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Disability Discrimination Act


Tony Price
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I have been organist to a parish for 35 years, the last 15 as Director of Music. The organ console is forward facing at the back of a west-end choir gallery which is 'stepped' down towards the east end, and purpose built for a choir of 50+ which is still very much alive. It's a large parish, with c. 1,400 attending the five Sunday Masses.

 

The parish has, quite rightly, a Disability Group which has recently conducted an audit of the building and requested that, in future, the Choir sing from downstairs in the main body of the church so as to enable access to the group for any disabled singers that may wish, in the future, to join. We have been asked to do so to comply with Diocesan Guidlines in respect of the DDA.

 

The sight and sound lines between the console and the main body of the church would make such a move impossible to manage.

 

I do not have any disabled singers wishing to join the Choir. Whilst I am happy to assist disabled singers in absolutely whatever way reasonable, to enforce such a move is likely to ensure the end of the Choir (and two other smaller Choirs that rely on organ accompaniment).

 

Has anyone been on the receiving end of such DDA 'advice'? If so, I'd really appreciate some thoughts as to how to manage it. It does not seem realistic to disband a wholly successful parish choir on the basis that someone disabled, at sometime, may not be able to manage the stairs into the Choir Gallery.

 

I understand that there was a case in a Catholic church in Nottingham along similar lines, that was settled by the Diocese out of court - this has been quoted to me, but I have not been able to find, or been provided with (despite requests), any details on the matter.

 

Any thoughts you might have to help and encourage me would be very much appreciated.

 

Kind regards, and grateful thanks in anticipation

 

Tony

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Guest Andrew Butler
I have been organist to a parish for 35 years, the last 15 as Director of Music. The organ console is forward facing at the back of a west-end choir gallery which is 'stepped' down towards the east end, and purpose built for a choir of 50+ which is still very much alive. It's a large parish, with c. 1,400 attending the five Sunday Masses.

 

The parish has, quite rightly, a Disability Group which has recently conducted an audit of the building and requested that, in future, the Choir sing from downstairs in the main body of the church so as to enable access to the group for any disabled singers that may wish, in the future, to join. We have been asked to do so to comply with Diocesan Guidlines in respect of the DDA.

 

The sight and sound lines between the console and the main body of the church would make such a move impossible to manage.

 

I do not have any disabled singers wishing to join the Choir. Whilst I am happy to assist disabled singers in absolutely whatever way reasonable, to enforce such a move is likely to ensure the end of the Choir (and two other smaller Choirs that rely on organ accompaniment).

 

Has anyone been on the receiving end of such DDA 'advice'? If so, I'd really appreciate some thoughts as to how to manage it. It does not seem realistic to disband a wholly successful parish choir on the basis that someone disabled, at sometime, may not be able to manage the stairs into the Choir Gallery.

 

I understand that there was a case in a Catholic church in Nottingham along similar lines, that was settled by the Diocese out of court - this has been quoted to me, but I have not been able to find, or been provided with (despite requests), any details on the matter.

 

Any thoughts you might have to help and encourage me would be very much appreciated.

 

Kind regards, and grateful thanks in anticipation

 

Tony

 

I have been "warned" that, were an audit to take place at my church, a similar ruling would be made - also that the organ would have to be moved to allow for a disabled organist!!

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Guest Lee Blick
(Does that mean that all those "organists" unable to play the pedals will now be able to do so?)

 

I think it depends on the disability of the organist. Disablility can come in many different forms, not just those of the legs.

 

Many churches as other organisations and venues are gradually coming into line in providing better facilities for the disabled.

 

I think for smaller churches with more informal music groups and choirs, the provision for disabled singers and musicians can usually be discreetly met. For the larger churches with big established choirs in galleries presents a problem, but personally, I am in favour in providing such facilities in galleries when the need arises.

 

What is needed is some common sense applied with this sort of legislation.

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I think it depends on the disability of the organist.  Disablility can come in many different forms, not just those of the legs.

 

Many churches as other organisations and venues are gradually coming into line in providing better facilities for the disabled.

