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Ableism 101: Addressing How We Interact with Disabled Clients in the Voice Studio

What is ableism? And how does it make a difference in how we teach in our voice studios?

Simply put, ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. How it shows up in the voice studio can be subtle and sneaky, but by becoming more aware of it, we can address it intentionally and with greater understanding.

This month I’m going to start tackling this with the help of my friend, singer and disability advocate Vicki Singer. During Pedagogy Happy Hour on April 28th, we’ll begin a two-part discussion on ableism in the voice studio, starting by defining what it is and how it can affect how we work with clients of differing abilities.

I seriously doubt any of my colleagues operate their studios in such a way that they intentionally discriminate against anyone with a physical disability. I think one of the most difficult things for me to realize is that I can discriminate without my intention to do so. By talking with Vicki, one of the things that has become much clearer to me is that discrimination of any type is not determined by my intention, though that’s important, but by the outcome. If my intentions are for the best, but the outcome is discriminatory, then I have, in fact, perpetuated discrimination. That’s tough stuff to swallow! But I think acknowledging that and accepting responsibility to change is vital. A great first step is to examine the outcomes of any situations where we have worked with physically disabled students. This may include talking to them, asking perspectives of others who are outside of the situation and can give insight, to even trying to navigate a situation in a similar way to see where the tough spots are.

With a renewed perspective, we can then look at our current situations with a wide lens and see where we are welcoming or not with clients with physical disabilities or challenges. As an example, I teach clients online right now, but if I were in person, I would not have easy access into my studio for any students who use a wheelchair, walker, or cane. And if they could get into my house, I don’t have an accessible bathroom. Of course, I could just say that there are no restrooms available for any clients, but I’m not sure that making my home studio less welcoming for everyone is really an acceptable answer. So, I need to think about how I can either change this, or make a way to refer a client to a situation that can accommodate them well. There are colleagues I have in town that could accommodate a wheelchair more easily than I could, but regardless, non-discrimination means that I need to seek out the absolute best outcome for every client and do the work to make it happen.

Vicki and I won’t solve all the world’s problems in two webinars, but we definitely hope to present a new framework for thinking through ableism and how you can welcome all kinds of singers into your studio. Come with your questions, and come with an open heart ready to learn. Follow along on my social accounts for this month and next month to get more information on ableism and how to address it, too. You can follow Vicki on Instagram @singerwellness. The link to register is here.

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