In my first year as Disability and Access Ambassador for Arts and Culture I promoted grass roots opportunities for disabled people as both creative artists and consumers. My particular focus was on adults with learning disabilities who are traditionally the last to achieve equal access and inclusion. Most cannot speak up for themselves so struggle to improve their prospects without advocacy or a platform for change. Arts and Culture shines a bright light on this once-forgotten society. It showcases their passion, incredible energy and, most of all, their ability. It changes perceptions of disabled people, leading to more inclusive employment across all industries. It also provides a unique platform for disabled people to become role models for future generations.
I worked extensively within accessible music education and performance but also explored accessibility to museums, galleries and libraries. It has been a privilege to meet a wide range of passionate and effective people across many sectors, assisted and encouraged by the Minister for Disabled People and colleagues at the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office, the Department of Education and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
I attended 37 meetings, provided 14 reports, gave 5 presentations and seminars, supported 4 pieces of academic research and wrote 8 blogs. I appeared on BBC TV, ITV, BBC Radio 4 and across several news networks, and I was a special guest on TEAM LEWIS’ Who Cares Podcast about leadership in the charity sector. With the help of TEAM LEWIS, I recorded a video interview about my work for the Minister for Disabled People to show at the United Nations in New York (read the blog here).
I represented children and young people with SEND as an advisor for the new National Plan for Music Education. The refreshed plan sends a powerful message about the importance of a high-quality inclusive music provision for all pupils, challenging schools and Music Hubs to realise the musical potential of children with SEND like never before (read my blog here).
I found common themes across Arts and Culture which will inform a ‘gold standard of accessibility’ in the sector. As well as toilet facilities, transport, staff training and online access plans, the guidance will also encourage more opportunities for disabled role models, creative artists and technicians. I will work with Government departments to signpost new pathways to education, volunteering and employment. During the summer I will publish my findings in a report, including goals to accomplish over the next two years of my appointment.
Throughout the year I promoted the achievements of musicians with disabilities through my public concerts and media appearances. High profile performances included Westminster Cathedral (in front of 4 Prime Minsters), the Salvation Army Christmas Concert at the Royal Albert Hall and ITV’s the Britain’s Got Talent celebrity auditions at the London Palladium. My students also recorded my song “Music is Magic” with Her Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines. TV’s Mr Motivator visited The Music Man Project for BBC1 Morning Live and we performed Christmas Carols live on Good Morning Britain on Christmas Eve.
During this year I was shortlisted to the final of both the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Rocksteady Award for Progressive and Inclusive Music Education at the 2022 Music and Drama Education Awards. My film with TEAM LEWIS about The Music Man Project following the tragic death of Sir David Amess was shortlisted at the 2022 Brand Film Awards for Best Charity Film (watch here) and I was overwhelmed to be the first recipient of the Sir David Amess Memorial Award at the 2022 Bengal’s Pride Awards.
My campaign for greater opportunities in Music for people with learning disabilities began over 2 decades ago and I have seen a dramatic improvement in understanding, acceptance and opportunity since I taught my first student in 1999. It has been a deeply rewarding year but there is still much to be done to build a momentum in Arts and Culture akin to the Paralympic movement in Sport.
Download my full list of activities: