Meet the women behind Recording Artists and Music Professionals With Disabilities (RAMPD)
RAMPD (Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities) is a fast-growing coalition dedicated to making disability inclusion and access a reality in the mainstream music industry. It was founded in May of 2021 by award-winning recording artist and advocate Lachi after a public talk with the Recording Academy revealed a serious lack of visibility, access, and representation for disabled music creators and industry professionals. Covered in Billboard, Hollywood Reporter and the New York Times, RAMPD is a new force advancing disability culture to mainstream discussion, focusing on the competitiveness and unique voice disabled creators bring.
According to the CDC, over 36 million women in America have a disability, and YAI reports that a third of the LGBTQ+ community have some form of disability too. Run primarily by a diverse female-identifying leadership, RAMPD advocates for artists and professionals of all intersections.
Co-founded by violinist Gaelynn Lea, and other top talent, RAMPD is making its mark as the go-to place for mainstream discussion on inclusion for creative professionals who identify as disabled, deaf, neurodivergent, or having a rare disease or chronic illness.
shesaid.so was lucky enough to speak to some of the brilliant women behind the organization…
shesaid.so: So how did RAMPD first come about?
Lachi: “Hi, I’m Lachi, She/Her Black Girl Cornrows, and I identify as legally blind. In my photo I’m wearing a pink dress and holding a pink Glam Cane. As an EDM recording artist, I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, traveled the world for my art, and have had the pleasure to collaborate with the White House, GRAMMY’s, Kennedy Center, and perform on Netflix to advance disability culture and arristry.
“I founded RAMPD — along with co-founder Gaelynn Lea, and other amazing founding members — because, while I could find some support as a female artist and as a black artist, there was no such voice, platform and community for musicians with disabilities on a competitive level. With few role-models for young disabled artists to look up to, the cultural stigmas fueling the oppression and discrimination of disabled people will never break. It’s time for that to change. And it is music that has always mastered the needle at shaping culture.
“I’d like to pass the mic to my sisters to chime in. Thank you shesaid.so for highlighting the women here at RAMPD.”
shesaid.so: Can you tell us a few current initiatives or ways in which RAMPD amplifies disability culture and advocates for accessibility and inclusion in the music industry?
Andrea Jennings: “My name is Andrea Jennings, Secretary and Founding Member of RAMPD. I have an M.Mus in Music and Music Business and Entertainment Industries. I am a disability advocate and equity in entertainment strategist and founder of Shifting Creative Paradigms.
“I am so proud to be a part of the RAMPD family and coalition, purely focused on impacting real change and equitable opportunities in the music industry for music professionals who identify as having a disability. RAMPD amplifies disability culture in that we are changing the paradigm of how people with disabilities are viewed and portrayed in mainstream discussion, giving creative professionals a respectful platform to celebrate their unique voice and perspectives. At RAMPD, we elevate disability culture as a diverse collective and as individuals by empowering ourselves to use our authentic voices, music and artistry to affect change.”
shesaid.so: What are some ways that an artist or individual in the music industry can make steps in their own work to be more inclusive of artists or music professionals with disabilities?
Gaelynn Lea: “My name is Gaelynn Lea and I’m a violinist, songwriter and public speaker from Duluth, MN. I am also the Co-Founder and Vice President of RAMPD. Most recently, I was hired to compose and record the score for the Broadway production of Macbeth, directed by Sam Gold and starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga — this production opens in April 2022 at Longacre Theatre.
“Both disabled artists and allies can embrace accessibility in their own careers! For example, you can choose to only play at wheelchair-accessible venues, to make captions and/or ASL available at events whenever possible, and to embrace accessibility in social media by adding captioning and adding image descriptions to all your public posts. Even if you don’t require access yourself, these steps help to normalize accessibility in the music industry.
“The second way you can move the needle is to elevate Disability Culture in your own sphere of influence! Maybe that means doing shows with disabled artists or learning more about the music and activism coming out of the disability community. Or perhaps that means covering disabled artists in your music reporting or including them on your next playlist. Basically the goal is to make sure that disability is represented at every level in your work, from your employees to the artists you represent, all the way up to your Board Members! Increasing disability representation and visibility In the music industry is a key way that we will shape our culture to be more inclusive of disability as a form of diversity. We can all be part.”
shesaid.so: Would you say you have seen positive progress in the industry since the beginnings of RAMPD and why/how?
Lisa Sniderman aka. Aoede: “I’m Lisa Sniderman, also known as Aoede, an award-winning San Francisco-based artist, playwright, author, filmmaker, disabled artist advocate, and have been battling a rare progressive muscle weakness disease for nearly 14 years while obsessively creating to heal. I use my arts and music to elevate and empower those with chronic illnesses. I’m a RAMPD founding professional member, and I serve on the Partnerships subcommittee. My recent release The Grieving Project, sets the stages of grief to music
“Yes, I’ve experienced first hand, tremendous positive progress in disability culture, inclusion and accessibility since RAMPD formed. Even before officially launching in January, RAMPD had already made big strides. The 2021 the inaugural New York WAVY Awards partnered with RAMPD to make their Music award show as inclusive and accessible as possible, for example, fully incorporating self-descriptions, servomg as a model for other award shows.
