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For all of its challenges, the pandemic has created a shift for musicians to be more creative in promoting their work and reaching new audiences online. Creating clear and accessible social media content will help you to appeal to a much wider audience.

There are many disabled people who don’t have full access online, yet it’s not as difficult as people think to become more inclusive. 

The Scope Digital Connections report, found that “many disabled young people remain digitally excluded and still find it hard to access digital content and communities.” Disabled young people are potential followers, audience members and musicians, both now and in the future. Disabled people of working age make up about 20% of the population, and their spending power, known as the ‘Purple Pound’, is estimated at £274 billion a year. So not taking action to be accessible could be considered bad for business.

Some people have impairments and need to access social media and the internet in different ways. This could involve using assistive technology such as adapted keyboards and displays, screenreaders, screen magnification software and text-to-speech software.

People reading your content need to receive, process and act on the information you give them. Neurodiversity refers to the different ways that people process information, think, and engage with the world around them. The term includes autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia and dyspraxia. Communicating and presenting information clearly makes it easier to engage with your content.

Importance of inclusive content

Disabled people are skilled at problem solving and finding ways of achieving goals, but to frequently encounter inaccessible content is frustrating and energy-draining. It can completely exclude people from being able to participate or gain the information they need. Adrian Lee, a composer and musician, navigates the internet through a screenreader linked to his iPhone but only uses social media in a very limited way, stating that he doesn’t have much patience for it. When faced with unnecessarily poor design and interfaces that clash with screenreaders, he’s not alone in preferring to use his energy elsewhere. 

Being willing to listen and learn and have conversations with disabled people about access demonstrates a commitment to inclusion, and helps you to improve. Creating an environment that doesn’t ignore disabled people also makes your content more shareable and will appeal to other people who you wish to reach.

Making your online content accessible

Adding images to social media is a good way of getting it noticed and making it shareable. Common mistakes result in visual content being inaccessible. Cramming too much text onto graphics makes them confusing and difficult to read. Simplify your message, increase the size of the font and consider sharing the information across multiple images or posts or on a separate webpage.

Alt text is a necessity on images, graphics and GIFs, providing all of the information that is contained in the image but won’t be visible unless accessed via a screen reader. Keep the description concise and relevant, and if there is text on the graphic also include this. Well written alt-text can boost your search rankings, and all platforms provide instructions on how to do this.

Adding image descriptions into the body of a post supports people who don’t use screen readers but may struggle to see the detail of a picture. This is also good for making scheduled Instagram and Facebook posts accessible, since some schedulers don’t allow alt-text to be included. Livestreaming has been important for many disabled musicians. Adrian Lee told me, “it’s very exciting times, it really opens up opportunities for disabled musicians. You can simply broadcast directly from your home and connect with people. I link my studio up and perform live and it’s musically stimulating.”

Ali Hirsz, lead singer of the indie band Idealistics, explained how it can also shift perceptions about disabled musicians, “before, in-person, people would make it all about the disability and not the music. Now online, it’s flipped it around, It literally is just about the music, and I can show that disability makes no difference.” The shift in mindset has been so significant that venues that previously refused to book Ali due to her feeding tube being visible, have now asked her to perform for them after watching her band’s livestream gigs.

Making videos accessible

Whether live or pre-recorded, there are many ways to make videos accessible to people with hearing, sight and cognitive impairments. People are much more likely to watch the whole video if it is captioned. For videos in YouTube, Vimeo and TikTok, auto captions can do some of the work for you, but you will need to edit these to correct mistakes. Captions include dialogue and other sounds that provide context for the viewer whereas subtitles only show the dialogue. Open captions are embedded in the video and can’t be switched off by the viewer. Closed captions can be toggled on and off by the viewer.

Best practice is to include a transcript as well as captions. This gives people a choice of how  best to absorb the information. Descriptive transcripts contain the dialogue along with other important visual information to provide context and to describe content. Since video descriptions are often limited in length, you can link to the transcript elsewhere. Just make sure that any link itself is descriptive: for example: ‘Link to transcript of this video’.

Videos may also benefit from audio description. This is a spoken audio track that describes what is happening on the screen, and includes all visual information. Including a sign language interpreter will make a performance accessible to Deaf people who rely on this as their first language. However, you may not have a budget that allows you to bring professionals in, so don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to achieve everything in one go. It is a journey and an opportunity to involve disabled people along the way. When you apply for grants or create budgets for commissions, allocate funding to ensure that any productions build accessibility in from the planning stage.

