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As Disability Pride Month – which takes place every July – draws to a close, it is incumbent upon the music community to continue to uplift and celebrate music professionals with disabilities of all kinds. Below is a useful and pragmatic guide to how we can do this, both in music industry situations and in our daily lives.

The following is a guest piece from Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD)a coalition of established creators with disabilities working to promote equitable inclusion, visibility and accessibility in the music industry.

Having recently worked with the 64th GRAMMY on a visible stage ramp, sign language on the red carpet, and live captioning and audio description of video content, RAMPD is on a mission to massively amplify disability culture.

Read on as RAMPD members share key ways the music industry can support creators and creative professionals with disabilities throughout the year in meaningful ways.

Lachi. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.

Lachi (Founder/Chairman, RAMPD):

Ask first. So listen.

With 26% of Americans living with some form of disability, neurodiversity, chronic illness or communication difference, we are a large and diverse community full of rich, untold stories and deeply moving and impactful, yet untapped experiences. by popular culture.

The disability community has strong opinions about how we want to be seen and represented, but rarely have the opportunity to express them. Thus, many decisions are made about us without us and are often detrimental to the community.

When planning design, programming, recruitment strategies or anything else – even if it has nothing to do with disability – a person with a disability who is engaging the community must be present.

“But Lachi,” you might say, “I don’t know anyone in the music industry with a disability.” At RAMPD, we provide resources where people can find, seek or hire top talent and professionals with disabilities who are knowledgeable, accessible and present to impact growth.

WawaSnipe

Wawa Snipe. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.

Aoede (RAMPD, co-chair of events):

Encourage promoters, agents and venues to listen to artists and musicians with disabilities about their needs.

More than two-thirds of performers with disabilities do not disclose due to stigma and say they risk their health to perform. One way to eliminate the fear of performers disclosing their disability is to respect the rider of a performer with a disability.

DJ Pastor Rock (RAMPD, Partnerships):

It all starts with awareness; paying attention to who is and, more importantly, who is not there. Raising awareness is an important entry point for building relationships with people who are too often excluded.

2. Recognize disability as a natural and cultural form of diversity

RAMPD Community:

Disability culture is a celebration of people who identify as disabled, while recognizing the great diversity of the experience of disability and the inherent and equal worth of each person.

He is unapologetic, creative, innovative, adaptable, imaginative and grounded in problem solving.

It is based on the premise that disability should be seen, respected, included and celebrated. This includes our worldviews, our perspectives, our contributions, our art, our words and our music.

Disability culture – at least in part – is a dynamic and flourishing counter-response to the exclusion, marginalization and oppression experienced historically and currently by many people with disabilities.

Namel Norris

Namel Norris. Photo: Joe Papeo, Danny Prize 2022

Namel Norris (RAMPD, Partnerships):

One of the main ways the music industry can be more disability-inclusive is to become more involved in our culture and in the incredible artistry, performances, and musical contributions that we already have underway.

Zak Sandler (RAMPD, Professional Member):

We need to create an environment where disability is not hidden out of shame, but rather celebrated out of pride. Record labels and agents should actively seek out artists with disabilities and ensure that we represent a consistent percentage of their customers.

Shelby Lock

Shelby Lock. Photo courtesy of Shelby Lock.

Shelby Lock (RAMPD, pro member):

Evaluate people based on their skills and work ethic rather than their medical condition. There can be a culture of continuous work in the music industry, especially in the studio world. Don’t write us off, and we’ll prove with our results that we deserve to be here too.

Leroy Moore Jr (RAMPD, pro member):

Let us also admit the -isms which have sidelined the artists who become disabled/deaf during their career in the music industry.

StephenLetnes

Stephen Letnes. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.

Stephen Letnes (RAMPD, treasurer):

Music affects and reflects what we value. The culture of disability is not something new; he has always been here. The music industry can and should amplify such a powerful yet neglected part of our culture.

3. Intentional visibility and representation of the scene at the meeting room

Precious Perez (RAMPD, Membership Chair):

The representation of disability on screen is crucial. There is so much power in watching the media and seeing yourself and your community represented.

Disability is the one diversity left out of all conversations about diversity. The only minority that is not recognized. So many people don’t understand disability – and moreover, don’t see or know disabled artists on an equal footing.

It is for this reason that highlighting and booking artists with disabilities for significant exposure opportunities is not only empowering, but also deeply impactful to the general public and the industry as a whole.

PreciousIntegrate

Precious Perez. Photo: Alina Nadolu

Aoede:

Promote and implement accessibility measures at major events such as:

Ramps visible to the stage; visible ASL interpreter(s) and self-description; and the on-stage and off-media representation of artists and professionals with disabilities.

Publicly announcing accessibility measures through press releases, websites and social media is a strongly encouraged way to include the disability community – while generating enthusiasm or interest from non-disabled viewers for these measures.

Namel Norris:

Invest in artists who are already making a massive impact by deliberately amplifying disability culture around the world.

There are also accomplished entertainment professionals who can sit on your boards to make sure disability is part of the conversation at board level.

It’s not about giving us alms; it’s about giving us a hand at the top. A fair and inclusive place at the music industry table.

Brandon Kazen Maddox

Brandon Kazen-Maddox. Credit: Lincoln Center

Brandon Kazen-Maddox (ASL Interpreter):

Incorporate artists from the deaf and sign community to not only translate musical events into ASL, but also to work hand-in-hand with musical artists to create accessible work from scratch.

4. Inclusive hiring – from backstage to contractor to executive

Andrea Jennings (RAMPD, secretary):

Let’s level the playing field for music executives, behind-the-scenes music creators, musicians and music administrators with disabilities.

We are talented professionals at all levels. We are opinion leaders and want to bring our point of view to society; however, we often encounter barriers to accessibility and the pay gap.

To succeed, we need equitable solutions such as accessible outreach programs, inclusive employment opportunities, paid on-the-job training, and intentional housing support.

Lachi:

Let’s create disability-friendly work, event and office environments, over 70% of whom have a non-visible disability. The last thing we want is to find out that someone was afraid to stand up for themselves or ask for work accommodations…during their exit interview!

5. Intentional accessibility of events and places for artists and patrons

Aoede:

Hybrid events are a great opportunity for high visibility events to promote inclusion and accessibility.

As a disabled artist living with a chronic illness, I turn entirely to virtual events to engage and connect with others in my music community.

These events allow people like me, who are unable to attend physical events (due to health risks, travel, or other concerns) to access to participate and be included virtually.

TracyMarieIntegratePhoto

TracyMarie. Photo courtesy of RAMPD.

Tracy Marie (RAMPD, Events):

Venues can better implement inclusive practices by simply providing a direct line on their website to a designated staff member who receives accommodation requests.

This goes for a patron, an artist or even those who are interested in seeking employment. An open line of communication helps people with accessibility and accommodation needs feel welcome.

GaelynnLea

Gaelynn Lea. Photo: Bartek Buczkowski

Gaelynn Lea (RAMPD, vice-president):

One of the main ways the music industry can be more inclusive is to hire accessibility coordinators on its full-time staff to ensure that operations, technology, press and policies are both inclusive and disability-friendly and that access needs are met for employees and customers. .

People hired for these positions must self-identify as disabled so that they have a personal connection to the reality of disability and can seek input and resources from their own community when faced with an unfamiliar issue. .

Too often access is seen as an afterthought or bonus, when it really should be built in from scratch.

There is a large pool of disabled talent that could be tapped for this important work. Now it’s up to the music industry to create those positions in their organizations.

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