By Kelly Surette
Between the marked increase of individuals with special needs in our country as well as the recognition and acceptance of music as a tool for transformation and growth for this population, if you are a director or owner of a music school you should be serving students with special needs of all ages.
There is huge demand for better quality music programming for children with special needs, and even more urgently, there is a need for musical opportunities for transition age and adult individuals with special needs. Many have limited social circles, physical health conditions, and few opportunities to truly shine. Music addresses these areas and many, many more.
By opening your doors and welcoming this population into your music school, you are supporting the goal of an inclusive society. Inclusivity becomes the vehicle in which your music school can realize its potential as a true artistic community.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can make your music school more inclusive:
Consider offering group music and performing arts classes specifically designed for individuals with special needs. In these classes, students have the opportunity to express themselves, increase their self-confidence, socialize with their peers, and experience the multitude of benefits that comes with attending music class. Provide programming for all ages.
Identify specific music instructors that are both comfortable and skilled at working with students with special needs. It is not necessarily required that they have a deep education in how to work with this population, but, rather, it's most important that they have a willingness to engage the student and use creative methods to make music accessible. When someone calls looking for a music instructor to work with their child with special needs, you’ll have a list prepared of potential matches.
Offer Music Therapy
Many students with special needs benefit from music therapy sessions. Although different than music education (see my article on the difference between music therapy and music education HERE), offering music therapy services can be a wonderful way to make your music school more inclusive. Additionally, it is a service that is greatly needed by many individuals.
Create an Accessible Environment
Is your music school wheelchair accessible? Could someone that uses a walker navigate the space with ease? Do you have wheelchair ramps going up to your stage so all students can perform? If your music school environment is not welcoming to individuals with special needs, the time is now to make necessary changes.
Embrace Inclusive Brand Messaging
Does your brand messaging include individuals with special needs? Have you made it clear to the public that you offer services for this population? Think deeply about how you can adapt your messaging to embrace accessibility and inclusion make changes as needed.
Trained Front Desk Staff
Make sure your front desk staff is trained in how to talk to parents and caregivers of special needs individuals as well as the individuals themselves. Staff should use “person-centric” language, make accommodations as needed, and be up-to-date on the most current terminology so as to not offend anyone.
Hire Staff With Special Needs
Additionally, consider hiring staff with special needs as employees or interns. Work with a specialized school or a related service provider to identify individuals that might be a fit. In doing this, you will deepen your music school’s relationship to the local community as well as provide an opportunity to a hard-working person who will no doubtedly be an asset to your business.
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Kelly Surette is the author of Creative Miracles: A Practitioner’s Guide to Adaptive Music Instruction (coming soon.) She is a speaker and adaptive music educator in the New England area. Kelly is dedicated to enhancing the lives of those with special needs and those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing with multiple disabilities through music. Connect with Kelly at www.kellysurette.com.