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Disability Roundtable

Challenge 2030 is BBE's vision is to see the makeup of bands reflect their communities, and to see Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across the whole of brass banding by 2030.  In the first stages of this challenge we are reaching out and listening to the voices of those less well-represented in banding. 


On 26 November 2020 BBE's virtual Disability Roundtable discussion brought together disabled players, music organisers who have worked with disabled people and those passionate about disability issues and inclusion, to share and listen to experiences and suggestions for how we can work towards making banding more accessible and fulfilling for all.  BBE is grateful to all those who took part.

Disabled people’s banding experiences:

Venues and Access

It is hard work!  Whilst venues might cater for disabled people in audiences, they don’t generally accommodate performers.  Actually getting on stage can be a feat, with disabled players being embarrassingly ‘put in place’ way before the performance begins or brought on last, attracting great attention and having to sit alone on stage during the interval.  Sloping stages don’t suit wheelchairs.  Disabled players don’t want to be the centre of attention, conspicuous and known for their disability rather than their playing.  Backstage disabled toilets may be non-existent or out of order and changing rooms can be a problem. Disabled parking may not exist at bandrooms and venues and gravel is a challenge.  Larger well-known venues tend to have more space and facilities.  Marching and events such as Whit Friday are practically impossible.

Band, event and venue organisers need to talk to disabled people and their families about their needs.  Everyone’s disability is different and this needs to be taken into account.  ‘See the person before the disability’.  Planning needs to happen ahead of the event to work out how the person will access the stage and arrive on it at the right time with a process for what needs to happen. Walk-throughs can help and it takes time.  Sending out an accessibility survey in advance to find out what people need and their special requirements could help.  These might include catering requirements, gender neutral toilets, large-print and braille programmes.  Providing a map of the venue showing the step-free access can help disabled players and those with large instruments.


Contesting may bring its own challenges, with the unusual route to the stage sometimes through kitchens and going outside adding to the stress of the contest performance.  Alternative arrangements for contest registration could help. Venues need to explain to the disabled person what is going to happen so that it doesn’t add to the stress of the contest situation.  Extra time before the whistle blows to allow for disabled people accessing the stage needs to be considered. 

Entertainment contests requiring choreography and movement around the stage can present problems, with the disabled person feeling they might be restricting the performance.  Whilst they may volunteer to not take part, this may not be their wish and this is being exclusive rather than inclusive for the sake of the result.   

Likewise contest pieces with instructions for a solo to be played offstage are assuming that all players are able-bodied.  Composers need to think about this when writing instructions on the parts and give some flexibility and alternatives to conductors.


Whilst help is often forthcoming at first, it may wane after time, or people forget.  It becomes an afterthought, or people like to be seen to be helping.  Bringing a carer or family member involves extra cost in terms of overnight accommodation and entry tickets.  Free tickets could be offered.

The Butlins’ Mineworkers Festival competition is an example of a set-up that provides a buddy for a disabled person to help them navigate the site and facilities and accompany them backstage.  Sending a form in advance asking about special needs can help.


The conductor has an important role to play in how disability is viewed and treated within a band.   They have a role to play in making people feel an accepted part of the band and not a burden.  Bands need to show that they are supportive and open to all.  Education and awareness training may be required.

Disability may be ‘unseen’, for example for people who have mental health issues.  Missing band can be seen as being ‘flaky’ and unreliable, with players struggling to fight their own corner against the attitudes of others. 

Assigning a buddy to disabled players from within the band could help provide moral support and practical support with finding the best way round a venue or carrying instruments, music and stands.

Funding for ramps and other adaptations may be available from local councils and other bursary schemes.


We were reminded that music is about what you can hear and maybe we shouldn’t be so concerned with the visuals and strive to change people’s perceptions.  There should be a balance so that the visual is not a distraction from the music.  Examples of cellists and French horn players who play with their feet show what can be done.  Where people, particularly young people are not taking up brass instruments, there needs to be more awareness around the instrument adaptations and supports that are available.  People may be discouraged from brass and offered other instruments, or parents are unaware of the options.  Disability and sport gets more attention than music and is aimed at parents.  There isn’t an equivalent to the Paralympics. Music Hubs and Health professionals need to be more aware of the options within music.  Brass is actually quite accessible to many people with disabilities compared to other instruments.  Data from the Nottingham City Music Hub has shown a large increase in the take up of music aids amongst children through work with organisations like OHMI.  The use of p-bones and p-cornets could be made more acceptable and allowed within contests, although this might attract criticism from purists. A dispensation for valve trombones was thought to currently exist within contesting.

Thinking more widely, bands could accept different instruments, enter into collaborations and look to other organisations who have experimented outside the box.  Examples of using the clarion, playing different ‘free’ types of music and involving quadriplegic musicians have been shown to be successful and inspiring.  This conversation needs to be taken up with others. 


Attracting and being accessible to disabled people in audiences is key.  Challenging their expectations regarding the visual side of performances, what a band does and looks like, as well as seeing disabled role models playing in bands could make a difference to inclusivity.


This clearly shows there is much to be done to help disabled people already in banding and those who could potentially be involved, to improve the whole experience.  This affects all aspects from venue and event management to band committees, conductors, composers, contest organisers and bodies such as BBE.  The information gleaned through this roundtable is a starting point from which BBE can prioritise and facilitate action, working with others, to provide resources and solutions where possible, and increased awareness of the issues through carrying on these conversations.


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