“RAMPD has been featured in Billboard, and Variety, New York Times, raising awareness for artists with disabilities and providing industry recognition and clout. As someone living with chronic illness, I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made in just a few short months, to show that artists with disabilities deserve a seat at the table, on the stage, as presenters and performers, and behind the scenes.”
shesaid.so: What has been the feedback regarding the RAMPD movement from the community of those who have joined RAMPD, and from the greater music community?
Tabi: “I am Tabi, a singer-songwriter in New York City with Muscular Dystrophy. Having sold out shows in music halls, I’ve been featured on CNN’s “The Human Factor” discussing how singing helps my respiratory challenges. I am also co-chair of the RAMPD PR Committee where I have the pleasure of helping share with the world the multitude of things we are doing to amplify the disability music scene.
“I’ve heard so many wonderful comments about RAMPD from music lovers to music industry folks, saying we’re making a huge difference giving voice to those who’ve been under-represented. I’ve received great feedback on how we showcased our amazing talents at our launch event, the best virtual launch folks have ever seen. In addition, many have all been in agreement with me that when it comes to creativity such as expressing emotions and experiences, we (disabled musicians) do not have to try to tap into that, it is naturally part of us and therefore already part of our art. And they love that. People who can appreciate music in its truest form love that.”
shesaid.so: What are some of the major barriers and issues that organizations like RAMPD aim to counter or improve upon in the global music industry?
Eliza Hull: “I am Eliza Hull, a disabled musical artist from Castlemaine, Australia, and a member of RAMPD. I have a physical disability called ‘Charcot Marie Tooth Disorder.’ I recently won the Music Victoria’s Amplify award, am working on a new record produced by Pip Norman and Odette, and am off to SXSW in Austin, performing alongside Ruth Lyon and Lachi.
“The music industry is starting to shift, but there is so much more that needs to be done. I think there needs to be far more representation of disabled musicians on TV, on the radio and in magazines. I want emerging disabled artists to feel represented and know what’s possible. Larger music organizations and record labels need to enable more disabled musicians to have their music heard. As for physical barriers, stages and live music venues aren’t accessible which makes it hard for me to get onto the stage or into the venue. The time is now for change to happen so we can create a more inclusive industry.”
shesaid.so: How can others get involved with or support RAMPD, either as individuals or organizations?
Precious Perez: “My name is Precious Perez, and I am a blind Puerto Rican singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, music educator, and childrens author. I am proud to be the Membership Chair of RAMPD, and I recently graduated with a double bachelors in performance and music ED from Berklee College of Music.
“We encourage both allies and individuals with disabilities to get involved with this groundbreaking cultural movement. We have a community of over 400 plus members already. Anyone is welcome to join as a community member and sign up to receive updates on news and events, at any time on RAMPD.org. Organizations can get involved by partnering with RAMPD through a brand partnership, sponsoring a RAMPD event, or making a tax-deductible donation to the movement at RAMPD.org, so that we may continue to grow and fulfill our mission of making the music industry diverse, inclusive and accessible.”
shesaid.so: How has joining the RAMPD community been for you as a music professional who identifies as having a disability?
Molly Joyce: “I am Molly Joyce, a composer, performer and Professional RAMPD Member, who’s been described as one of the “most versatile, prolific and intriguing composers working under the vast new-music dome” by The Washington Post. RAMPD has provided an invaluable community and network to progress musicianship grounded in disability culture and aesthetics.”
Maria Mucaria: “I am Maria Mucaria, a classical trained musician specializing in flutes and recorders. I also enjoy playing whistles, bodhrán and singing folk music from Celtic, Italian, and American cultures. Some of my accomplishments include touring North America and Europe as a musician, and teaching students in the US and UK. As a professional musician, I joined RAMPD to connect with a community of peers who understand being a professional musician and disability culture. Not only did I find a network of amazing musicians from all styles of music, I found a support system to celebrate disability.”
Neesa Sunar: “I’m Neesa Sunar, classical violist, singer/songwriter and licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) in New York State, which has empowered me in maintaining my own mental health condition. For over ten years, I was unable to play music because of my disability, but last year I began gaining strength to play. As a member of RAMPD, I have found a community of folks who understand my experiences, and I finally feel that I can develop my musical talent to share with the world.”
Mercedes Lysaker: “I’m Mercedes Lysaker, a classically trained cellist now devoted heart and soul to electric strings. I’m a Professional Member of RAMPD, rebuilding a career in music after brain injuries that totally rewired how I experience performing, creating, and teaching music. Seeing other disabled music professionals work with joy, purpose, and passion has made me less interested in hiding my identity as a disabled woman, and more interested in making music on my own terms — changing the field for the better.”
Anne Leighton: “I’m Anne Leighton, a music publicist, spoken word artist and songwriter. I’ve thrived, sustaining my career and growing and rebuilding it during the Pandemic. I’m part of RAMPD’s PR Committee. Joining RAMPD has helped me find my community and to not hide when I need help for things I can’t do on my own. This attitude gives me a better chance at getting the help I need.”