Written by Celestine Fraser, published on 16 September 2022
On the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tilting the Lens Founder and CEO Sinéad Burke was joined by singer and Disability advocate Lachi for an Instagram Live conversation. Lachi is an award-winning recording artist, EDM vocalist and producer, and the Founder and President of Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD).
RAMPD is an organization which promotes Disability inclusion and advocates for accessibility within the music industry. Its work has been recognized by Billboard, The New York Times, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter to name but a few. Lachi proudly identifies as Blind and Disabled.
Below, we summarize some of the key takeaways from the conversation. We also invite you to engage with the full conversation, which is available to watch via this link on Instagram. The transcript can be accessed here.
1. Disability is an Identity
According to Lachi, Disability pride begins with unapologetically claiming a Disabled identity. She explained that being Disabled is “who you are and not just a thing you have.” Disability is not a “condition,” but “how you are viewed, treated, or unaccommodated in society,” she concluded.
2. There is a unique Disability Culture
Lachi also finds Disability pride within Disability culture, which she defines as “the art, the music, the words, the perspectives, the worldviews that Disabled people have because of the different bodies or minds that they were born with.”
Sinéad added that, while there is joy and pride in Disability culture, we should acknowledge that not all members of the community will share the same sentiment. Disability cannot be seen through a single perspective or lens. Instead, we must make space for nuance and “create a world and systems where everybody has the opportunity to articulate [their] experience in whatever way is most comfortable to them,” she said.
3. Disability is Diversity
The Disabled community is not a monolith. Lachi explained that disability is infinitely complex and diverse: it encompasses everything from chronic illness to Deafness, from using a wheelchair to neurodiversity. Disability can be physical, mental or cognitive. It can be acquired or congenital. It can be visible or invisible.
Disability also intersects with other identities: a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic background can all impact their relationship with disability. Sinéad referenced the work of Black Disabled activist Vilissa Thompson, who in 2016 created the viral hashtag #DisabilitySoWhite to bring visibility to the need for greater diversity within the Disability movement.
4. Accessibility is about Choice
Lachi’s definition of accessibility is essentially about choice. “The ability to make a decision,” she says. “The ability to freely, independently, or interdependently make the choices that you want to make, in order for you to achieve your goals and live the best life that you want to live.”
Sinéad added that Tilting the Lens’ working definition of accessibility includes “equity of experience.” Accessibility, she said, should not end at compliance; it should include “pride, design, and aesthetic.” Too often, accessibility is seen merely as the moment when a Disabled person can “go through the door, or go to their desk”. Yet, Sinéad asked: “Can they equitably get a cup of coffee themselves?”
5. Disability Inclusion in the Music Industry
There is a culture of shame and silence around disability in the music industry. “Machismo” and the need to appear “strong” have led to artists distancing themselves from identifying as Disabled, Lachi said. Artists avoid disclosing their own disabilities for fear of being “shunned”.
However, there are also signs of positive change: Billie Eilish, for instance, has spoken openly about having Tourette’s Syndrome. But Lachi believes that even among artists who are open about having a disability, the conversation is still too often rooted in the Medical Model; artists are “not necessarily tapped into the Disability rights and Disability justice movements”.
6. How RAMPD is Advocating for Disability Awareness
According to Lachi, creating awareness is the necessary starting point to getting the music industry to recognize the Disabled community. Through panels, discussions, think tanks and keynotes, RAMPD is increasing Disability awareness and breaking the industry taboo.
Lachi insists that Disability inclusion is not “only about bringing on more [Disabled] artists to the roster,” but making sure that the “workplace” and “work culture” is accessible and “inclusive.” This then becomes a virtuous cycle: as soon as “one of the people that was in A&R (Artists and Repertoire) starts to feel their own Disability pride, and no longer feels like they have to hide it, then they can just on their own start scouting other folks with disabilities.”
7. Disabled Stories Need to be Told
Ultimately, Lachi and Sinéad agreed that more Disabled stories need to be told, in the music industry and beyond. A lack of Disabled representation within the media leads to the spread of harmful misconceptions.
Sinéad explained that there is not only a business case for telling diverse Disabled stories, but a “creative and innovation opportunity.” Lachi agreed: “There are so many disability stories… Disability romance, Disability heartbreak, Disability everything… that just haven’t been told. The world has not had the opportunity to enjoy it yet because those stories are not being put out there.” Moving the needle towards Disability inclusion will take time but it surely begins, said Sinéad, with “having representation in every room.”
To learn more about Lachi and her work:
Website – Link to Lachi’s website
Instagram – Link to Lachi’s Instagram
If you enjoyed this conversation and would like to engage with other interviews in the same series, follow Tilting the Lens on Instagram.