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New study shows disabled music industry professionals often feel unable to disclose an impairment or condition

By | Published on Friday 3 September 2021

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A new Arts Council-funded study led by Harbourside Artist Management has revealed that many music industry professionals with non-visible disabilities do not disclose details of their conditions to employers and colleagues – often putting their health and safety at risk – because of concerns that doing so will impact on their careers.

The new study surveyed almost 150 people from the music industry who identified as having a disability or long-term health condition. 71% said their impairment or condition is non-visible. Of those, 88% revealed they ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ disclose the impairment or condition to those who they work with, with 69% of this subset admitting that this had put their health and safety at risk.

Reasons given for not disclosing that information include the fear that doing so would make them seem less capable, or result in them receiving less future work, or in experiencing other kinds of discrimination.

The study also considered why disabled people are so under-represented in the music industry. Previous Arts Council research found that only 1.8% of music industry professionals identified as having a disability, compared to the UK population average of 18%.

Of those surveyed, 90% agreed that the lack of visibly disabled people in the music industry contributed to under-representation in the sector. 79% said a lack of opportunities at a youth level were also a factor, while 73% cited the music industry’s reputation for demanding long working hours from its employees, and possibly not providing the flexibility required by disabled workers.

The study was led by artist manager and Harbourside Artist Management founder Ben Price, who himself has a non-visible health condition. On the study he says: “With my own lived experiences I was keen to embark on this research. I myself have a disability that I didn’t feel able to disclose, and I wanted to explore the perspectives of others in a similar position, as well as solutions of what can be done to improve disabled representation in the music industry”.

“This aim is not necessarily to ask more people to disclose their disabilities”, he adds, “but to encourage an environment where those conversations are normalised and more people with a disability or long-term health condition can be welcomed into the industry – at all levels – without barriers”.

The study has been welcomed by accessibility charity Attitude Is Everything. It has found similar findings with its own past research. It also has various programmes offering practical advice to employers and businesses across the music industry as to how they can remove barriers so to ensure that disabled people can pursue a career in music, whether on stage or behind the scenes.

The charity’s founder, Suzanne Bull, says: “Ben Price continues to highlight the barriers that disabled professionals face from the music industry and these results reflect similar data to statistics and anecdotes that Attitude Is Everything have recently published”.

“It’s clear that there needs to be a big shake-up of attitudes and perceptions of disabled people by the music industry; everything from making it safer for colleagues and artists with health conditions to disclose, as well as ridding the industry of some long-held assumptions that disabled people just can’t have a career in music – assumptions which continue to be rooted in the way that our society regards the disability community”.

“And yet it doesn’t have to be this way”, Bull goes on. “Attitude Is Everything have two key programmes with which we’re seeking to transform this industry for the better – Beyond The Music, an accessible employment programme – and The Next Stage, a programme to support disabled artists with opportunities, information and advice, so we’re well placed to support the industry to improve”.

She concludes: “We hope to work in partnership with Harbourside Management, and together we can forge our way through so that the music sector becomes a welcoming, open, inclusive and exciting career prospect to deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people. It takes collaboration and collective effort to make systematic change so we need allies!”

Price has written a blog post about his own experiences and his study here.