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As a now fully engaged representative of the Musicians’ Union, ironically, my involvement with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Networks has made me consider my advocacy for disabled musicians while acknowledging the impact on my own disability. Full explanation below.

I am active on the:

  • Section Committees for Education and Live Performance
  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee
  • East and South East England Regional Committee
  • Member networks covering Disability, Racism and Women.

Having worked with musicians, and being a vocal musician myself, I have encountered various levels of unfair treatment (as a Woman), discrimination (as a Black Woman) and the frustration of navigating my career (as a Parent and Carer) in the music industry. My desire to support musicians and artists has formed my understanding of the challenges and the need for meaningful change.

Returning from my first MU member conference, after months of online zoom sessions and finally meeting, in person, the movers and the shakers that have such a passion for music equality, I reflect on how I got there.

I remember meeting MU London Senior Regional Officer Natalie Witts-Kilshaw (aka the workshop wizard), in my capacity as CEO at the Gospel Music Industry Alliance (GMIA) to discuss presenting a workshop to members. At the end of our workshop preparation, in our general chitchat, she said you need to join the MU, which looking at MU’s offerings was a no brainer.

Your values and voice

Both Natalie and John Shortell, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, challenged me to get more involved. Although I had many questions at the time, the idea of adding my values and voice to the starting blocks of policies that would shape better representation, highlight musicians' contributions to the various sectors and even the overall GDP, was intriguing.

So when seats became available I submitted my statements for election to three member committees and three EDI Networks and was nominated.

I have worked in music, arts and entertainment for the past 15 years, working with fellow musicians and have also been instrumental in developing and delivering live events. Managing my disability since 2014, I have firsthand experience as an abled and disabled person working within the industry and the various challenges of navigating the live events sector.

I am often the only individual with a disability working on event-based projects and have made an effort to ensure that organisers consider disabled performers, patrons, volunteers and workers when developing events.

Your advocacy counts

Although I was not active when Attitude is Everything (AIE) Live Event Access Charter was birthed, as someone that helps organisations deliver events, I am aware of the barriers within venue spaces for disabled patrons, performers and event workers and at the site visit stage, urged event organisers to take into account the needs of disabled persons and question the suitability of venues.

My disability affects me physically and is a delicate balance of time, movement and pain medication management to keep my mobility optimal. I class my disability as unseen (most of the time), and many of my colleagues have no idea I have a long-term condition.

My experiences have led me to investigate how creative industries recruit persons with disabilities, whether seen or unseen, the pitfalls, financial consequences, professional career outcomes, and the health, mental and emotional impact. Also looking at key, what I call 'decision dilemmas', like to disclose or not to disclose, at what stage, or even having the space to reveal.

This is a particular feature in the creative industries which often operates with minimal standardised recruitment procedures, where hiring is determined by word of mouth and recommendations. I hope to present and explore this further within the MU network.

Your input is essential

Data is highly important in identifying and translating issues that impact many of the operational and functional solutions needed for a fairer balanced industry, so complete every survey that relates to your experience. For example, following a groundbreaking survey and report by Black Lives in Music (BLiM), I was invited to contribute to the BLiM research focusing on Black Disabled musicians and industry personnel.

Suzanne Bull MBE, Founder of Attitude is Everything, during the panel discussions at the recent MU Member Conference, quoted stats from their 2019's Accessible Employment Guide, revealing that 79% of disabled employees believed barriers relating to their impairments had impacted their career with huge fears surrounding disclosure of an impairment or health condition.

Statistics from Attitude is Everything's Next Stage programme launch in 2019 highlighted that 70% of disabled artists said that they're withholding information about their disability or health condition due to being worried that doing so would cause problems and impact relationships with promoters, venues or festivals.

Add your experience

The 2022 MU Members' Conference star appeal came from chart-topping vocalist Kelly Leigh, who openly spoke on her music journey, the challenges around coping with a new disability and navigating a male-dominated industry. She cited resilience, self-belief and standing up for what you believe in as critical values to her success.

Your lived experience can contribute to much-needed solutions, solutions that impact working practices, music equity and economic sustainability. I encourage all musicians to join Musicians’ Union and to consider connecting with the committees and networks that shape the future.

Useful links to check out

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Thanks to

Audrey Gray

Creative Projects Manager, CEO of Gospel Music Industry Alliance (GMIA). Active MU member on the Section Committee for Education and Live Performance; the MU's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee; the East and South East England Regional Committee; involved in member networks covering Disability, Racism and Women.

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