Guest Post: Music – A grassroots approach to Disability Awareness


Today we are pleased to share a guest post from Musinc, an organisation that provides musical activities for people of all ages and abilities in the Tees Valley.

Every year, Musinc also organises training events as part of professional development for local music practitioners, leaders and teachers.

Most recently an online session was run on ‘Disability Awareness in Youth and Community Music Practice’ which aimed to increase music leaders’ confidence when working with Disabled people in both workshop and professional settings.

Musinc’s Workforce Development Coordinator, Tim Coyte takes a look back at the experience in the post below. Our thanks to Tim for sharing their work!

A workshop leader is supporting a young Disabled musician with a percussion instrument similar to bongos

Rather than choosing a training provider ‘off the shelf’ we decided to go with a grassroots approach and work with local music practitioners from the disabled community.

Kev Howard is a disabled musician, music leader, photographer and disability rights activist and Alison Trelfa is a blind music teacher, musical director and singer-songwriter.

Neither Kev nor Alison had experience of delivering disability awareness training before, but they did have lots of experience as disabled musicians and educators. We worked with them to create a training session from their unique perspectives, whilst supporting them to develop the skills and confidence to deliver the training –CPD for all involved!

This proved to be really successful and we’d like to share this experience, with reflections from the practitioners who ran the event.

Reflections from attendees

Kev felt somewhat overwhelmed to begin with but felt more confident with support, once he got his “teeth stuck in” he really relished the opportunity and enjoyed the experience of working collaboratively.

However Alison and Kev may have felt about delivering training for the first time, the music practitioners attending were deeply engaged in the session and many made comments about how the informal approach made them feel comfortable, whilst the content was thought provoking and informative:

“The Disability Awareness training was incredibly insightful, especially with the guest speakers.”

“The verbal content was brilliant and extremely relevant as we covered a lot on why Disability Awareness is vital. Both deliverers had some form of disability, so were speaking from direct experience.”

Sharing lived experience

Kev has worked for many years delivering workshops in day centres for disabled adults and other community settings, so he was keen to share his knowledge and experience:

“a friend of mine [asked me] when I was just 17 what instrument I played, I said I don’t because I have only the use of one hand, and only have three working fingers. His response to that was “That’s not an excuse not to play an instrument”; those words have stayed with me, and over the years I have learned many instruments from Didjeridu to Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer and Steel Bodied Dobro Blues Guitar.”

Through the training Musinc practitioners were able to hear first-hand from the life experiences of Kev and Alison, exploring barriers they faced and discussing how this can impact emerging disabled musicians or disabled music educators at the beginning of their career.

It was clear that both Alison and Kev really valued the opportunity, as Alison says:

“It was an honour for me to be chosen by Musinc to speak about visual impairment because it gave me the chance to be certain that information given to group members about issues surrounding visual impairments was accurate.

Even within the trainee teacher stage I was met with great resistance from educators who did not feel that I would be able to manage a classroom full of teenagers because I cannot see them, so if this resistance exists at this level, it leads me to wonder what chance do disabled students have within school if teachers are not given positive models by which they can empower the needs and abilities of disabled students as we move to an integrated society?”

Moving inclusion forward

This is something that Musinc are seeking to address. Following the training, Musinc have established a Disability and Music Network and are now working with Alison, Kev and other music leaders to develop CPD for teachers around disability awareness in music.

I’d like to leave the last point with Alison:

“When an organisation such as Musinc goes above and beyond to be inclusive, believing they can do much more to include disabled music makers, both at student and leader level, it fills me with hope for disabled musicians in the future and gives me a greater feeling of worth to be recognised as an equal professional musician.

Using musicians such as myself who live with disability to inform their practises going forward rather than adopting online policy templates will in the end pay them dividends, I feel. They are not just looking to have a box ticked and signed off, and for that I applaud them.”

To read the full blog and find out more, head to Musinc’s website.

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