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Disability: A Modern-Day Segregation in Music

Musicians would rather face health risks than reveal they have disabilities

People with disabilities discriminated in the music industry

Music industry professionals face health risks in fear of exposing their disabilites

Arts Council England conducted a 150-person survey of music industry professionals who associate with having a disability or health condition; within this survey, 71% of people revealed that they had a non-visible disability.

88% of this number admit that they either "sometimes" or "never" disclose their disabilities to their colleagues in fear of facing discrimination, being undermined, seeming less capable due to their condition, and/or receiving less work in general.

69% of this number also included that this decision may have impacted their health and safety.

Ben Price, a founder of Harbourside Artist Management based in Bristol, conducted this survey after discovering the results of an earlier survey also funded by Arts Council England.

The research revealed by this survey showed that within the Music Industry, only 1.8% of professionals associated themselves with having disabilities, despite the fact that the UK population average is 18%.

In Price's research, he investigated various issues that would cause underrepresentation in the industry.

90% of professionals in the survey "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that a lack of visibly disabled professionals is the standout reason for the disparity,

79% also agreed to the lack of opportunities presented to young people.

“With my own lived experiences I was keen to embark on this research. I myself have a disability that I didn’t feel able to disclose, and I wanted to explore the perspectives of others in a similar position, as well as solutions of what can be done to improve disabled representation in the music industry”. - Ben Price

This survey has caused many large Music Industry entities to take notice and spread awareness, with articles appearing on platforms such as PRS for Music and The Musicians Union.

Recognising the barriers in music, and how to break them down

Barriers to people with health conditions in the music industry

There are various barriers within the Music Industry that are a direct influence on the representation of people with disabilities. The most obvious barriers are the physical ones, with most buildings and venues only being accessible by stairs, lack of disability toilets, and the absence of specialist equipment.

Another key fault within the industry is that the time constraints are usually inflexible, meaning if there is a 9:00 am meeting at a physical location it will be nearly impossible for someone in a wheelchair to make it on time during rush hour. The main barrier in the industry, however, is attitudinal - assuming someone cannot perform a task due to disabilities or dismissing them because they play an instrument different from the usual norm.

How then, can these barriers be broken?

The first step to breaking a barrier is identifying it as done above. However, due to the lack of representation of professionals with disabilities - or at least people willing to reveal they have such disabilities, can we expect music venues to appease people with health conditions when such conditions are not brought up due to fear of discrimination?

To open the path to such conversations we need to talk about access requirements at venues, and how such requirements are seen as 'extra steps' and not mandatory.

Leading to the notion that it is not necessary to allow people with disabilities easy access to venues, which ends up empowering the discrimination of the disabled in The Music Industry.

In a survey conducted by PRS for Music, it reveals such statistics:

  • 67% of responded artists have struggled with accessibility barriers at music venues, 66% agreeing that access to the stage was the most common problem.

  • 35% have arrived at a show and have not been able to fulfil their commitment due to barriers restricting their access to the venue.

  • 41% have rejected a booking at a venue due to the knowledge that the venue will not be accessible.

  • 71% did not always disclose their disabilities, putting their health and safety at risk in the past.

The fact that the stage is the most inaccessible part of a music venue is shocking, the lack of a simple ramp to allow access for the disabled shows how much work needs to be done to improve the current conditions for those who work with health conditions.

Venue managers, tour managers, promoters, and agents need to be encouraged to listen to musicians with disabilities and make them feel confident in asking for adjustments they may need to access the event so that every artist can perform at their full potential regardless of a disability.

“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 Price


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