Artists with Disabilities Unite to Increase Visibility and Accessibility in the Music Industry

Published January 26, 2022

New York-based EDM artist Lachi is a successful singer, songwriter, and producer who found herself suddenly at the head of a burgeoning movement within the recording industry in 2021. After moderating a panel for the Recording Academy about accessibility and inclusion, Lachi—who is blind—told the New York Times that “Musicians with disabilities were coming out of the woodwork and following me on Instagram, DMing me going, ‘What are we going to do? Are you going to lead this charge? What’s next?’ Everyone was energized. And that’s when the spark came.”

And thus RAMPD—Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities—was born. RAMPD was co-founded with Minnesota-native violinist Gaelynn Lea as a coalition of artists with disabilities who united with the goal of advocating for accessibility improvements and modern inclusion efforts within the music industry, improvements that RAMPD hopes will shift the entire culture of the music industry itself. RAMPD’s raison d'être seems to be to dismantle outdated views in the industry about the legitimacy of disabled creators. Lachi reports that many in the industry do not take the work of disabled artists seriously, treating them as charity cases or simply sources of inspiration. The goal of RAMPD would be to force the industry to acknowledge disabled artists as equal peers and sources of legitimate competition. As Lachi puts it, “The world is built differently, and once the world is built equally, then we can start to see who is good.”

In order to change industry culture from the ground up, RAMPD has chosen to focus on televised awards shows, a move that RAMPD members feel will go a long way in increasing the visibility of people with disabilities. As such, the first item on their to-do list is adding accessibility ramps to awards show stages, ramps that are visible to the TV broadcast audience, with the hope that disability visibility on such a public stage will initiate a normalization of disabilities in the industry and culture at large.

Other items on RAMPD’s award show to-do list:

  • Give ASL interpreters their own dedicated on-screen box so that when camera angles change, individuals with hearing impairments don’t lose their access
  • Initiate improvements to closed captioning to create a more seamless experience for hearing-impaired audiences
  • Create live audio descriptions of a broadcast’s visuals so that individuals with visual impairments can have the same enjoyment of the broadcast as anyone else
  • Create in-ear audio descriptions available for those present at the actual telecast
  • Ensure that promotional content for the broadcast includes alt-text and captions so that viewers know where and how to access it prior to the show
  • Increase opportunities for people with disabilities on-stage and off so that people with disabilities have a voice in crafting their own experience
  • Initiate “Self-Description” introductions, a method of verbal identification that aids individuals with vision impairments in understanding who is speaking, an accessibility measure that also aids individuals with social anxiety in conversation

As an example of self-description, Lachi shares hers: Lachi, she/her, Black girl, cornrows. “I go by that to the point where that’s just my name,” the artist says.

The brief but impactful history of RAMPD

Though Lachi and Lea first began putting RAMPD together in May of 2021, the coalition did not officially launch until January 21st, 2022, with a pre-recorded virtual event at the Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center. Professional membership applications for joining RAMPD were opened at the launch event which featured performances from violinist Adrian Anantawan, indie rocker Eliza Hull, and organist Molly Joyce.

Other founding members of RAMPD include actress Andrea Jennings, composer Stephen Letnes, R&B vocalist Precious Perez, and singer-songwriter Tabi Haley, a racially diverse group of musicians with disabilities, many of whom are female. As Lachi told The Hollywood Reporter, “The point of RAMPD is to create this body of professional musicians, top producers, and established industry folks with clout that can start getting into some of these rooms and have conversations with national music firms, major music venues, with Congress.” Lachi and RAMPD see this approach as their way of ensuring “Nothing about us without us.”

And in its short six-month history, RAMPD has seen success in doing just that. The American Association of Independent Music consulted RAMPD about their 2022 awards ceremony − and RAMPD and Grammys officials have begun meetings to discuss new inclusion and accessibility efforts. RAMPD consulted on the inaugural ceremony for the Wavy Awards in 2021. Additionally, RAMPD has cultivated relationships with WomenInMusic.org, Folk Alliance, and the National Independent Venue Association. In 2021 RAMPD began receiving financial support from nonprofit Accessible Festivals, a partnership that has opened the doors of communication with festivals like Coachella and Day N Vegas to facilitate more opportunities for people with disabilities on stage and backstage as well as increased accessibility for concert-goers so that more music lovers with disabilities can access large festivals.

The relationship with Accessible Festivals along with Lea’s receiving the Arts Ecosystem Grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council in Minnesota has given RAMPD the resources necessary to cultivate a database of professional disabled artists in the industry which will serve to build membership, and with it, the influence that Lachi indicated is crucial to effecting change.

From Lea’s perspective, growing RAMPD’s membership is also about growing leadership within the community of disabled artists in the industry. As she told the New York Times, “We want to see more leaders emerge out of this and people recognizing them in the community because sometimes it feels like I get asked to do so many events, and it’s partly because I feel like people don’t know anyone else to ask. That’s something that we have to fix.”

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