Yesterday I met with my colleague Vicki Singer, a singer and disability advocate, to discuss Global Accessibility Awareness Day and how those with physical disabilities can encounter obstacles in the private voice studio. She was born with cerebral palsy, and throughout her career she has worked to overcome the barriers put in front of her, many likely unintentional, in order to be able to sing. We're going to talk about it again in an Instagram live on Tuesday, May 25th at 5:00 central time, and then during Pedagogy Happy Hour on Friday, May 28th at 7:00 p.m. As of right now, there are still spots available for Pedagogy Happy Hour, and you can register for that webinar here.
One thing that I think most private voice teachers would agree to is that if anyone needing a physical accommodation came to us, we would do everything we could to make it happen. We tend to be a helpful bunch. However, waiting for someone with a physical disability to disclose their need to us before we do anything isn't enough. We can unintentionally repel potential clients from our studios if we don't actively make an effort to invite them in.
Part of doing the work of identifying and speaking to your ideal clients is using language that allows them to see themselves in your studio. If clients with physical disabilities can't see themselves in your studio, they are just as likely to never reach out to you as to take a chance and try. Vicki mentioned that we don't have to beat our potential clients over the head with it, but including a bullet point or a short sentence that people with all physical abilities are welcomed can be enough. Taking it further, using photos and illustrations that include people using mobility devices is another non-verbal way to welcome disabled singers to work with you.
It can be scary, and that fear is okay. Like Vicki said, it's okay to be afraid. But it's not okay to not try. If you don't know what to do, reach out for help. If you mess up, apologize and move on to make things right and make it better for the future. You may not know exactly the right thing to do, and that fear can be paralyzing, but start anyway. Do something. Just start. Taking one step toward a more inclusive and accessible studio can be enough to get the ball rolling, and that first step can lead to another, and then another.
If Vicki or I could be of assistance to you, we'd be happy to do so. You can reach Vicki on her Instagram and can send me an email. We'd love to help you think through how you can move your studio in the right direction! In the mean time, make a plan. What will you do this week to move toward inclusivity and accessibility? Write it down, and put time in your schedule to get it done. You may never work with a client who has a physical disability, but you will create an environment that can have ripple effects in the culture of your studio that invite positive change. It's worth the effort!