A Disabled Child’s Right to Play Music

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11 December 2017 by ATL
OHMI Trust's objective is to remove the barriers to music-making faced by the physically disabled. For Disability History Month, they tell us all about their work.

The benefits and importance of playing music are well established. However, what happens if someone has limited or no control of a hand or an arm? All conventional instruments require two highly dextrous hands to play, meaning that anyone with an upper limb disability will be excluded from most forms of music-making. But this is not just a barrier to playing music - it’s also an exclusion from the opportunity to make music socially with others, or to have a career in music.

Earlier this year, Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to Arts Council England about the inclusion of disabled people in national music teaching. His letter contained a challenge to all those working with and through the national music hubs:

“Disabled children should have the right support to enable them to play a musical instrument. I look to hubs and schools to work together to remove barriers, including where appropriate through providing adapted instruments or other equipment.”

Without suitable instruments, real inclusion is impossible. This problem affects 10s of thousands of children in the UK alone. That is the problem now being addressed by the OHMI Trust.

The OHMI Trust works to remove the barriers to music-making faced by people with physical disabilities through the procurement of suitably designed musical instruments and equipment. Our instruments allow full and undifferentiated participation in music-making to the highest levels of virtuosity.

Dr Stephen Hetherington MBE founded the charity in 2011 after his own hemiplegic daughter, Amy, alerted him to the lack of instruments available to disabled musicians. In 2011 he and a friend, the lawyer Martin Dyke, set-up the charity with the stated objective to remove the barriers to music-making faced by the physically disabled; an objective to be achieved through the development and production of suitable musical instruments.

OHMI’s instruments are sourced primarily through the annual OHMI Competition. The challenge of the competition is to create or adapt instruments so they can be played without the use of one hand and arm and without limiting their potential for virtuosity. The winning technical solutions can then be reworked for a variety of physical disabilities. Over the five years of the competition, entries have been received from around the world and can be seen on our website – www.ohmi.org.uk. They include many of the brass family, flutes, a clarinet, saxophones, a recorder, a guitar, and even bagpipes!

Now the trust has an increasing number of instruments to work with, we are collaborating with Music Hubs, schools and colleges to teach them.

While OHMI concentrates on physical disabilities we also collaborate with other organisations. OpenUp Music, for example, (which recently won the Royal Philharmonic Society award for Learning and Participation) works with young disabled people, many of whom have very complex needs. Each of the organisations working with music and disability have a part to play. As said, The OHMI Trust focuses on full inclusion. We recognise that for many disabled people it is only the design of instruments that form the barrier to participation.

Our work is profoundly affecting disabled people, even at the start of their music life. Consider Aniyah’s experience:

Aniyah was in Year 4 when she joined the OHMI Teaching project. She was born with cerebral palsy and without full use of her right hand. Each year, her school offer the fife as a Wider Opportunities musical instrument. However, with her disability, she struggled to keep up with her peers. For Aniyah, learning the one-handed recorder was an opportunity to join in with the wider opportunities music lessons as well as receive one-to-one tuition, and even progress beyond her classmates.

Aniyah’s story is similar to all our students. Many have never had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument before, or have felt side-lined by the options currently  offered in school music lessons. Performing with others also enables children to develop social, learning and emotional skills. The OHMI Teaching project proved that adapted instruments can provide a path to full inclusion, but that does require that the right instruments are available to schools and their disabled pupils.

OHMI will be leading a session at ATL’s annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday 10th April 2018. 

If you would like to find out more about work, including ways you can support us, please visit us our website, twitter and facebook.


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