Lachi: Fighting for accessibility and inclusion for musicians with disabilities

Lachi is a blind singer and songwriter. However, more than that, she is advocating for talent in the music industry. A few weeks ago, she was part of the 2021 panel on disability and inclusion. Together with renowned violinist Gaelynn Lea, Oscar-nominated songwriter Siedah Garrett, singer and guitarist Ryan Nelson, hip-hop artist Namel Norris, and the Recording Academy’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Valeisha Butterfield Jones, Lachi discussed accessibility and inclusion in the music industry.

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Lachi hasn’t always been this vocal when it comes to disability rights and access. For a long time, she barely talked about being blind. “Before I came out about being blind, I’d watch the GRAMMYs and think, look at all these beautiful people doing amazing things. But none of them looked like me or had my situation, so surely I could never take part,” Lachi says in her latest newsletter. So she waited for years, hoping that someone with a disability – preferably a woman of color – stands up to the music industry, but it didn’t happen. “I looked to my left and to my right and suddenly it hit me, struck me like lightning.” She realized that someone was her! A Screenshot of a diverse group of people on Zoom

Over the following years, Lachi not only broadened her musical repertoire, recording a variety of different genres, but she also got strongly involved with many disability organizations, such as Respectability and Divas with Disabilities, an organization focused on women of color with disabilities. Her main focus has always been advocacy for artists with disabilities. 

And here we are, today, with Lachi moderating the very first fully accessible panel for rarely represented musicians with disabilities. Hosted by the Recording Academy’s New York chapter, Lachi and her peers discussed the hurdles musicians with disabilities have to overcome every day and how to provide better accessibility and inclusion. The event offered a life ASL interpreter, as well as transcription, which marked a new era since it was the first time these features were implemented. 

All artists that were part of the event live with different disabilities. Besides Lachi being blind, Lea is a wheelchair-user, Garrett has multiple sclerosis, Nelson is a quadriplegic and plays the guitar paralyzed, and Norris is a paraplegic. They all have varying accessibility needs; however, they have one thing in common: Every one of them has faced access barriers that negatively affected their job and biggest passion multiple times. During the panel, they discussed their individual problems – from the struggles of disclosing a disability and worrying about not getting any jobs as a consequence to missing wheelchair ramps at the venue. Additionally, they discussed how these problems could be solved.

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The main takeaways of the event: 

  1. Disability needs to be included in diversity: It’s a culture; it’s part of our identity; Disability needs to be treated like race, gender, sexual preference
  2. Mainstream media must include musicians with disabilities
  3. Venues need to be accessible at all times
  4. It is a civil rights issue to discriminate against musicians with disabilities 

Besides this groundbreaking event, Lachi was busy opening the ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York with a performance of ‘High or Low,’ exploring the kitchen of the restaurant Meat & Bread in New York, led by blind entrepreneur Khadija Bari, as part of her YouTube series ‘Off Beat,’ and she was part of the fashion magazine Elucid, where Lachi discussed beauty through the eyes of a blind woman. And if this wasn’t enough, her new single DNA was just released a few days ago! 

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