 

I think for smaller churches with more informal music groups and choirs, the provision for disabled singers and musicians can usually be discreetly met.  For the larger churches with big established choirs in galleries presents a problem, but personally, I am in favour in providing such facilities in galleries when the need arises.

 

What is needed is some common sense applied with this sort of legislation.

 

Hi

 

IIRC, the legislation actually says to make "reasonable provision". I would suggest recording at the appropriate church committee the fact of he potential problem and the reason why moving the choir isn't a practical solution, plus perhaps a note that the issue with be revisited at some future date.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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What is needed is some common sense applied with this sort of legislation.

 

 

This aptly sums up the main problems associated with such legislation. I don't think anyone would object to the principles of this particular piece of legislation, but its literal, robotic and unthinking application will do nothing but cause problems. This is so often the way in our "pc" world today.

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Many thanks indeed for the thoughts so far. They are encouraging.

 

I too have wondered about the difficulties inherent in making the choir more 'accessible', whilst the organ console remains 'inaccessible'. I also support a parish music group that operates from downstairs with a piano: I suspect the thought of moving the piano into the gallery, whilst asking them to continue their services from downstairs, would cause equal problems for them!

 

As far as I understand it the DDA does indeed ask that 'reasonable provision' be made: equally, it stresses that there should be no change to the 'service' offered (cleary the demise of the Choir would be quite some 'change in 'service'!).

 

The problem is that this is a very emotive subject for some, and the Diocesan Guidelines seem to be given greater importance than the law. I too would love to see some commonsense applied, but this is likely to be impossible to achive with the over-zealous (my opinion) approach made to me.

 

I full support the aims of the DDA, and am more than willing to 'reasonably' comply with it. We are prepared to offer assistance into the gallery, and large print music copies, for example.

 

I feel that if it went as far as a legal challenge, the law would be applied and not the Diocesan Guidelines which I am being 'theatened' with (letter to the PP etc.). That said, I would really not wish to have an unhappy clash of such magnitude with a parish I have been happily and productively associated with for all my 52 years, and part of my reason for asking for help is to try and find a gentle way through the emotion and quagmire of ill-understood legislation.

 

The thought does go through my head that it is my role, as DoM, to encourage, develop, preserve and protect the music in the parish: it is the role of the parish to ensure that the sentiments of the DDA are met. To this end the boot should be on the other foot, with the parish informing me of the provisions it is aiming to take to enable the gallery to become accessible within the remit of the DDA. Am I being naive?

 

We're only an amateur Choir, but as DoM with around 90 involved in the liturgical music-making in the parish, I am very keen to try and resolve things amicably for all involved and associated with us.

 

Tony

www.polychoir.co.uk

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Guest Lee Blick
This is so often the way in our "pc" world today.

 

This has nothing to do with 'PC'.

 

It is only right and fair that we the church do more to be more inclusive and be accessible to disabled people. Isn't this is a central feature of Christ's ministry, to serve those who are at the fringes of society?

 

Legislation like this cannot be succesful with a 'one size fits all' approach. There are bound to be situations where common sense, the need to compromise and imagination should be applied.

 

It does not make sense to move consoles or choirs if there are no disabled, or likelyhood of disabled people joining. But I think it is a useful exercise for choir directors and music group leaders in conjunction with the PCC to discuss whether disabled people are being excluded from music making within their church.

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It is only right and fair that we the church do more to be more inclusive and be accessible to disabled people.  Isn't this is a central feature of Christ's ministry, to serve those who are at the fringes of society?

 

Legislation like this cannot be succesful with a 'one size fits all' approach.  There are bound to be situations where common sense, the need to compromise and imagination should be applied.

 

It does not make sense to move consoles or choirs if there are no disabled, or likelyhood of disabled people joining.  But I think it is a useful exercise for choir directors and music group leaders in conjunction with the PCC to discuss whether disabled people are being excluded from music making within their church.

