A Musical Improvisation Interface for People With Severe Physical Disabilities

Pauline Oliveros, Leaf Miller, Jacklyn Heyen, Gillian Siddall, Sergio Hazard


In response to the challenge of including students with minimal controlled voluntary movement in a drum class with their peers, a software interface was created to enable participation in group musical improvisation. It was developed at Abilities First Inc., a school for children with disabilities in Poughkeepsie, New York, some of whom have profound physical disabilities. This collaborative research project employs a participatory action research approach, emphasizing the inclusion of students using the interface, their parents, and teachers as researchers in the ongoing development and use of the interface. A disability studies framework is used to investigate the extent to which improvising with the interface serves as an opportunity for artistic expression for the participants, and as a form of resistance to the socially constructed idea that people with disabilities are somehow inadequate. The interface—Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI)—was also used in patients with acquired brain and spinal cord injuries at Teletón Rehabilitation Institute in Santiago, Chile.

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by The International Association for Music & Medicine