Disability and use of language

Disability is not a negative word. Phrases like ‘differently abled’ are patronising, explains John Shortell, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the MU, “anything that erases the issue, to make non-disabled people feel more comfortable, demonstrates why we need to have more conversations about it.”

The social model of disability informs the MU’s work and how language is used. Disability is too often viewed as a ‘problem’ that belongs to the individual. The social model of disability was developed by disabled people and takes a very different view. It recognises that people with impairments are disabled by barriers that prevent them from accessing the world around them. These barriers create exclusion and can only be fixed collectively. Making content accessible is an example of how we can all take action to remove barriers.

Language that reinforces stereotypes or equates disability to something negative is often used as slang. Individual or institutional disability discrimination is known as ‘ableism’. Everyday sayings like describing something or someone as ‘dumb’, ‘crazy’, or ‘a bit OCD’ can undermine and exclude disabled people. Be mindful to avoid this in your online content.

Be an ally

There are ways that non-disabled musicians can be allies and amplify the calls of disabled people and push for a wider culture change. Talking about disability in positive and welcoming terms normalises the expectation that disabled people are important audience members. Becky Morris Knight from Drake Music says that many talented disabled musicians face the dilemma of whether or not to hide their impairment. She said, “There’s no easy answer. My advice to disabled musicians is to be kind to yourself. Disability could be a part of your brand, but you have to do what you are comfortable with.”

Ali is open on social media about her impairments, which are a part of her day-to-day life. Excited to meet an artist whose work she admired, Ali was left bitterly disappointed by the conversation they had. “She told me that I shouldn’t be flaunting my weaknesses and disability and it would damage my career. She said our band would be much bigger by now if I hid my disability.”

A response like that is obviously hurtful but has much deeper implications. It is not a person’s impairment that prevents them from progressing their career. Negative attitudes and low expectations cut off opportunities that are available to everyone else.

Your social media presence is your brand and signifies your values. Each of us have a role to play in challenging discrimination and creating a more accessible and inclusive environment.

Useful resources

Video captions and descriptions

Auto captions have limited accuracy, especially for music and lyrics. Once online, they can be edited and corrected. Use apps such as Kapwing to caption videos. Place captions on a solid background with good contrast.

Livestreamed events

  • AVSTTR, the Association of Speech-to-Text Reporters, provide tools to accurately caption livestreamed events. For full access you may need to pre-record an event.
  • Use a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter experienced in music and performance.
  • Audio description (AD) narrates important visual features for those with vision impairment. This can be DIY, or can be provided by professionals such as VocalEyes.
  • Avoid flashing lights or graphics which can trigger vertigo, migraines and seizures. If there will be flashing lights, provide a content warning to let people know.
  • An excellent guide to the accessibility of live events can be found on the Attitude is Everything website.

Top 5 tips

1. Use plain English

Think carefully about what you want to communicate. Avoid jargon or metaphors and use plain English to make your content easy to understand.

2. Keep it straightforward

Use sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, Tahoma, Calibri and Gil Sans, and use font size 14pt and upwards. Make sure you align words to the left.

3. What to avoid

Avoid block capitals, italics and low contrast between text and background, but do not make the background very bright. Use off-white or cream instead of white.

4. Video advice

On videos, add captions and provide a voiceover for any words that appear. Add alt-text on graphics, GIFs and images.

5. Hone your message

Capitalise the first letter of each word on hashtags #LikeThis. Avoid using too many emojis. Hyperlinks should describe what they link to.

6. Graphics and flyers

Avoid using more than two colours alongside, white, black or grey. Keep it to 50-130 words to prevent flyers being too text heavy.

Representing and advocating on behalf of disabled musicians

At the MU we advocate on behalf of disabled musicians to ensure their rights are upheld and strengthened – where they encounter discrimination, we’ll challenge it. 

Join our Disabled Member Network

Our nation-wide Member Network is a space where disabled musicians can connect, network and make positive change across the MU and the music industry. The Network ensures that the voices of disabled members are heard, and that opportunities for activism and leadership are created.

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Representing and advocating on behalf of disabled musicians