Singclude - improving access to choral singing for mobility impaired people

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus aims to be as inclusive as possible.  As part of this commitment we have, with generous assistance from the Big Lottery Awards for All, purchased a stair climber for use by wheelchair users and others with severe mobility impairments.  The equipment will enable singers to participate in performances in concert venues where the choir seating is inaccessible.

The Problem

Choral singers who use wheelchairs or have other significant mobility impairments may be able to access a concert venue, or even the stage of an auditorium, but are rarely able to participate in performances in these venues because of their need to sing with their voice section and to be able to see the conductor (whilst seated, unlike non-disabled colleagues).

Choral rehearsals and concerts often take place in venues where making the choir seating "accessible" to a wheelchair user is not deemed "reasonable" under the DDA.  Although major refurbishments at venues including Sheffield City Hall and Leeds Town Hall have improved access for audience and performers, raked platforms for choir seating are erected on scaffolding, which is beyond the scope of normal wheelchair access.

The barriers facing mobility impaired choral singers were highlighted recently on national radio by Gwenllian Williams' Musicability campaign.  For details see BBC R4 Your and Yours item 27 Jan 2010 and BBC Wales item 27 Jan 2010.

A Solution

stairmateWith the help of Big Lottery Awards for All funding, we purchased a portable and easy-to-operate stair climber which facilitates access to the raked platform in Sheffield’s City Hall.  This enables wheelchair-using members to participate in our concerts, and has successfully aided access in other concert venues with built/raked seating. 

We also plan to make it available to mobility impaired choral singers in other local choirs by arrangement with Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus.

Singclude Benefits and Opportunities

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus’s inclusion statement says "We have a passion for singing and aim to be inclusive" which means we should be open to all singers able to pass the audition.  However, wheelchair users and those with severe mobility impairments are currently excluded from many of our major performances, which is in direct conflict with this aim.  Singclude will change this, and mean that anyone who is passionate about singing and can pass the audition will be able to participate fully in all the Chorus’s performances, irrespective of the seating arrangements or the severity of their mobility impairment. 

Choral singing offers proven health and wellbeing benefits: for some examples see The Independent article at
Summarised, singing is emotionally and mentally uplifting.  It provides aerobic exercise which is beneficial to the heart, circulation and respiratory system. The application and concentration required in learning and performing music to the necessary standard is mentally challenging and therefore beneficial.  Choral singing offers the further benefits of teamwork and a strong sense of diversity yet cohesion, bringing together for a common purpose people from every sector of the community, and Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus’s membership reflects this diversity yet cohesion. 

The Chorus offers its members free one to one voice coaching with a professional voice coach which may be financially out of reach of some people.  From time to time the Chorus performs at other nationally significant venues which gives untold musical opportunities and experiences otherwise not available. 

Singclude is all about ensuring that all these positive benefits are accessible to people whose mobility impairment currently excludes them from the larger kinds of performance which our Chorus, and other symphony choruses, open up to everyone else, including people with other impairments.  As Musicability indicates, there are currently relatively few choral singers with severe mobility impairments, largely for the reasons outlined above, and so promoting the opportunity for more mobility impaired people to engage in choral singing is a pioneering first step.

Singclude more information | Singclude press release | Swallow Lifts

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