Over the last five years, amongst the chaos of the pandemic, world events, and general changes in the music industry, I have thought more and more about the things I want to change and how to go about them. Amidst all the adjustments we’ve had to make as a society, I can’t help but think about the disabled community and the lack of conversation around the visibility and representation of disabled people in the live music industry.
Instead of shying away from the dialogue, my aim is to help people grow, listen, and attain insight when it comes to the experiences of people with disabilities. It’s incredibly easy to isolate people, subconsciously or not, when we don’t resonate with their personal narrative.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was a particularly scary time for me because my life completely changed overnight. From falling into a coma, being diagnosed, and receiving treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis, to setting alarms to remember to inject my insulin and packing glucose with me whenever I went out, it was a lot of getting used to.
There was a time when I tried to hide my true self out of fear of being judged, losing out on opportunities or being overlooked, and the overwhelming cloud of feeling like an outsider. But I reached a point where I was putting myself under unnecessary stress because I was pushing my body beyond what it was physically capable of doing. And for what?
Alongside my diabetes, I have encountered other health complications which have altered my physical abilities and made life a constant cycle of modification. Slowly but surely, we will no longer have to come up with innovative solutions to getting around safely or life hacks for inaccessibility. Some of these modifications, such as secure places to store my emergency insulin if I’m camping at a festival or briefing staff on different chronic conditions as well as physical disabilities, have been very transformative for me and those like me.
Slowly but surely, we will no longer have to come up with innovative solutions to getting around safely
Being an advocate and spreading awareness is imperative, and so that brings me to why I have written this piece…
“Previous Arts Council research found that only 1.8% of music industry professionals identified as having a disability, compared to the UK population average of 18%. Of those surveyed, 90% agreed that the lack of visibly disabled people in the music industry contributed to under-representation in the sector.” – Chris Cooke
I always ask myself, what can we do as individuals to help those affected by the lack of resources and social modifications to help them navigate the music industry to their best potential? Disability representation plays a massive role in raising awareness about the challenges, rights, and needs of people with disabilities. I think by spotlighting the areas that are doing the work, noting the spaces that need improvement, highlighting the barriers the disabled community face, and the accomplishments achieved, representation can further encourage empathy, understanding, and support for disability rights and more inclusive initiatives.
“This aim is not necessarily to ask more people to disclose their disabilities […] but to encourage an environment where those conversations are normalised and more people with a disability or long-term health condition can be welcomed into the industry – at all levels – without barriers.” – Ben Pryce
As human beings, in the most poetic way possible, we’re all so different and no two sagas are the same. Educating where necessary and extending grace to people, no matter their ability, could be monumental if it were an everyday practice. But to get there, we need to do the work, and part of that work is increasing disabled representation in the music industry and making spaces readily available for everyone.
[So] view the disabled community as valuable consumers. A tangible thing we can all do is refuse to allow accessibility to become an afterthought in our everyday lives. Overall, disability representation is essential because it promotes inclusivity, challenges stereotypes, empowers individuals to reclaim their autonomy, spreads awareness, and contributes to positive societal change. By embracing and valuing the diversity of human experiences, we can actively create a more inclusive world for everyone.
Lastly, I proudly took part in the Unseen. Unheard. podcast discussing the Black, disabled experience in the UK’s music industry. We ask the industry to hear our voices as we’re on a mission to see a much-needed change. Please check out the report here: https://blim.org.uk/report-unseen-unheard
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