re all equal’.
This experience by Ausome, resonates with Gibson’s (2005) disability identity model, Stage three – acceptance. They embrace their identity as artistsand want to be seen as equal, alongside other musicians able to perform their music to an audience.
On the next page, I discuss the barriers and provide some suggestions to how musicians with disabilities can gain the most support and be able to share their music at the same level as abled-bodied musicians.