by Author Adam Cookson

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What are Youth Music looking for from music projects working with Disabled children and young people?

Music leader making music with three young people, two of whom are wheelchair-users. Two of the young people are playing African drums, the third young person is playing the maracas.

Introduction

Last year, Youth Music published Reshape Music, a report that explored the lived experience of Disabled musicians. It highlighted the significant barriers faced by Disabled musicians to access music education and music-making.

Youth Music funds projects around the country that support Disabled children and young people to make music, develop their skills, and progress on their chosen paths. In this blog, we will explore what makes an effective project targeted at young Disabled musicians. It is particularly aimed at organisations working in this area who are seeking Youth Music funding for the first time.

The Social Model of Disability

One of the most important things that we look for in grant applications seeking to work with Disabled young people are projects that are designed with the social model of disability at their core.

The social model of disability is a way of seeing the world that has been developed by Disabled people.  It says that people are disabled by barriers in society, rather than by their impairment, health condition or difference. It stands in contrast with the medical model of disability, which views people as being disabled by their impairments or health conditions.

For example, if a wheelchair-user needs to enter a building with steps at the entrance, the social model would recognise that the building is the problem, as its design creates a barrier. This enables us to consider solutions to remove barriers and increase access, such as adding a ramp to the building’s entrance.

The social model helps us to see disabling barriers and consider ways to remove these barriers to create a more equal society that includes Disabled people.

Youth Music want to see grant applications that use the social model to identify what disabling barriers participants face, and to consider how these barriers can be removed to increase access to music-making.  This might include choosing a venue that is accessible to all participants, offering support with transport to and from sessions, or designing sessions with regular breaks.

Of course, every individual is unique. Strong applications will take a highly personalised approach – one that demonstrates an understanding of participants’ specific access needs and how to remove disabling barriers that they face.

We believe that the social model of disability is central to an inclusive approach. One that recognises that Disabled young people have the right to access the same musical opportunities as their non-Disabled peers.

The social model aligns with the approach to music-making outlined in Youth Music’s Quality Framework. The Quality Framework is a tool to help you plan for and evaluate quality in your work. It advocates for a young person-centred approach, in which all participants’ needs and interests are acknowledged and valued, and puts equal emphasis on musical, personal and social outcomes.

Accessible instruments and adaptive technology

Traditional musical instruments can often pose barriers to Disabled young people. Using appropriate accessible instruments and adaptive technology is one way that organisations can support young people in removing disabling barriers to music-making.

Which accessible instruments and adaptive technology you choose will depend on many factors. These include individual young people’s access needs, the type of music-making activity you are running and budget.  Take It Away's Guide to Buying Adaptive Musical Instruments contains over 80 accessible instruments and products. Drake Music and Drake Music Scotland’s ‘Short Guide to Accessible Music Education’ contains lists of accessible instruments, equipment and apps, and is an excellent starting point.  Drake Music have also created a useful guide on using iPads to make music.

The Reshape Music research found that very few Disabled musicians reported that they played an instrument with an adapted feature: “While a range of adaptations and accessible instruments exist to open up access to instrumental playing, there is a lack of knowledge about them.” Applications to Youth Music can include costs to support organisational and workforce development in this area, increasing your understanding of accessible technology and instruments, and how best to use them in your practice.

Youth Voice

As with any grant application, we want to see organisations giving Disabled children and young people as much control over the direction of a project as possible. 

This means consulting with participants and involving them in programme design. It also means regularly checking in with young people during programme delivery and using their feedback to shape the direction of the project.  Youth Voice can also involve letting young people decide the genre or style of music they make, or the instrument that they will play, and offering participants leadership opportunities within sessions.

Youth Voice is particularly important when working with Disabled participants. Regular opportunities for young people to provide feedback will help you to identify any additional barriers to participation in your project and consider how these can be removed. Taking action based on what young people tell you is essential and being proactive and flexible is key.

Time and resource should be committed to make sure that Youth Voice activity is accessible to all participants.  If young people are not able to communicate verbally then you will need to find other ways to consult and get feedback on the work. This may include working with setting staff, family members and/or access support workers.

Example – Soundabout

Soundabout work with learning disabled young people and their families. Many participants are not able to communicate verbally, so staff work to remove barriers to consulting children and young people about their projects:

“Non-verbal communication (e.g. eye contact, facial expressions, vocal sounds or posture) is key to our work and Soundabout practitioners are skilled in using picture surveys, observation and offering choices and non-verbal feedback. We also work closely with parents and carers to understand their child’s needs and wishes.”

Music Leaders

Skilled and well-trained music leaders with experience in supporting Disabled musicians are central to any strong application.  Music leaders should be well-versed in the social model of disability, and able to take a flexible and personalised approach. 

This doesn’t mean that you should not submit an application to Youth Music if your organisation hasn’t worked with Disabled children and young people before. However, in these circumstances we’d expect to see strong partnerships with organisations with relevant expertise, and time and resource allocated to training your staff. Co-delivery is a CPD model that can work well, in which less-experienced music leaders work alongside and are mentored by those who have more expertise in working with Disabled participants.

Example - OpenUp Music

OpenUp Music’s Open Orchestras programme supports organisations to set up orchestras that are accessible to Disabled young people. As well as receiving access to repertoire, resources, and the Clarion (an accessible instrument), participating staff also receive CPD to develop their inclusive practice. This includes a series of training events, access to a Community of Practice, and supported delivery sessions, in which expert practitioners from OpenUp Music provide 1:1 mentoring.

Representation

The strongest applications seek to employ music leaders who are strong, relatable role models for children and young people, for example those who come from similar backgrounds to the participants. When working with Disabled children and young people, this can mean employing music leaders who themselves identify as Disabled. 

If there aren’t currently any Disabled people represented in your workforce, then you should consider how you could open up accessible routes into your organisation. Youth Music grantholder Drake Music have a workforce development programme for Disabled musicians, and have supported other organisations in the sector to develop more inclusive recruitment practices. You can allocate part of your Youth Music grant to training and workforce development activity and to work towards diversifying your workforce.

You should also consider whether there are opportunities for Disabled young people to progress into leadership roles within your organisation. Training and support for participants to take on these roles can be included within your project plans and budget.

Youth Music is committed to offering a clear and accessible grant making process that is open to everyone. If you identify as Disabled and need further support to make an application to Youth Music, you can apply to our Access Fund. This provides funding to cover any additional access costs that might be required for you to make an application to one of Youth Music’s main grant funds. 

Example – Carousel

Carousel are an arts organisation based in Brighton who support learning disabled artists. Carousel’s House Band is an integrated band that consists of learning disabled musicians and music facilitators. Carousel have supported the band to develop and lead music-making workshops for other young Disabled musicians in local special schools.

Contact

For further information about Youth Music’s grant programme, please visit the Youth Music Network.

If you’d like to speak to a member of the team about submitting an application, you can email us on grants@youthmusic.org.uk or call 020 7902 1060

Links and resources