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Taking a Social Model Approach ..... Who are the experts?

JW was asked to deliver a 5 minute presentation for Friday 16th February at the Ordinary Arts Festival Seminar.  The seminar speakers were all asked to focus their presentation on addressing 2 questions:

What barriers does your organisation present in offering access to disabled young people?
What barriers do you face form other organisations or society when designing your offer for disabled young people?

Here’s a transcription JW’s presentation ;

‘Hi  I’m Jane Williams, Director of The Turning Tides Project. We aim to make equal access to music, the arts and life a reality for people with ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels.  

We only have 2 rules:

Everything we do seeks to demonstrate the Social Model Approach , in action
We don’t do anything unless we think it will be fun.

I was struggling with preparing this presentation . When I asked myself why I found I had 2 issues :

Even if you talk fast, you can’t say much in 5 minutes: How will I make sure I say the things that matter?
I’m not sure that making seminar presentations is fun

Then it occurred to me, I just needed to be who am and demonstrate what The Turning Tides Project is. A 5 minute presentation might not be long but 3 1/2 minutes is the perfect length for a hit song.
So here’s ours. It’s called  ‘Who are the Experts?' and we wrote it for you - enjoy and do feel free to join in.'

Is an approach to inclusion organisational progress?
Or a statement of a fall-back position to exclude?
Who invented our indicators and outcome jargon?
Did disabled young people write our rules?
Who are the experts?
Self-appointed inclusion experts
Our reaching out makes us hard to reach
Equal access makes us all redundant
That’s the position we need to preach
Who are the experts?
Who are the experts?
 instrumental break 
Who are the experts?
Who are the experts?
The detail that matters is not our detail
Is anyone really hard to reach
If it was fun, cool and useful it wouldn’t be me
Standing here making this speech
Who are the experts?
Who are the experts?
Who are the experts?

Once we’ve recorded it, you’ll be able to download ‘Who are The Experts’ and hear some of the other original music of The Tuning Tides Project at:

I was an Occupational Therapist long before I was a musician. I qualified when the predominant theoretical model for OTs, was medical. The Social Model provided the theoretical framework for my Master’s research 20 years ago ​. When I first attended the International Disability Studies Conference in Lancaster (as a PA for a disabled friend) I was puzzled by the anxiety of some of the speakers that the Social Model would be appropriated by Non- disabled people: Surely, if taking a Social Model Approach was how we'd achieve inclusion, then the Model had to belong to everyone? ...... Now I think maybe I’m beginning to understand the concern. 



 When I first joined the Youth Music Network, a few years ago, I felt like a gate crasher. The language of The Arts and of Education is very different from that of Health and Social Care. The first thing I did was search ' Social Model of Disability’: I found one post. Now there's loads. Is that a good thing? 

I firmly believe that applying a Social Model Approach is how equal access for disabled people will be achieved, so why isn't my answer to that question a resounding ’Yes'?

It seems to have become desirable to claim to take a Social Model Approach and to be Inclusive, but are we?  Do we really understand what that means?


Our values, attitudes and expectations are demonstrated through the way we behave and the things that we say:

 Language is important

 I was pleased to see Drake state their intention to move away from using the term SEN/D: it has no place in a Social Model Approach.  

The Social Model defines 'disability' as created by society. People are 'disabled people', not ' people with disabilities'.  'Disability - led' and 'disabled-led' are presumably short hand for 'led by disabled people'? without the word 'people' , they are not terms I would use. Perhaps they have a meaning within the Arts and Music Education that I don’t’ understand but they are not, in my opinion, terms that reflect a Social Model Approach.

Within the context of a Social Model Approach terms used to define are chosen by the individual not ascribed by others. I doubt that individuals have chosen to be defined as ‘people with cognitive disabilities’ and ‘people with behavioural problems’. 

‘Differently able’, whilst it may be acceptable to or even chosen by some individuals, begs the question ‘differently able compared to who?’ It has evolved from a definition of ‘disability’ as a disadvantage that belongs to an individual who is not ‘normal’. ‘differently able’ has a positive spin, so that’s good – but it’s not a term that is compatible with a Social Model Approach.



Monitoring and Evaluation Processes and Systems are important.  

Collecting impact data, within a Social Model framework, has its challenges. If Young People don’t self -define as ‘disabled’ then ‘inclusion’ has to be demonstrated through the telling of stories. A preference for qualitative data analysis still seems to be viewed as ‘soft’.  So, I can see why systematically collecting data that defines and counts Young Disabled People by diagnostic label may appeal ... but it's not taking a Social Model Approach.

I know lots of Young People who have been given an ‘autism’ label. The only thing they all have in common is that they’ve been given an ‘autism’ label. Tidying them into a statistical category tells you nothing useful about their individual experiences.



‘Inclusion Strategies’ and ‘approaches to inclusion’.

If an organisation always uses accessible venues and facilities: takes a multi-sensory approach: employs people who are open, honest and respectful then ‘inclusion’ is the default position.

The Turning Tides project doesn’t, and never will, have an ‘inclusion strategy’: we aim to ensure that everything we do is open and inclusive. I’m sure we have much to learn, I’m sure we don’t’ always get it right. I’m confident we always question, reflect and learn from our experiences.


 It's not mandatory to ' take a Social Model approach' but I can't imagine how we’ll achieve equal access without doing so...

Drake are publishing a useful set of Blogs that explore the way that ' disability' is understood within different theoretical frameworks. The Social Model of Disability Blog is a really good read :


Who are the experts?

​In any situation, interaction or communication everyone brings their own knowledge, skills and experience. Arguably, everyone brings some ‘expertise’ and no one is the ‘expert’.  

There's been a huge increase in the attention given to the issues that limit disabled peoples' access to music and its opportunities. It’s exciting to have reached a point where, together, we could make a big difference. An open and ongoing conversation about how we make sure that potential is realised and how we ensure that our values, attitudes and expectations are accurately represented in our language, systems, processes and strategies would be brilliant.