 

I agree with you. But the political correctness drive has led to a profusion of legislation in recent times, which, while I support the principles and believe them well intentioned, are all too often administered in a clumsy, thoughtless and ultimately self-defeating way. There is not a widespread availabilty of common sense, and certainly not imagination, amongst many of the people who end up having to apply such legislation. That is what I am getting at.

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I agree with you.  But  the political correctness drive has led to a profusion of legislation in recent times, which, while I support the principles and believe them well intentioned, are all too often administered in a clumsy, thoughtless and ultimately self-defeating way.  There is not a widespread availabilty of common sense, and certainly not imagination, amongst many of the people who end up having to apply such legislation.  That is what I am getting at.

 

Like most of us, I would suggest, I have no problem with the intentions of the well-meaning law as it stands. It is the interpretation that is so often the problem. If Diocesan Guidelines were to become a sticking point in the application of the DDA, and a legal challenge were mounted, then the lawyers would only be interested in the law, not in any well-intentioned Guidelines.

 

As I understand it, tone-deafness is likely to be seen as a disability alongside near-blindness. The latter might be accommodated with large scale copies. The former?

 

How far can you push an 'audition' without falling foul of things in time?

 

Historically, organists have lived to play despite huge disabilities - blindness is often the best recorded, and I worked as a youngster in the mid '60s with Fernand Laloux at Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, who had two wooden legs. But today, if a potential organist had a difficulty in mounting the stairs, ..................???

 

Tony

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Like most of us, I would suggest, I have no problem with the intentions of the well-meaning law as it stands. It is the interpretation that is so often the problem. If Diocesan Guidelines were to become a sticking point in the application of the DDA, and a legal challenge were mounted, then the lawyers would only be interested in the law, not in any well-intentioned Guidelines.

 

As I understand it, tone-deafness is likely to be seen as a disability alongside near-blindness. The latter might be accommodated with large scale copies. The former?

 

How far can you push an 'audition' without falling foul of things in time?

 

Historically, organists have lived to play despite huge disabilities - blindness is often the best recorded, and I worked as a youngster in the mid '60s with Fernand Laloux at Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, who had two wooden legs. But today, if a potential organist had a difficulty in mounting the stairs, ..................???

 

Tony

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How does the Continent deal with their disabled musician problems - like getting to the console of Chartres Cathedral in a wheel chair? - or does common sense apply.

 

FF

 

I can't speak for the Continent as a whole but only from passing observations of what happens behind the scenes in German, Dutch and Danish churches, where commonsense attitudes to the needs of disabled worshippers do indeed apply - for example in provision of wheelchair ramps, decent loo facilities etc to a far greater extent than in this country (not least because the money is available to provide them). The same goes, I'm sure, for disabled musicians, which means dealing sensibly and sympathetically with individual human needs on an ad hoc basis, rather than by slavish application of legislative diktat. Congregations are much more relaxed about the whole business and do not seem cravenly cowed either by the disabled lobby or by petty officialdom.

 

In this country, however, a mean, narrow-minded, needlessly bureaucratic and literalist attitude seems to have become the norm, among both professional and self-appointed officials in such matters. Is it self-righteousness, political correctness or fear of litigation that prompts diocesan authorites and individual congregations to go to the extremes other contributors have described? What ever happened to common sense, reasonableness and (Christian) charity?

 

I'm sure most disabled musicians - whether blind organists, singers with walking difficulties etc - are quite happy to rely on friendly human assistance when required: indeed such simple demonstrations of kindness and consideration are surely part of our common humanity. Perhaps we ought to listen to disabled people themselves rather than impose our own patronising ideas on them.

 

By all means do all we can to remove physical barriers and impediments, but, in the end, we have to acept that some things are beyond the bounds of possiblilty. There is no way someone in a wheelchair is going to reach the console at Chartres. the Marienkirche Lübeck or indeed the lofty west gallery organs of many Continental churches - and I don't suppose any sensible German or Dutchman - disabled or not - would worry themselves unduly over an essentially hypothetical case.

 

Sorry, end of homily ...

 

JS

 

[PS - I do recall that the organist of Trier Cathedral ascends to his magnificent 4-manual Klais instrument via a rather swish electric lift!]

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