Music as a creative force and all that this conjures up in terms of sheer elan has come to the fore in the hustle and bustle of modern life, where it's far too easy to overlook those folks caught up in what's become known as 'hidden disability'. Non-visible disabilities (NVD) are those not immediately apparent and typically chronic illnesses and conditions significantly impairing normal activities of daily living.
It is estimated that an overwhelming 90% of people with chronic medical conditions show no outward signs of their illness. Also, disabled folk want to work, wherever possible, and the UK Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make what it describes as 'reasonable adjustments' for employees with special needs, both visible and invisible. It's recognised that there remains room for improvement.
The Musicians' Union (MU) is rising to this pressing need by launching a new Disabled Musicians Membership specifically with the intention of 'recruiting, retaining and helping to level the playing field' for disabled musicians. Disability costs more in society and so it is also recognising the existence of such financial barriers with a reduced membership, backed up by a members' network. Its NVD mission statement is: 'We advocate on behalf of disabled musicians to ensure their rights are upheld and strengthened and where they encounter discrimination, we'll challenge it'. Membership also ensures that the person involved is better represented and protected at work.
John Shortell, head of equality, diversity and inclusion, explains that the move was created at the request of the entire MU membership, who recognise that disabled people face significant barriers including access to tuition, work opportunities and funding, as well as extra costs like expensive equipment, high energy bills and accessible travel.
Also at the forefront of pioneering work to find digital solutions to support disabled people is Drake Music Scotland (DMS), winner of the 'Demonstrating Digital Excellence' medal at the Scottish Charity Awards 2017, coinciding with its 20th anniversary. Patrons include Dame Evelyn Glennie and The Proclaimers.
Since 1997, DMS has built up an extensive body of specialist knowledge and expertise in the use of inclusive and adaptive technologies enabling disabled folks of all ages to communicate through music. Headed up by Thursa Sanderson OBE, chief executive since 2002, Drake is based on supporting participants to take part in musical activities and tuition on an equal basis with other musicians, continuing to build their skills to whatever level they aspire with barriers removed to ensure music-making is for everyone. It's all about discovering the best way for each person taking part to have as much independent control as possible of their instrument, or instruments, to play with expression and simultaneously develop their creativity.
Senior programme manager, Emma Lines, explains that DMS was established after Adele Drake set out her vision of using technology to support disabled musicians and the team has worked with over 10,000 children and adults throughout Scotland. A variety of technologies and adapted instruments enable all participants to play music, develop their skills, make progress with their music education, and achieve their musical ambitions. One such tech, specifically for those folks with learning and communications difficulties arising from autism and dyslexia, is making use of colours for notes and shapes for octaves encapsulated in 'Figurenotes' notation. Developed in Finland, Figurenotes majors on pitch and rhythm, helping everyone to read music. DMS has created unique software with an app and other associated resources.
Friday afternoon karaoke sessions feature in the recovery plan for Heather, who connected with ENABLE Scotland after losing her job at Glasgow's King's and Theatre Royal due to COVID-19. ACE Connect was rapidly born with daily Facebook check-ins, mindfulness sessions and back-up helpline along, of course, with end-of-week musical singalongs. 'The pandemic has been challenging on my mental health, to say the least,' says Heather, who now hopes to get back to her theatre job, see some more of her friends and get back to normal.
Why volunteer? Sense Scotland formalised as a charity in 1985, growing quickly from its beginnings as a small group of families pressing for services for their children, who were affected by deafblindness, many because of maternal rubella. Neil Farquharson has volunteered as a trustee since 1990 and is former vice-chairman and treasurer. He says that people volunteer for a number of reasons: to escape the norm, make new friends, build work experiences and to have a purpose.
Drake Music Scotland musician, Rhona Smith, sums up what music means to her: 'Being able to perform has fulfilled my biggest dream... it makes me feel equal to my able-bodied peers who play music'.
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'