Who says I can't sing? Musical justice for people with intellectual disabilities

1 Dec 2008

This report explores the complementary roles of music therapy and community music for people with disabilities. It compares two existing music programs through The Salvation Army Brunswick and Able Australia, in order to identify overlap and points of distinction. The adult participants in these programs were engaged as co-researchers in the investigation, offering their perspectives through focus group interviews, regular written feedback mechanisms and quality of life questionnaires. These adults included people with a range of disabilities and their carers, both of whom engage in the music programs with equal enthusiasm. The music workers were also acknowledged as active contributors to the musical experience and the results are infused with the opinions from each of these four groups of adults.

The driving force behind this investigation has been the belief that music is a basic right of all people. Although children of all abilities are encouraged to participate in music making, this expectation becomes less common with age. The research team that undertook this project believed that for adults on the edge of society, the potential for connection and expression available through music means that it is more important than ever. Adults with disabilities can successfully participate in musical experiences, from listening to playing, from singing to dancing. It is an opportunity to convey something of one’s own identity whilst simultaneously connecting with others in a meaningful way. In acknowledging this belief, it became clear that the most important issue to address through this project was in terms of best practice. What is the most effective way of offering music to this group of people? Is one model of engagement more successful than another? What do the participating adults want?

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