15th November 2023

Music education and disability

Article by Julia Falaki and Emma Hughes.

The Social Model of disability: disability isn’t something a person has, it’s something that society does…it also doesn’t deny that health conditions or bodily differences affect people’s lives. It simply argues that these differences only become barriers when society is built in a way that excludes people with physical, sensory or neurological differences from participating. Striving to remove disabling barriers creates a better, more inclusive society for everyone.

From our research into the area of music and disability our key points have been around identifying barriers. Here are a few (but not an exhaustive list) to start discussions and actions around: 

What are the some of the barriers to accessing music education?


  • Finding the right instrument – what adaptable instruments are actually available?
  • Lack of opportunity to develop skills – often with adaptable instruments there are limitations to develop skills as many adaptable instruments are not included in traditional graded exams. 
  • Not having choice – disabled musicians are often forced into choosing an instrument because it ‘works’ for them, not out of choice.
  • Misconceptions around ‘disabled instruments’ – we need to start to recognise adaptable instruments are not ‘ disabled instruments’ but instruments that everyone can enjoy!

Music lessons

  • Funding – lack of knowledge around sourcing funding for disabled musicians and the accessibility of the funding applications/ processes/ criteria needed for funding.  The youth music report found that 61% of disabled music makers and their parents/carers did not know where to find sources of funding to support them/the person they care for with music making.
  • Inaccessible music lessons.
  • There is a lack of training for music educators around designing and delivering inclusive music lessons that meet pupils’ needs. A lack of confidence felt by music leaders to be able to meet these needs.
  • Parents / families are not aware of local music hubs.
  • Lack of signposting to teachers who could meet needs.
  • Music leader training not being disabled-led from the outset. Training is missing the voices and experiences of those musicians who identify as disabled. 
  • Physical access needs with spaces, instruments and resources.
  • Use of language when working with neurodiverse musicians. 

Access limitations around practice and continued skills development 

  • Lack of suitable performance opportunities – inaccessibility of venues and suitable performance opportunities.
  • Music educators not understanding the lived experience of someone with a disability when trying to develop inclusive practice. There needs to be more connection to and awareness of individual needs to develop opportunities. 

Voice not being heard 

  • Often disabled musicians are having choices around inclusion and accessibility made for them. Music leaders, schools and hubs need to work with the disabled community to identify the barriers but also acknowledge the can-do’s and wants, and to then start developing musical opportunities.
  • Often music is one of the first subjects cut when someone is falling behind academically. There is a disregard for the SEMH benefits that it can have for someone which in turn can support their engagement at school.