Musician reveals 'discrimination' disabled artists face in an industry that 'isn't accessible'

  • Report by ITV Wales journalist Annabel Smith

An artist has spoken out about the discrimination she says she and other disabled musicians face in an industry that "isn't accessible".

Right Keys Only is an electronic dance musician who has a condition called Erb's Palsy, which means her left arm is partially paralysed.

Speaking about her experiences, she said there's currently a lack of support for disabled artists.

“There’s sadly quite a lot of disability discrimination in the music industry," she said.

Keys is working on a project called Amplifying Accessibility, which aims to help support and improve disabled artists' skills.

"I think it’s something that culturally right now we’re like ‘no we’re being really accessible’, but I don’t think always think accessibility actually fully exists, I think it’s a massive umbrella term because there’s venues that are considered accessible that have a ramp to the lower floor and then stairs to the other stage and even the environment."

Keys also has ADHD, which she said means she often feels exhausted by what she's expected to do.

"You are put into a gig environment that hypes up your adrenalin which is incredible and it feels amazing when you’re on stage and then you’re sent home and there’s no come down and you’re up until like four in the morning and then sleeping for days afterwards because of the crash as well.

After researching the industry for a project she's working on, Keys reached out to others in the industry and found that musicians with a disability are less likely to get booked because "you’re financially more of a problem."

She explained: "An event organiser has to look at arranging accessibility and that can be a problem for some people when it shouldn’t be - it should be an excitement you know, a new challenge 'let’s work out how we can facilitate this thing'.

It's something she is familiar with herself: “I remember getting emotional to a family member and saying to them I don’t understand why me being born makes me an expense, or makes me a problem.

Keys is working to try and help make the music industry more accessible.

"When you’re already experiencing a set back, as a musician I know I could have experienced a lot more, a lot quicker if I could have two hands to play the guitar or two hands to easily learn the piano rather than struggling with one - you’ve got that in your head already and then you’ve got a society that’s not built for you whatsoever.

"Even like door handles being on the wrong side or like buses not having the right handles so you don’t fall over and things like that, so there’s already that there, but when you love something so much and you’re like this is your thing you know with music, that’s your thing, you love it and you adore it and it makes you feel alive, to feel like you shouldn’t be apart of that, it’s almost like you feel like you shouldn’t exist and that sucks, that’s a lot.”

Wanting to change the narrative, Keys has started a six month project called Amplifying Accessibility which aims to help support and improve disabled artists' skills.

“I recently was looking into disabled artists in mainstream music and I found that a one-handed singer like myself and a one-handed producer had never made the top forty UK charts ever and we’re in 2023, that’s just not right.

"I’d never seen someone like myself and so I applied for arts council funding, was awarded it and am currently running a six month research and development project looking at how disabled artists can improve both their technical music skills and their business skills but doing it independently and in a way that suits them.

"So if you can’t go to a gig, how could you gain fans from being at home, how could you produce in your bedroom, how could you learn an instrument that’s adapted to how your body works or your brain works.”

As part of the project, Keys is putting together a guide to help support both musicians and venues who want to learn about how they can become more accessible.

She hopes this will "make it as easy as it can be, because as a disabled musician you are constantly fighting to prove that you can work and be heard and be seen in an industry that’s not really that respected compared to like being a doctor or like being a lawyer so why not help make that more accessible for people, and that's what I want to do."

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