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Music Technology and Disabled Access

Disabled Access

There are so many ways in which technology facilitates access to music for people with disabilities that is difficult to know where to start!

Performance is perceived as the most difficult area for disabled students to access but the study showed that, with a willingness to look at it from a slightly different perspective, a wide range of performance opportunities can be made available - electro-acoustic instruments that require less stamina, 'virtual' MIDI instruments that can be played by the sweep of a hand or the blink of an eye, a computer program that allows the user to build a, highly expressive, performance, entirely in step-time.

Perhaps, one of technology's most significant contributions is to permit the separation of intrinsically musical performance skills from considerations of physical strength and coordination because, without access to assessment procedures, higher education in music will remain closed to disabled pupils.

Although the technology does facilitate performance, to some extent, most disabled people cannot aspire to high levels of real- time performance. Composition is a more easily sustained activity because it makes less physical demands.

In the section on composition, it was suggested that there are two main areas in which technology should support composers a) notation and recording and b) exploration and experiment. The software on offer is heavily geared towards the first of these. Many people with less severe disabilities have an excellent choice of notation and recording software but there is little well-suited to switch-users. Happily, though, a couple of developers have addressed the specific needs of disabled composers:

Vistamusic, from the Enabling for Music Project, was initially conceived to provide access to music for the hearing-impaired. Later versions are designed, additionally, to facilitate composition and performance by people with severe disabilities. The strength of Vistamusic lies in its customized design. It is a tool for musical expression in composition and performance, removing many physical barriers to the realization of the user's pre-formed ideas.

E-Scape, from Drake Music Projects, is access software that enables disabled musicians to use switches and MIDI instruments to compose and perform music.

Although there is little to support the exploratory side of composition, there are two excellent resources;

Midigrid, from York University, was developed by professional composers, specifically to address this need. (This software is thoroughly examined in the study, Music Technology and Curriculum Access. It is a most versatile program, suitable for use by all age groups, and it almost impossible to describe it in a few words! It is now available from The Full Pitcher Music Resources. See link below.)

GridPlay, from The Full Pitcher Music Resources, is inclusive software for creative music-making and learning. In one package, The Full Pitcher makes available a range of virtual instruments which can be played with a mouse or trackball, pre-recorded accompaniments and mix 'n' match tracks, along with a comprehensive suggestions for creative activity by individuals or groups and ways of integrating the software with acoustic resources. Using this software with a mouse or trackball, many people with special needs have been able to participate in performances with friends who play acoustic instruments. In addition, the publisher will customise the materials to the needs of particular special needs users.

Soundbeam is a hardware resource offering excellent opportunities for open-ended exploration:

Soundbeam, 'the invisible, expanding keyboard in space' offers many opportunities for exploration and has been used, with great success by many disabled musicians.

The development of aural skills is also of considerable significance for the would-be composer with a severe disability, whose opportunities to experiment with and internalise sounds are severely curtailed. Happily, there is software to address this need and the need for theory training.

Pedal Solution: Many thanks to Winfield Clark for information about switch access to a piano sustain pedal. Click here for details.

Some recommended reading:

Music Technology & Curriculum Access
Switch Users & the Music Teacher

both available from The Full Pitcher Music Resources

Learn more about
MIDIgrid for Windows and GridPlay at


They can be purchased at:

See these Web sites:

Living My Song
A UK organisation providing information and resources to support access to music, particularly for people with physical disabilities and other special needs. There is a strong emphasis on ICT.

Electronic Music is for Everyone
Comprehensive information about the range of electronic instruments available to disabled players.

Drake Music Project

provides workshops, research and development and training to make musical composition and performance accessible to disabled children and adults who are unable to use conventional instruments.

"exhilarating opportunities for music composition and live group music- making, with the invisible, expanding keyboard in space." Switch-access makes it accessible to people with severe disabilities.

Expressive Software Projects
ESP specialises in Music Software and Hardware for PC, Mac and Acorn. Their aim is to make music more accessible using technology as a tool

MIDIcreator Home Page
The new home for MIDIcreator, "an instrument that allows music to be created in a host of different ways". It is controlled by sensors or switches, so it is ideal for making performance opportunities available to switch-users.

Unique Perspectives
An innovative company, whose products include Quintet, " exciting new musical instrument that enables people with disabilities to play music using switches," and Point-It, a USB compatible joystick which may be of interest to disabled users of GridPlay and Midigrid.

If you would like help or advice about access to music,

Contact Audrey

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