Music makes a difference

Back when I was 17, epilepsy started to strain my mind pretty badly. Depression took its place for about eight years after seizures started occurring all the more. So, after one year of poor results in further education, I decided to alter my pathway to the finish line. I wasn’t sure what to do at first. In the end though, I took on the subject that was sort of ‘stuck’ to my mind.

Music makes a difference. I’m an overthinker, and I’ve probably thought about this too much (especially when depressed). But, in my eyes, music is an incredibly strong power that’s existed in mankind for centuries now. It’s almost like magic; this power to interact with the minds of so many people around the globe. A power to tell stories to people over and over again if they’re willing to listen.

If you’re a good story teller, a lot of people could well be willing to listen to you too.

Now, after saying it’s ‘stuck’ to my mind, I certainly don’t consider it to be in any way negative. I wanted to achieve something at university, and started off with music technology in further education. At that point, mild depression consistently lingered, but I passed the subject with a good grade. Afterwards, my love of writing about music meant I learnt a lot in BA Popular Musicology. As uncommon as my subject was, it was an academic challenge that kept me moving.

Studying was my saviour at university. Although I was depressed, and struggled to socialise, eventually I got the good grade I was aiming for. Plus, from what I remember, listening to music only made it so much easier to get myself up and out of the house as a student when needed.

So, as a whole, how involved is music in the lives of disabled people?

Music and depression

Well, technically there are some well-known disabled musicians that have played a famous role in the music industry. They’re not known for being disabled; the problems that are spoken of only mention they’ve dipped into difficult times of depression and anxiety.

Depression is officially labelled as a disability by those who understand them all the more. Types of depression, perhaps most notably bipolar disorder, has led to the death of musicians too. At times, they’ve taken their own life.

As celebrities, we should also remember they weren’t socially disabled like the majority of others. They weren’t so much isolated from others, but perhaps gaining too much attention from the public. If anything, these people crave the option of independence that’s so difficult to find.

A lot of people only look at celebrities as those who live magnificent lives with great fame and fortune. But by choosing to neglect the press, they’re often incorporated with isolation. There are a lot of issues for famous people too, and these lifestyle insertions can lead to depression and anxiety.

Nick Drake accessed a record deal and released three studio albums, but he wasn’t a happy man. He somewhat didn’t know if he was standing in the right place. Record sales didn’t reach highs, as he refused to be interviewed and play live as well. Socialising really wasn’t his thing, and in 1974 he chose to take his own life at the age of 26.

Music and autism

As we alter our way towards other disabilities, it appears a close connection exists between music and autism too. This is positive. Evidence only suggests that people with autism enjoy interpreting and understanding music. They often do so better than associates, and are also more willing to socially engage with others when playing music too.

Music also works as a therapy for children with autism. If your child is diagnosed with it from an early age, letting them learn to play an instrument is a good idea.

As they remain concentrated and pick up top quality instrumental skills, it can also be beneficial in various other ways. Research also suggests it improves their levels of communication, develops their motor skills, and advances their behavioural, emotional and cognitive abilities too.

Withheld at times, but are things getting better?

Last month, Ticketmaster released a statement saying they were starting a new concert booking system for disabled people to use online. It supposedly gives ticket-buying concert attendees the chance to book tickets with less hassle.

In the past, disabled fans have often struggled to book their place by using the internet alone. They’ve had to provide evidence of their disability and also have spent too long on premium rate helplines to get them into gigs. As a whole, it’s put a lot of disabled people off bothering to attend.

Certain venues will now have accessible seats clearly labelled on the seat map like any other ticket. However, they’re far away from providing these services in many venues around every city. But still, you can find out more about where seats are a little more accessible by visiting the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition website.

On stage isn’t easy

Earlier this year, a survey told us disturbing news about how disabled people choose to find their way on stage. Out of 100 disabled people, 70% said they kept their disability a secret to maintain a better relationship with a venue, promoter or festival. Two-thirds said they had to ‘compromise their health and wellbeing’ to play live when required as well.

Fourteen year-old blind musician José André performing in his jazz trio

As disheartening as this is, it doesn’t surprise me. If you love music, and play in a band or as a solo artist, then you’ll be willing to compromise. As I said, music can stick to the minds of so many people, and it’s almost impossible to remove. However, people who lack the confidence to play live on stage are more likely to back out if a disability happens to be harrowing their life.

Collaboration is clearly needed

Are there other reasons we shy away? Quite possibly. Some researchers believe that disabled people’s lack of involvement is linked with the amount of men over women who are involved with music as well.

When it comes to gender, men are typically much more likely to get involved with music technology. Research shows that just 16% of people in the STEM industry (science, technology, engineering and maths) are female, along with 5% of people in the music industry as well. 90% of music technology students are also male, and female participants are most likely to make their way elsewhere.

This situation could well have been simply set up by the fact that males are more commonly professionals in the music industry. Seeing an icon of the opposite sex on stage is less inspiring for girls and women with this universal interest. As well as that, if you take on a course, men are commonly known to be condescending. They can often make suggestions for improvement and treat the efforts of female students with less respect.

Efforts are being made

However, some students designing instruments at university earlier this year were female, disabled, and had a major passion to keep moving forward with their projects. From a technical perspective, what was done seems so difficult, with plenty of creativity and expertise required to complete their tasks. An article in the Guardian spoke about how Robyn Steward and Lia Mice were working hard in London, and I certainly respect the efforts they’ve made.

Building your own instruments also interrogates ‘design thinking’, a process where producers offer to accommodate disabled people with their instruments. This might sound nice, but it’s done with a sense of empathy more than anything. As you will read in my post about stereotyping, disabled people are not ones to be pitied. Plus, after these are created, they can also be sold back to people who need them at a high price. Full credit will also be given to those who created them as well.

So, after simply researching the needs of disabled people to create what’s available, is this a fair practice?

I think this section makes it clear that collaboration and diversity is what we need to see more of right now. Shared efforts to make and take final credits should be given to a wide variety of people. This will give us the opportunity to find out more about how to make useful instruments for impaired individuals and get others involved with music technology as well.

We’ve got plenty to say

There are plenty of things to talk about when mulling over music and disability today. The connections are clearly there, but making and listening to music are also barriered by society.

There are certainly plenty of songs we could write and things we could sing about too! I’ve written some of my own in my spare time. We have plenty of points to make and plenty of stories to tell. I think using music to make greater statements is one of the best methods we could take on.

Guitars and amplifier

To get ourselves up and running, my earlier suggestions in a post about building a bigger and better disabled people’s organisation stands its ground. We need a centre-point, a headquarters in each nation to organise bigger projects for us all to execute in due time.

Plus, when it comes down to what’s available on the nation’s main disabled people’s organisation website, the more options the merrier. Socialising online to create groups and bring musicians together would be something so useful for many. People with autism would also be willing to join up to these groups more than others as well.

A better connection with the music industry for disabled people is something I want to bring into the spotlight. I believe I studied Popular Musicology for a reason, and using it to help grow the gains of disabled people only sounds so appealing to me.