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Disability Awareness Week 2020

Monday 30th November 2020 at 11am 0 Comments Arts & Disability

Pictured with Gilly Campbell, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, are Stage Beyond members, Frank Nelis, Bernadette Shiels and Bryan Sutherland at the rehearsals for Gulliver’s Travels in 2018. Image: Pictured with Gilly Campbell, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, are Stage Beyond members, Frank Nelis, Bernadette Shiels and Bryan Sutherland at the rehearsals for Gulliver’s Travels in 2018.

In celebration of Disability Awareness Week, 30th November - 4th December 2020, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland will be revisiting and highlighting some of the amazing arts organisations that work with people with disabilities.

Kids in Control (KIC) firmly believe that Art is about everything and for everyone.  KIC is a professional theatre company that values children and young people of all abilities and backgrounds and is the foremost professional physical theatre company working with young people in Northern Ireland. They are profoundly inclusive and cut through traditional divisions of physical and learning ability, religion and social background.  Skill sharing and empathy between participants are the cornerstones of KIC’s artistic practice, which ensures diversity, tolerance and creative generosity among all of their participants.

In this video from March 2020 we get an insight into, Physical Graffiti, a KIC core programme that runs annually, providing supported access for young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder to high quality creative learning programmes.

Drake Music Project Ireland provides access to independent music making for children and adults with complex disabilities. Workshops in composition and performance skills are afforded by the provision of adapted computer interfacing technology, in order that physical and cognitive ability is matched to an appropriate gestural interface, allowing people with disabilities the opportunity to express their creativity in an independent and controllable environment.  The Professional Access Music Tutors of the Drake Music Project Northern Ireland design, implement and deliver music creativity and learning programmes for children and adults with diverse and complex disabilities, to give people with disabilities the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

As an arts organisation that crosses the boards into design and research with assistive technology needed and created for workshops, Drake Music NI are involved in several research projects, and are currently partners in 3 PhD programs with QUB and the Sonic Arts Research Centre. Drake musicians are involved with design programs to create new instruments and controllers for physical control of the creative process, and our musicians have performed in Bern, Hamburg, Dublin, at Acoustic Picnic and many times at the Black Box sessions. Our instrument designs and trials mean that more and more talented people get the opportunity to be creative on their own terms.

In this video we revisit a 2015 Big Ears public engagement partnership project between QUB Sonic Arts Research Centre and Drake Music NI, which has developed out to date with currently 3 full funded PhD programs partnered with both organisations.  On the first day of this collaboration, the researchers met with the musicians from Drake Music NI, together they planned how they would create bespoke input devices for Ableton Live workstations. Their remit was to design accessible musical instruments. The prototype interfaces that were created included a hacked game controller, gestural video camera interaction using an LED glove, and touch sensors that were calibrated to the musician’s facial movements.

Project Sparks harnesses the empathy and resilience of creatively gifted disabled young-people by training them to teach music and dance to primary school children. These young people are called ‘Leaders’, to empower them to make a step toward emancipating themselves from the marginalising labels they may have been given in the past. Over the last three years, Sparks' Leaders have taught over 1,000 children from Catholic, Protestant, rural and minority-ethnic communities. These inspirational young-people have proven that, by teaching alongside qualified teachers, they have a singular capacity to use music to inspire the most disadvantaged children to embrace difference and overcome adversity.

Here we revisit a project launched in August 2020, an exciting collaboration by Project Sparks with the children and teachers of The Model, St Paul's and Greenhaw Primary Schools.  This first-of-its-kind programme will help fifteen disabled young-artists and project staff teach over 200 children.  Kids will explore creative expression by learning from inspirational young people who have overcome incredible challenges and teachers will gain new skills to capture their pupils' imaginations, as they use music to drive the entire curriculum.

Replay Theatre Company has been running for over 30 years. Funded by the Arts Council, it is a small company, with big ambitions, and its success has been built on the belief that all children should have access to high quality theatre experiences. Although it creates all kinds of shows for the youngest of children right up to teens, it’s probably best known for its work with children with profound and multiple learning disabilities and complex needs.

Its August production, COCO, was a story about a small koala and his adventures through the jungle. Written and performed by Mary McGurk and directed by Andrew Stanford, who also composed the sound design for the show, it is a full sensory experience, set against a brightly coloured, feathery backdrop, designed to immerse the audience into COCO’s rainforest home.  But this was a theatre show with a difference. The performance space was a converted transit van, the back of which flipped down to transform into a bespoke travelling theatre and the performance was, rather unusually, designed for an audience of one.

University of Atypical is a disabled-led arts charity, taking an empowerment based approach towards supporting disabled and D/deaf people’s involvement in the arts.  The organisation specialises in developing and promoting the work of disabled and D/deaf artists in reaching disabled a D/deaf audiences.

Working with all art forms and across all impairments, University of Atypical delivers a year-round programme of exhibitions and events including the annual Bounce Arts Festival, which presents an exciting range of music, theatre, dance and visual arts by disabled and D/deaf artists, alongside family-friendly activities. Atypical Gallery shows work by disabled and D/deaf visual artists on a year-round basis. University of Atypical also manages the iDA grant scheme for individual disabled and deaf artists, with funds from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and the Arts & Disability Equality Charter, which supports venues to be as accessible as possible for disabled and D/deaf audiences and artists. 

Bounce is the annual arts festival produced by the University of Atypical that showcases outstanding new work by D/deaf andabled wri disters, producers, actors, dancers, musicians and directors.  The festival returns from 4th-6th December and it free to enjoy.  Watch the trailer at and for tickets visit

Stage Beyond, based in Derry-Londonderry, is an award-winning Theatre Company for adults with learning disabilities.  The company offer professional arts training in a variety of disciplines with the aims of using the arts as a tool to promote self-esteem, sociability and life skills. 
From entertaining the people of Derry with Shakespeare in the Street, to staging epic Christmas pantos, Hamlet and opera, this talented bunch are not afraid to tackle anything and bring high energy, talent and huge amounts of passion to everything they do!  They’ve also just won yet another award picking up 2020 National Showcase Award in the Achates Philanthropy Competition. 

Here we look back at a 2018 production of Gulliver’s Travels and talk to some of the Stage Beyond group members about just how much Stage Beyond benefits their lives.

VOID Gallery, in Derry-Londonderry, is a contemporary art gallery which showcases the work of established Irish and international artists.  In addition, VOID do an incredible amount of outreach work with schools, older people and with people with disabilities.  Today (30th November) the gallery welcomes back artist, Clare Mc Laughlin, who will bring her art project, Seen-Unseen, to the Zoom platform. Seen-Unseen deals with the non–visual exploration of art and allows the blind or vision impaired person to experience artwork through their other senses.  Each participant will visit Alan Phelan’s exhibition, Echoes Are Always More Muted, through an online tour. Clare will lead a thought provoking, memory stimulating, interactive and sensory session which will explore the exhibition through a tactile workshop.  Seen-Unseen at Void Gallery is funded by DCSDC and will take place during Disability Week NI 2020.  Visit


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