Hello All,

Music is quite possibly one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Most people enjoy music in some way, whether through playing a musical instrument, or going to a live concert, and when we do these things we are communicating with each other. Unfortunately, for some who have suffered a spinal cord injury, music becomes less accessible. Injuries may deter some from picking up a musical instrument, with the fear that they may not be dexterous enough to play, or learn how to play, and public access may impede wheelchair users from going to music venues that they enjoy. Fortunately, we can access music through new and unique ways. In this article we would like to discuss some musical adaptations, and also take a look at the ADA guidelines for concert venues.

Musical Instruments:

In an article from New Mobility (March 2004), Derek Mortland, a guitarist since the age of 12, described how his life was changed on June 14 1997 when he sustained a T9 injury in a motorcycle racing accident. Due to the level of his injury, Derek felt that he would not have any problem playing his guitar from a wheelchair. But the process of getting back into music proved to be more challenging than he thought. Here is a quote from his article in New Mobility:

“Although my hands and arms worked well enough, my trunk balance and wheelchair presented tremendous difficulty in holding and positioning the guitar. I tried playing lying down, sitting in bed with pillows, on the couch, in my chair, and none of it was working. I couldn’t get anything in the appropriate playing position to make music the way I wanted to.”

Finally, with the help of a physical therapist, Derek was able to work out a way to play:

“We began to work out options and I also began changing seat and dump angles on my chair. It took about a year before I could really play again, and it is still challenging for me with the position I play in. I learned how to incorporate the use of different guitar tunings to compensate for my unusual hand positioning on the instrument. This opened a whole new world of musical possibilities for me.”

Further in the article, Derek writes about his struggles with gigs, and some of the creative projects that he went on to be a part of. His success is a great starting point for inspiring musicians who feel that their injuries hinder their ability. However, some may ask, “What about those that have no background in music, or may have a mid to high level injury?”

This is an excellent question. Indeed, having a mid or high level injury will have a significant impact on what musical instruments are available for one to play. Fortunately, there are some options for those who are interested, including a unique instrument called the Jamboxx.

Jamboxx was developed by David Whalen, a musician who for 25 years following his injury lived without the ability to play music with his friends. He had the idea of using the computer and digital technology to make a new musical instrument. According to the Jamboxx website, the instrument is a “USB powered, breath controlled device styled after a harmonica that comes with special music software that allows for playing digital music.” In addition, it is claimed that, “Within seconds of installation, users can utilize a built-in karaoke feature which allows for playing melodies using simple play by numbers with backtracks we provide. There are literally hundreds of features that can be used for performing and recording music.”

For an example of what the Jamboxx can do please enjoy this video of it in action:

Music Venues

In addition to enjoying music through performance, many wheelchair users may enjoy listening to music in a live setting. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy purchasing tickets or navigating venues which might have accessibility issues. Fortunately, there are some ADA guidelines that cover these topics and might make it a little easier.

First of all, when it comes to ticket sales the ADA states that, “Any government or private entity that sells tickets for a single event or a series of events must modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to purchase tickets for accessible seating.” Equal opportunity means that the accessible seating must be, “during the same hours as other patrons; during the same stages of ticket sales, including but not limited to, pre-sales, promotions, lotteries, wait lists, and general sales;  through the same methods of distribution; in the same types and numbers of ticketing sales outlets, including telephone service, in-person ticket sales at the facility, or third-party ticketing services; and under the same terms and conditions as other tickets sold for the same event or series of events.”

Unfortunately, concert venue accessibility is another issue. There are many bleak stories of problems experienced at music events (here’s one). The regular ADA guidelines for public access, as explored in this previous post, apply here. However, there are complications that crop up as a result of older buildings or locations which were not originally intended as concert venues. The best advice for choosing a venue is to contact them before tickets are purchased, either through a website (many venues post accessibility information), or by phone. Confirming your access before the day of the concert is a good precaution to take, and it ensures that when the time comes you can enjoy live music without access problems.


Well, that’s it for this month. Please look forward to more content being published on a monthly basis. As always, thank you for reading.